NBC’s “Revolution” is not so revolutionary

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"Revolution" is the latest network TV version of this familiar post-apocalypse scenario: A ragtag band must struggle for survival after a global catastrophe. This time the disaster isn't a nuclear war, plague, or zombie outbreak: electric power goes out in a worldwide blackout, leaving humanity helpless without the Internet, smartphones, etc. As order breaks down, ruthless militias take control of the countryside.

The story begins 15 years after the big blackout when the bad guys, the Monroe Militia, raid one of the idyllic communes the good guys have set up, in order to capture the father of young Charlotte "Charlie" Matheson (Tracy Spiridakos), who is believed to have the secret to turning the power back on. A shootout ensues, Charlie's father is killed, and her brother Danny (Graham Rogers) is captured. Charlie finds herself on what NBC publicity calls "a daring coming of age journey," to reunite with her uncle, rescue her brother, restore the U.S.A., and reboot civilization.

Produced by J. J. Abrams ("Lost," "Fringe," "Alias"), "Revolution" has some of the feel of his other projects, but lacks their verve and originality. Abrams' method of taking customary tropes (e.g. island castaways, paranormal weirdness, spies) and putting a fresh spin on them falls short here. "Revolution" evokes the themes and looks of recent films and TV shows like "Terra Nova," "The Walking Dead," and "The Hunger Games," but fails to provide enough of a twist on the well-worn proceedings.

The "Revolution" storyline suggests many problems that the script (so far) doesn't have the imagination (or courage) to deal with. For example, the story takes place 15 years after the power outage, but the Midwest where the story takes place is inexplicably depopulated and overly verdant (i.e. ivy-covered skyscrapers). Was there a war or famine that killed off millions? If so, buildings are intact and the biosphere appears to be thriving. Were there mass suicides due to a lack of access to Facebook and Twitter?

One of the tragic side stories involves a former Google executive (Zak Orth) who says he would trade his $80 million "for a roll of Charmin." Also, while it's been 15 years since the apocalypse, through flashbacks we learn that civilization began to collapse just eight weeks after the outage! Civil society existed for thousands of years before electricity, yet it can't survive for more than a few weeks without it? Which begs the question, is this society really that precarious? And why? As NBC (parented by General Electric) explains in the show's publicity, "our entire way of life depends on electricity."

Just what is the "revolution" of "Revolution?" The "politics" of post-electricity America exist to provide excuses for shoot-outs, swordfights, explosions, and lines like, "You should have killed me when you had the chance." Out of the post-blackout disorder and rapid collapse of the U.S. government arises the Monroe Militia, a multiracial band of bullies who favor feudal social relations and Civil War era fashion. Although called a "militia," a term that evokes racist, reactionary survivalists, the Monroe-ites instead exhibit tendencies that the tea party associates with the left, mainly an intolerance for privately-owned firearms and a consuming hatred for the USA. In an irony that "Revolution" shows no interest in exploring, the Constitution itself associates gun ownership with "a well regulated militia."

Militia leader Captain Tom (Giancarlo Esposito, riveting as the cold-blooded meth entrepreneur Gustavo in "Breaking Bad") could be seen as a reference to the ultra-right's delusional image of Barack Obama: an anti-American despot. Presented with an American flag retrieved from a rebel's house, he orders his men to "burn it." This connection, however, is surely unintentional; the series' makers are clearly going for made-for-TV patriotism, not outrageous political camp.

Therein lies the main problem with "Revolution:" the premise suggests many interesting possibilities, none of which are taken up by the storyline. The series brings up intriguing questions it has no intention of answering, such as: Why would the rebels be so willing to risk their lives to resurrect a governance system with so little popular support that it collapsed in a matter of months? Or, given that the first Industrial Revolution happened before electrification, and was driven by steam power, why couldn't humanity explore alternative power sources? And finally, what's more interesting: yet another tedious post-apocalyptic power struggle, or the social leveling that happens when a one-percenter runs out of toilet paper?

