Sep 6 2012 4:00pm

When The Lights Go Out: Is Abrams and Favreau’s Revolution Worth Following?

When The Lights Go Out: Is Abrams and Favreau’s Revolution Worth Following?

What do you get when you line up producer J.J. Abrams, Supernatural writer Eric Kripke, and director Jon Favreau behind a post-apocalyptic dystopian adventure set in a destroyed America? You get Revolution, the NBC drama that’s been making the biggest splash of all the new science fiction/fantasy network TV offerings for this coming fall season. Now that the first episode has been released on for preview, before its televised debut on September 17th, I’m doing a rundown on the best and worse that Revolution has to offer.

(Spoiler warning: First episode unpacked and analyzed here!)

First off, you get the immediate sense that Revolution knew the fan base it was going for when it created its dystopian future. With a Hunger Games knock-off protagonist and shots straight out of the barren beauty of The Walking Dead, it works to inspire the hometown patriotism of the long-canceled Jericho and mixes it with the mystery of Lost. Still, the premise of the show asks the audience to leap some massive chasms of disbelief to accept the set-up. The world goes to hell because some mysterious problem causes all electronic equipment across the globe to shut down. But what about batteries, you ask? Don’t worry, those don’t work either. Electricity itself seems to have gone kaput and damn the laws of physics. Everything from cars to cell phones have shut down, along with airplanes, which rain down like falling stars during the show’s opening. But one man knows that it’s coming. Bill Matheson rushes home to his family just before the lights go out and secures something on the prettiest flash drive ever just before modern society goes away. He huddles with his family in the dark while, far away, his brother Miles gets out of his car on a highway now dark in every direction.

So starts Revolution, and for a show-opener I have to admit that it delivers on suspense. Still, it all just falls into the Solidly Mediocre category from there. We pick up fifteen years later with Bill and his kids Charlie and Danny living in an idyllic little town in what used to be suburbia. Rounding out their little town are the ragtag survivors, animals, one former Google exec named Aaron, and Bill’s pretty British girlfriend/doctor Maggie. Charlie has grown up to be a Katniss Everdeen look-alike, family-oriented, tough-yet-vulnerable. Her brother Danny is a perfect Peeta clone, stubborn but with his own vulnerability (he has asthma) which slows him down. The show takes the time to show off the family dynamic—Bill as overprotective father, there’s an awkward sort of stepmother relationship, and Charlie’s has a dreamy fascination with recapturing the past. Then soldiers show up from the Monroe Republic militia and everything goes to hell. Events set Charlie out on the road looking for her Uncle Miles and away we go into the wilds of the post-electric America. The show revolves around Charlie and her resolution to find her uncle and solve the mystery that brought the soldiers to her home. 

Considering that Charlie is supposed to be the main character, it’s Tracy Spiridakos’ performance that I’d cite as the major weakness of the pilot. Charlie’s doe-eyed innocence about the world outside her town’s walls, right down to lines like “They can’t all be bad!” makes her seem either willfully ignorant or foolish in a world that wouldn’t really be kind to either. Her brother Danny on the other hand is brave but foolhardy, and yet I found myself rooting for him throughout the episode, more so than for Charlie. Danny’s storyline was certainly more interesting, as an asthma attack brings him into contact with Grace, a mysterious woman living out in the middle of nowhere. 

Spiridakos also cannot hold a candle to Billy Burke as Miles, who brings a brooding, rakish charm to the table and backs it up with some Book of Eli-style sword fighting that kept me glued to the action. He is a surprisingly intriguing character, meant to provide our insight into the past as well as playing the role of reluctant hero, and Burke does both very well.

Miles and Charlie are both light years ahead of J.D. Pardo, who plays the hunky bow hunter Nate, telegraphed as the love interest for Charlie. His boisterous teenage machismo is almost laughable against Burke’s genuine presence and it devalues Pardo's character in nearly every scene that the two of them share.

Hands down, the most compelling actor on the entire show has to be Homicide and Breaking Bad alum Giancarlo Esposito as Captain Neville. As head of the militia out to get Bill Matheson, Esposito brings a not-so-subtle menace to Neville, germaphobically urbane in a brutal world. He is a henchman to General Monroe through and through, but written with intelligence and a simmering rage that lives just under the surface. I’m excited to see more of what he brings to the action and his relationship with General Monroe, whose story lies at the heart of a lot of the mystery of the plot.

