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TV Review: Revolution Premieres Next Monday on NBC

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I have to admit that I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic movies and television series. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of how civilization might survive in the aftermath of a planet-changing event (in fiction anyway). I even have a mostly-finished novel sitting on my hard drive that takes place in the bleak existence of a post nuclear accident in my hometown of Chicago. So I was most definitely intrigued by the idea of a Chicago-set, post-apocalyptic television drama series. NBC’s new series Revolution, for example.

The big, global, planet-changing event that sets Revolution in motion is an abrupt, permanent worldwide turning out of the lights—a blackout. Actually, it’s not just the lights, but apparently everything with power switch—not just those things connected to the power grid, but all technology, full stop.

No one knows why the lights went out or when they’re going to come back on, if ever. We get an inkling that a few people might have a clue, but those people are keeping their knowledge a big secret lest the info gets into the hands of the bad guys (who seem really nasty).

In the series pilot, we see life the “day before,” the few minutes prior to the world re-entering the (literally) dark ages.  The narrative then skips ahead 15 years to a brave new world more Wild West than Chicago Metro. People live in wary enclaves, terrified of the warlords and their militias, who seem to have all the power (as it were). One particular militia leader (Giancarlo Esposito, Once Upon a Time’s Sidney Glass) is hunting a man and his brother, believed to hold the key to turning the lights (and everything else) back on.

Unfortunately, his henchman kill the man with the answers but capture his teenage son. His daughter then goes on the run in search of the brother, who had been traveling with a companion the day the Earth stood still. Finding her Uncle Miles (Billy Burke,Twilight) in the heart of Chicago running a bar in the lobby of a downtown hotel, he is reluctant to help, keen, instead on living—and not being found by the bad guys.

Revolution is a neat premise: a world completely reliant on power to function, completely collapsing when it suddenly all just stops, and within a matter of minutes. Fifteen years post-blackout, the landmark Chicago buildings and cars look appropriately seedy (as I imagined them looking in my unfinished novel); the streets and people look believably dirty and dangerous; fallen planes and burnt out high rises serve as squats. The plot revolves around Charlie Matheson (Tracy Spiridakos, Being Human), her brother Danny (Graham Rogers, Memphis Beat), and their reclusive Miles  as they try to beat the militia and try to understand the mystery of the blackout. And perhaps even get figure out how to finally end it.

My only problem with Revolution is that, taking place 15 years post-blackout, there seem to have been no (even in secret) innovators who have either overcome the lack of energy by creating their own (sun, wind, biofuels). Granted, there are bad guys out there, but even they don’t seem to have power sources (unlike the baddies of Mad Max Beyond, Thunderdome, for example, who so many years after apocalypse happens, they’ve figured out a way around—for fun and profit). There may be a perfectly logical (within the series logic, that is) reason why the neither the militia nor the people have created (and are selling via black market, at least) a viable (if small scale) energy source. So I hope a reason for that is revealed sooner rather than later.

Shows like the long-gone Jericho or the Walking Dead can get away with things like because they are set in the short-term aftermath of catastrophe. But 15 years is a bit hard to imagine with no one figuring out a way to make energy, no matter how much I like the idea.

I hope the series creators also don’t lose sight of the fact that this is a sci-fi show, and while drama is good (and I’m a huge fan of serious, character-driven science fiction), I’d hate to see the series become too much of a soap opera set against a sci-fi world. Keep the dystopia front and center; I think they will.

Too few science fiction series are given a chance on network (or cable for that matter—and don’t get me started on Syfy, which seems to have a particularly cannibalistic attitude the last few years in its habit of canceling excellent sci-fi series faster than the speed of light) TV to thrive, much less get the sort of promotion Revolution has been given by NBC. So, I’m pulling for Revolution to be a good series, and I wish the creative team much success, hoping that Revolution develops into a complex tale that’s reasonable on the science and wonderfully complex on the fiction. After all, it’s got a great pedigree coming from J.J. Abrams (Star Trek) and Eric Kripke (Supernatural).

And for those of you who can’t wait ‘till Monday to see the premiere, here’s the entire first episode, courtesy of NBC.

Revolution premieres Monday, September 17 at 10:00 p.m. on NBC.

Photo and videos courtesy NBC Media Village

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • ComtessedeBussy

    Thanks for the review! I’m a huge fan of Kripke’s Supernatural and so decided to give this series a chance, despite my lack of taste for post-apocalyptic stories. It’s pretty intriguing so far – a lot of secrets and plot twists that make you keep watching, and those views of completely overgrown metropolises are stunning. I’m especially intrigued to see how they explain the power just going out, since, as a character mentioned, it defies the laws of physics. I’m guessing that’s why nobody came up with any kind of energy source? Because the power doesn’t just go off, the power doesn’t function…it’s like there’s no more power as we know it in the world.
    Might we expect a few more reviews and possibly even interviews from you focusing on this show?

  • rjw

    This is one of the new shows that I plan to take a look at.

  • Kieran

    The behind the scenes video was pretty cool and the story is intriguing. I’ve seen mixed reviews f this show, some saying that it doesn’t have staying power because a lot of the story is vague. I didn’t have the chance to watch the pilot but I plan to do so before the series premiere. I’ve got my Hopper set to record the series this season and just in case I miss a few episodes I’ll have them available later. The show has a very strong cast and I was surprised to see Giancarlo Esposito as the law keeper. A few of my co-workers were talking about the show and that’s how I got interested. This season of fall TV shows is full of potential and this show is at the top of the list. I sure hope it sticks around.

  • Jim

    Thought occurs. Our nervous system is electrical. No electricity at all. Everyone would be dead.

  • On the other hand, JoeB, Syfy channel barely gives its shows a chance, although that may be beginning to shift back (hopefully).

  • JoeBlow

    Network TV almost always disappoints me. I will watch & give this a chance but guessing it will fail and cable is the only TV I will go back to enjoying. Sons of Anarchy, here I come 🙂

  • I’m looking forward to it too. Can’t wait for episode #2.

  • Gerry

    Barbara, I’m intrigued with this one. One of the creators, Eric Kripke, is the Supernatural creator, so I know he’s got a good grip on long term arcs. Jon Favreau and JJ Abrams should bring their special magic, too. Hopefully, the mix is a good one!