Revolution 101: “Pilot”

J.J. Abrams and Eric Kripke — two of TV’s best fantasy creators, who among them are responsible for LOST, ALIAS, SUPERNATURAL and HEROES — have collaborated for the first time on a new science-fiction series called REVOLUTION, and the result is… something of an underwhelming muddle.

REVOLUTION is set in a world 15 years after and a mysterious event caused every single electrical device on the planet to lose power virtually simultaneously. As a result, our civilization — which was so reliant on electricity to power our devices — has regressed to a Bronze Age society, and the law of the jungle is the law of the land.

The episode begins with some impressive visuals as the lights going out and airplanes fall from the sky, but viewers are quickly catapulted forward 15 years, from a bustling, traffic-choked Chicago to a subsistence agrarian village. Ben Matheson (Tim Guinee) — who, unbeknownst to virtually everybody has a mysterious connection to the blackout —  is the leaders here, and one day a militia unit led by  Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) rides into town to take Ben and is brother Miles into custody on behalf of the local warlord. Ben’s hotheaded 17-year-old son, Danny (Graham Rogers) forces a battle that leads to several deaths, including his own father. Neville leaves — with Danny in chains. With his dying breath, Ben orders his 20-year-old daughter, Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos), to go to Chicago and find Miles.

So Charlie dons the tightest leather pants allowed by Standards & Practices, a low-cut belly shirt and a leather jacket, then loads her trusty crossbow to go look for her uncle and rescue Danny. Along for the trip are Ben’s new girlfriend Dr. Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips); and Aaron (Zak Orth), to whom Ben gave a mysterious silver amulet that viewers know contains hidden information Ben downloaded from his laptop 15 years ago. Traipsing through the woods, Charlie spots a cryptic stranger, Nate (JD Pardo). Later, the trio arrives at O’Hare Airport and spends the night in a plane. But they awaken to marauders holding them at knifepoint. As one carries Charlie off to rape her, Maggie manages to get the other two to drink poisoned whisky. Then Charlie’s attacker is suddenly killed — by Nate, who followed Charlie.

Throwing in with the stranger, Charlie and friends arrive in Chicago and have no trouble finding Miles (Billy Burke) — but he refuses to go along on her quest for his nephew Danny. Until, that is, Nate brings his buddies from the militia to capture Miles. Luckily, Uncle Miles is a former Marine who specialized in swordplay, so he kills all the militiamen (with an assist from Charlie). Then, since his life in Chicago is ruined, he agrees to help find his nephew. Danny, meanwhile, managed to escape Neville’s caravan, but then collapses from an asthma attack at Grace’s (Maria Howell) farm. Neville easily tracks him down and takes the boy back into custody. The leader of the Monroe Militia turns out to be Sebastian Monroe (David Lyons) an old Marine buddy of Miles’. Later, Grace goes to her attic and pulls out a silver amulet identical to the one Aaron is carrying, and uses it as an energy source to boot up a computer. She then exchanges instant messages with an unknown person who asks, “So… what now?”

What now, indeed. REVOLUTION is a mix of an intriguing premise with pedestrian execution. The story is larded with clichés, from the absent mother to the Good Girl/Bad Boy romance. And, as for the tropes of post-apocalyptic stories, we see the sci-fi element used as a McMuffin and then passed off to standard-issue brigands and rogues and militias. In other words, no matter how strange things get, you cannot change human nature; Man will always be the worst enemy of Man.

Which leads us to the standout performance of the show, Giancarlo Esposito as Neville, who manages to be menacing without bluster. True, some of that is due to the baggage he carries from playing Gus Fring on BREAKING BAD, but let’s face it: Esposito has gravitas. Which is something the good guys need. At this point, Miles is an irresponsible drunk, Maggie a shrew and Charlie is a much more callow version of Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. She’s so trusting, she would buy the Brooklyn Bridge and swampland in Florida. And the less said about Danny, the better; he has already proved he’s this show’s version of 24’s Kim Bauer: a ludicrous trouble magnet who would be better off eaten by a mountain lion.

So, now that the Quest storyline is under way… what now?

Oh, one more thing: I want to go on record right now predicting that Grace is communicating with Charlie’s mom, Rachel. (Who hires Elizabeth Mitchell for 45 seconds of screen time?)

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