And I’m terribly sad that Lost’s former Juliet, Elizabeth Mitchell seems to exist only in flashback. She’s a phenomenal actress who I’d love to see more of—can we see a Grimm-like mom reappearance, please?

All in all, for a show called Revolution there seems to be a lot here that is old hat. The heroine is as recycled as some of the shots used in the show, right down to the easily recognizable quarry used in the Shane-beating episode of the first season of The Walking Dead. We even have (major end of episode spoiler here) a hidden communication device, capable of talking to some mysterious stranger on the other end, shades of the computer in the hatch in Lost or the typewriter talking to the other dimension in Fringe. Still, the hook for the show has me interested enough to keep watching in the hopes that Charlie develops out of her post-apoc ingenue phase and into her own character. Billy Burke and Giancarlo Esposito alone could bring me back if only to wonder how Captain Neville keeps his coat so clean, and whether or not Miles will end up hooking up with the British doctor or just murder his way across half of America. Plus, will Aaron grow out of his “I was once a giant computer nerd” phase and become a real Jericho-style hero?

For these reasons alone, I’m onboard for more of season one. I can only hope Revolution remembers that it’s okay to do something different with the setting of a destroyed future America, or else this show might fall sadly short of being revolutionary. 

Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and

Mark Mercer
1. Mark Mercer
Is S.M. Stirling getting royalties for this 97% copy of "Dies The Fire" and the whole Change series? If so, great. If not, call the lawyers.

Also - JJ is great at starting a series. Horrific at keeping it going and making it make sense. Felicity Time Travel.
Mark Mercer
2. Alan Lander
@Mark Mercer: Is Stirling paying royalties to Steven Boyette, from whose novel 1983 novel Ariel: A Book of the Change he got about 97% of "Dies the Fire"? I doubt it.
Heidi Breton
3. AnemoneFlynn
I really like the Jericho + Lost feel of the show, but I wish they'd left the girly Hunger Games vibe out of it. I'm worried she's going to make me mad as time goes by. Still, I'm in for the first season, and curious to see where they take it! Jericho was awesome, and Lost kept me interested for several seaons - so I have hopes.
Mark Mercer
4. David GGGGGGG
I am hoping against hope this show doesn't go down roads Terra Nova went down,not knowing what it wants to be and with a major mixed bag of good and bad (from a written standpoint as well as acted) characters.I've decided to wait until it airs to watch it.I hope I'm not wasting my time and will wait to decide to become invested in it.
Michael Green
5. greenazoth
Everything just seems far too clean, sanitized, and safe -- on every level of the production, really, from the costume design to the story beats.
Bruce Arthurs
6. bruce-arthurs
If you really want to find the oldest turn on this meme, Fredric Brown wrote "The Waverlies" in 1945.
Mark Mercer
7. L Lawson
I saw the pilot at Comic Con. I liked it. It's def. a rip-off of Dies the Fire, though.

