What’s Wrong With REVOLUTION?

I am aware that my review of the premiere episode of NBC’s REVOLUTION might have seemed a bit harsh to some, so I decided to expand upon exactly what bothered me so much about the science-fiction series set in a world where all electrical power has been lost for 15 years.

What REVOLUTION creator Eric Kripke and executive producer J.J. Abrams have in common is a penchant for big, engaging ideas that start off well, but then lose their way and eventually drive off a cliff (LOST, ALIAS and HEROES) — except for SUPERNATURAL, which is pretty much unkillable. And I’m afraid what we have here is a Big Idea that makes a great premise for a story, but is probably unsustainable as an ongoing series.

As evidence, I point to how this week’s pilot episode showed that the producers have not put a lot of thought into the series beyond the story elements needed for the first episode. Instead of planting seeds for future stories, a lot of… stuff was tossed out there that looked cool — cities overgrown by jungle, vast flooded vistas and sword fights — but aren’t necessarily good for the long-term health of the series.

If you are going to create a whole new environment for a sci-fi series, then world-building is even more important that it usually is for a run-of-the-mill lawyer or cop show. You have to establish the status quo of your new world and make sure it is internally consistent so that when you reveal it to your viewers, it all seems to make sense and doesn’t contradict itself or, worse, leave the viewers arguing with the show: “That doesn’t make sense.” And that, unfortunately, is a big problem for REVOLUTION.

My main problem is that I cannot accept that the United States would fall so far in just 15 years. Why would the cities fall into such disrepair when people are still living there? Why is Chicago so overgrown with vegetation? Why was Wrigley Field abandoned? (I’m guessing there’s some kind of metahumor involved there, as Wrigley famously did not install electric lights until 1988.) A voiceover tells the viewer that society had relied on electricity for everything, including pumping water, so vast regions flooded and buildings collapsed and people went nuts, letting everything fall into disrepair.

Huh? I don’t think so.

Why does everyone have to instantly revert to barbarism? I can understand chaos in the immediate wake of the blackout, but surely once one people realized the electricity wasn’t coming back they smartened up. Everyone would understand that there are no more ATMs or SUVs, and start sewing their own clothes and training horses.

Grass and weeds were cut long before the invention of gas- or electric-powered lawn mowers, so what’s up with that. In fact, lots of stuff was accomplished before electrification became widespread from about the 1890s onward. We saw no steam locomotives where once there was a mighty empire of trains crisscrossing the nation. Steam should be employed so much that REVOLUTION should have been a steampunk series. All the greatest minds in the country would have turned to steam engines, steam airships (zeppelins and dirigibles, not airplanes), steam-powered elevators. Very nearly everything that was done with electricity could be accomplished with steam or by mechanical means. The Industrial Revolution was powered by coal-fired steam — and the USA still has vast deposits of coal waiting to be tapped.

It would be extremely interesting to see how the denizens of the Third World, which are not nearly as technology-dependent as the West, are faring on REVOLUTION. It’s probably more or less business as usual for the majority of the Earth’s population that has been living in poverty. Perhaps certain poor nations have risen to power just because they know how to get along without electricity.

The fact that things like airplanes and cars have been left to rot implies that electrical devices never again worked after the blackout, but what could cause that? The blackout wasn’t caused by an electromagnetic pulse. While that would have a similar effect, anything electrical that was turned off at the time of the EMP would still function, as would anything used later. Since that hasn’t happened, an EMP wasn’t involved. But how does Grace’s power source work? Whatever it is, the energy was converted to electricity to run her computer. And whoever is on the other side (Rachel) must have a similar computer/power source. I’m no electrical engineer, but this just doesn’t sound right.

Also, do the producers remember that the human brain functions via electrical impulses? So whatever knocked out the power grid cannot have affected electricity itself, or everyone’s brains also would have shut down and never come back on. But then again, to be painfully blunt, perhaps that’s what happened in the writers’ room.

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Oh, yeah? Sez you!

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