"Revolution" is on NBC on Mondays. Check your local listings for time.

Photo: NBC

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  • Is this show anti American? It seems So

    Posted by Mike, 01/24/2014 10:31pm (8 months ago)

  • Revolution is the perfect program for the brain dead post-modernists who fundamentally reject trying to understand the objective knowledge about the world that would make all the incredible plot holes of the series obvious and painful to them. If you don't know anything about the physical world and don't think about anything, you won't be bothered. And given how the characters have acted it would help if you know nothing about how human beings actually act.

    Posted by Mark R, 10/20/2012 5:10pm (2 years ago)

  • Revolution has become one of my top picks for this fall TV season. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for sci-fi, but Abrams has developed another hit—as long as he doesn’t unleash too many mysteries like LOST. I usually gossip about the show with a few coworkers at DISH, after we all catch up on our Hoppers. I’m just happy that the show falls in PrimeTime, because my Hopper auto-records it with its PrimeTime Anytime feature, allowing me to not miss an episode—DVR timers always slip my mind.

    Posted by Wade W, 10/11/2012 10:25pm (2 years ago)

  • The SciFi story on which the main thesis of this series is losely based (S.M. Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time and two other novels) postulates that steam power (and explosives of all kinds) are deactivated along with electricity in "the event." The anti-American mad militias are borrowed from another post-apocalyptic SF story, "The Postman" (not the Italian one).

    Of course, to deactivate electricity, explosives and even steam would require the local suspension of any number of physical laws (one of Stirling's characters suggests that it must have been a god who did it!), perhaps enough to make this corner of the universe uninhabitable, but it is a plot device sufficient to allow for the fall of civilization and a return to medieval conditions (and as to how fragile our civilization is, just consider Katrina!).

    Posted by Owen, 10/11/2012 2:16pm (2 years ago)

  • Have to agree. It's dull. But then, "Last Resort" is cool so far! -- Jim Lane

    Posted by jim lane, 10/09/2012 2:17pm (2 years ago)

  • I'm still holding out hope things might improve somewhat, but my misgiving began when the electricity all disappeared and no one remembered the old school experiment with making batteries with household items.

    "And finally, what's more interesting: yet another tedious post-apocalyptic power struggle, or the social leveling that happens when a one-percenter runs out of toilet paper?"...I must admit I might be holding on for the guilty pleasure of the spectacle of the latter.

    Posted by Starry Messenger, 10/08/2012 11:02pm (2 years ago)

  • I somewhat disagree...Every episode has a taste of something, it just doesn't have the meaty hook the others have, because they don't want to overwhelm the disappointed Lost viewer...but if your looking closely you will see interesting pop-cultural and historic references and some interesting things like schematics sitting by Grace's computer desk, that may be pointing us in the direction of interesting tech like dynamo electric generator (AC/DC = Alternate Current/Direct Current) and/or the power might have been turned off so the Monroe Republic (a historic references - Jame Monroe/Monroe Doctrine) couldn't finish building their "death star"...

    Just saying only 3 episodes have aired and everyone expects to have all the answers already! Kind of defeats the purpose of watching a serialized TV show.

    Posted by DarthLocke, 10/08/2012 7:46pm (2 years ago)

  • I agree with you 100% except where the chaos occurs. When the electricity stops we can't pump water, irrigate crops communicate or transfer fuel. There would be famines and pestilence shortly afterward. Minor disruptions in the food supply can be disastrous. History proves this. Unfortunately our generation has gotten soft when it comes to " make due" even when we compare ourselves to people 1 generation ago. That situation doesn't help either. The stuff about the flag and private fire arms is prattle. I honestly believe that businesses put this series together to inspire tea party prattle to generate animosity toward our president an and inspire phoney patriot platitudes.

    Posted by J'Rome, 10/08/2012 4:29pm (2 years ago)

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