I clearly had a lot to offer this discussion.
Mark Mercer
8. LynnMS
I don't know about the other examples given, but one of the positive aspects of Stirling's Emberverse stories is that he doesn't skip the horrific immediate downfall of modern society. Revolution seems to want to sanitize itself by skipping the first 15 years; budget trouble, or too wimpy to go there?
Tara Mitchell
9. Jaxicat
I really want this to be good but the pilot seemed a little cheesy. Hopefully it gets better.
Jonah Feldman
10. relogical
It was okay. But more than that, I really can't see any point where I will give up on watching it until it's inevitably cancelled. You find me another weekly dose of postapocalyptic swordfighting on TV.
Bob Blough
11. Bob
I so hated this by the 1/2 hour mark that I turned it off. So I did not see Miles (except in that very short first section). It was cliche after cliche with terrible writing and boring characters/plot. Giancarlo Esposito was the only person who rose above the writing and gave us some interest on screen. I could not believe how clean all the set pieces were (I mean, how white was the inside of hat camper?) and how everyone looked like they just stepped out of the gym after 15 years of fighting the end of the world. Or the cliched names in the "town" - Caleb? Aaron? really? Derivative is OK with SF is there is imagination, good writing and real characters we care about - who doesn't like a really well done apocalypse? - but this went from bad to worse, in my opinion.
Mark Mercer
12. Jarvisimo
JJ Abrams doesn't keep shows going, he hasn't been a showrunner in years. He starts, then moves on. Lost wasn't his baby, really, it was Damon Lindlehof and Carlton Cuse, just as Fringe is/was Jeff Pinkner's show. However long Revolution lasts, it won't be a JJ Abrams show. But does that matter?
alastair chadwin
13. a-j
Ah thanks, I've been trying to remember title and author of that story ever since I first heard about Revolution
Mark Mercer
14. tigeraid
Gus Fring is in it. Therefore I will watch.
john mullen
15. johntheirishmongol
I thought it was a bit slow but it was intriguing enough that it looks worthwhile to continue watching. And it isn't like there are any other genre shows this year. This has a really interesting premise and it will be good to find some answers. If the girl doesn't improve, expect other characters to take over a bigger and bigger part of the show. The perfect example of this was Happy Days where Fonz was a minor throwaway character who ended up being the biggest star on the show. You can do that pretty easily with ensemble casts.

I bet that no one on the show even knows who SM Stirling is, much less read any of his books. It isn't that uncommon a premise.
Mark Mercer
16. Alan Lander
It kills me that people keep whinging about Stirling in regard to this show. Stirling stole the premise, the name of the event, the subtitle, the prominence of the Society for Creative Anachronism, the feudal reversion in the decaying urban landscape, and even a hang-glider raid, for crying out loud, from Boyette's ARIEL. 25 years later Boyette wrote a sequel, ELEGY BEACH. It had the goodyear blimp. Stirling's upcoming Change novel has a blimp on the cover. This isn't meme-ing, it's photocopying.
Beth Friedman
17. carbonel
a-j@13 and Bruce-Arthurs@6

The Fredric Brown story is actually "The Waveries," not "Waverlies." The review has it wrong. I first read it in the classic Groff Conklin anthology Invaders of Earth.

ISFDB link:
Mark Mercer
18. redheadedjen
I'll watch the first episode and go from there.
Rowan Shepard
19. Rowanmdm3
I agreee with the comments about Charlie and the other characters. I'll watch the first few episodes (I usually give mediocre shows 4 episodes to improve) and go from there. Really though, I'll be watching for the sake of Miles and to find out who Grace was talking to.
Mark Mercer
20. Kier Salmon
Folks, you can't copyright an idea or a title. If Mike Havel had made an appearance, then it would be a rip-off. If a plane had come down in the Bitterroots and a pilot, a man, his wife and three kids, plus one cat had fought their way out... maybe.
But this isn't Dies the Fire and it isn't Ariel and DtF isn't Ariel. Boyette and Striling don't have a grunk out there.... and neither does Ringo with his "There will be Dragons," published in the same year as DtF. Many authors have ideas for this scenario and there is more than enough room to play in.
So, no, SMS is not getting royalties, and neither is Boyette and neither of them are trying... at least they know the rules governing copyright. That said, I'm sad about Revolution, because if it flops, it's one more nail in the coffin of the hope that DtF will make it to a season series.
Mark Mercer
21. Peter Sartucci
Agree with #20. I doubt I will watch this, but it's come closest to exciting my interest of any TV series in a decade or three. We'll see what they do with it.
Mark Mercer
22. Kier Salmon
By the way, Alan Lander, the book has a blimp on the cover... but said blimp made it's appearance in The Sunrise Lands and Scourge of God and then again in Tears of the Sun and crashed.
It's dead Jim, but only us Stirlingites are aware of that.
That said, the cover of Lord of Mountains is something that actually made me laugh. It's a pastiche photo-collage made without much care. Look at the shadows on the horse's face and the man's face... snicker. I wish the publishers would pony up for a decent artist. And I bet the blimp is there because somebody in the artistic department asked, "Is it steampunk?" and somebody said, "I have no idea, why don't you read it?" and the answer was, "Naw, I'll just stick a blimp in there... that'll sell an extra 5 k copies."
Mark Mercer
23. USER
J.J. Abrams is no hack, but if he is his generation's version of S. Speeelbergen than weesa in troublesa. And if one does a lil McResearch, one will find that nearly all the cool, smart stuff in The LOST Show came from Mr. Damon Lindelof, natch.
David Spiller
24. scifidavid
I thought this was a great pilot. No surprise since J.J. Abrams and Eric Kripke are both geniuses. They fooled me twice with the character of Nate. Billy Burke seems like a great lead badass. Tracy Spiridakos showsa a lotof potential. I didn't see the twist at the end with the secret computer coming (though it is very Jericho-like). I am definitely hooked for now. Odds are this will be the best new show of the season.
Mark Mercer
25. Rob Blake
This sounds way toouch like S.M. Stirling's "Dies the Fire" series. I wonder of SMS knows about this?
Mark Mercer
26. Rob Blake
I've read both Boyett's "Ariel" and Stirling's "Dies the Fire" and while there are some similarities, the storylines are appreciably different for there not to be any kind of conflict of interest from my perspective.

