Revolution: TV Review

NBC might have something here, if viewers are patient.

NBC's new drama -- executive produced by J.J. Abrams and with a pilot directed by Jon Favreau -- presents a puzzling future, part "Hunger Games," part "Lost," where electricity has vanished.

It will be interesting to see whether audiences give NBC’s new drama Revolution -- a tale about what happens when power goes out across the world, ostensibly forever -- a little patience, a little time to find out just what the producers are trying to say.

That's relevant because the pilot, while quite compelling, contains a lot of disjointed elements that need some explaining (which doesn't really occur in the pilot), and critics, having heard the producers talking about what kind of story they want to tell, understand that story isn't made available in the first hour.

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Does that make sense? If not, well, Revolution doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s a lot of fun. The producers, peppered very early by critics wanting to know if they actually had a plan -- on behalf of those people burned in the past by epic, serialized stories with a lot of mythology -- have endeavored to prove that they know what the hell they’re doing.

But first, a note about said producers: Revolution is touted as a show from J.J. Abrams, but he was mostly there (like Steven Spielberg and all of his recent TV series) as the guy whose name gets it launched. Iron Man director Jon Favreau is a producer on the series and directed the pilot (he also came to TCA and answered questions from critics), but it’s unclear whether he’ll direct more episodes. The series is really from Eric Kripke (Supernatural), with help from the very talented Bryan Burk (Star Trek, Lost).

It was Kripke who told critics that the series brought in a physicist, explained the big reveal of how all the power went out (and stayed out) and said the physicist was delighted by the surprise and agreed that, yes, it’s plausible. And plausibility is going to be a big issue in Revolution. As the pilot opens, we see Ben Matheson (Tim Guinee) rush home to his wife, Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell). Ben downloads obviously super-important information from a computer into a really cool thumb drive right before the epic turn of events happens: Every piece of electrical equipment in the world goes out. Planes fall from the sky. Cars die in their tracks. Explosions occur. Governments topple. People fight for food and water. If you dared to stay in a major city, you would probably die. Hope, the show hints, is out in the wild.

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Revolution quickly jumps to 15 years in the future -- still no power, and America has turned into a strange, retro agrarian culture. But it’s also littered with various militias and dangerous highway gangs, and quicker than you can say “Hunger Games meets Planet of the Apes meets Lost,” a quirky show with grand ambitions is on your screen.

The story mostly is told from the standpoint of Ben’s children, daughter Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos), who is fearless and appears to have seen Hunger Games 30 times, and son Danny (Graham Rogers), who looks like he didn’t understand Hunger Games. They are about to face off with ruthless Captain Tom Neville (the superb Giancarlo Esposito), who is in the service of the even more ruthless Gen. Monroe (David Lyons), leader of the decimated country's largest militia. Sure enough, dim-bulb Danny gets himself taken prisoner by Neville, and Charlie and a band of others race off to find her Uncle Miles (Billy Burke) somewhere in Chicago.

Now, having heard all of this, you might be wondering why water or wind hasn't been used to create electricity. That's the secret. All Kripke will hint at is that it's about "anything that throws a spark, any circuit that throws an electrical charge" -- they're all out and remain out. The water/wind factor will be explained (something clearly is happening to prevent electricity), and in the meantime, we are to view Revolution not as a postapocalyptic disaster series but more of a positive series about nature and simpler times.

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See, that’s the part that’s not readily explained in the pilot. And it turns out, based on comments from Kripke and Favreau, that it’s pretty important. Revolution, they say, is only partly about the “why” -- about the mystery of electricity. It’s mostly about creating a new utopia of sorts, living a simpler life in the wild and whether you'd go back to the Internet and Wi-Fi days if you really got a taste for the old ways.

It's not a bad idea, and it's also rather hopeful that Kripke says Revolution is not going to string out the power secret forever. Yes, there have been a ton of postapocalyptic stories (The Road comes to mind), and this won't be one of them. This is the other take. That's why people fight with swords and arrows. It's why Kripke says his inspiration was more Lord of the Rings than Planet of the Apes.

Look, we’re all going to have to just go with it. The pilot is a winner, and it will pull you back the following week. The question is whether the story not told in the pilot will be the story that keeps viewers around or sends them away.