What they could have done is turn "Lucifer's Hammer" into a TV series. I loved that novel, gresome as parts of it were.
Arie King
27. Arieh
After seeing the trailer a while back there wasn't much new in the first episode. Must say it isn't really that a existing show, gives a typical feeling. But I guess I'll keep watching for now.
Mark Mercer
28. iroxv
Really no electricity? Because the wind stop blowing and the rivers ran dry...
Matthew B
29. MatthewB
Anyone can watch the pilot for Revolution right now, for free on iTunes. There's little excuse for uninformed speculation here. It's not 100% original, but it's not a ripoff of Stirling or anyone else.

@28 iroxv At one point early on in the pilot one of the characters goes on a mini-rant about how the laws of physics just suddenly went haywire, electricity. It's probably going to end up being some technobabble gibberish explanation, but it's not that oblivious.

IMO, it's not great but it has potential. Worth a try.
Mark Mercer
30. Brian L
I love sci fi shows - and had hopes for this - but am not likely going to tune in.

The scientifically believable reason MUST be explained UP FRONT in one of the first few episodes - and it must be believable.

As an electronics Tech with 15 years experience I am fully aware of a few ways that electricity on our planet could be - temporarily- destroyed... Within three years we could re create our entire electronic infrastructure - including retrofitting our factories with steam / coal powered systems to restart production.

There are plenty of other fall back systems we as a civilization have instant access to - old systems that still exsist and can be used to maintain our cities... Mechanical Lawn mowers - etc... Just look to the Amish to show us how to maintain our farms without the machinery.

A a massive solar flare for example could wipe out all the worlds transformers - sure it could theoretically destroy all electronics - but only if they are ACTIVELY in use - warehouse inventory can not suffer damage from that kind of wave...

During this time our military would be stationed at every city and town - there is NO WAY that local militias would be able to beat down our national guard. -Simple m16's will still function fine - and we have a giant stockpile of ammo and plenty of horses to pass messages around with.

There is simply NO plausible way that this show can happen in real life... I will not watch a show that is unbelievable...

Plenty of classic and modern stories have their story line based in science fact - Battlestar Galactica 2000 = Walking Dead (virus explained in great detail - fine print of course is still questionable - how can a zombie with no nose 'smell' the good flesh on a living person vs the bad flesh of another zombie) - Stargate - Star Trek - Matrix - Terminator - All these stories are hard to belive - but they are based on facts and explained to us up front so we understand it...

-If it was explained I'd dvr it - but no one has posted anything believable about it and I don't want to waste my time...
Arie King
31. Arieh
@Brian L, I don't think that there is a rule about the ratio between Sci and Fi.
I'm fairly positive that any attempt to generate power fails by a continuing EMP-like force. They talk about secrets who hold the key to turning electricity back up again, which means there is something preventing them from doing so. Also at the end, you see that lady turning on an amulet, similar like the one we saw at the beginning, which seems to generate a short range field in which electricity works. After that the lights went on, and she could fire up a computer.
Mark Mercer
34. Dhdelaney
This is Dies the Fire, and Meeting at Corvalis. It it is ripped off dorm SM Stirling.

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