The Revolution Was Televised
September 20, 2012 10:00 am
By: Frankie Williams
What is important in this day and age? Content is fleeting. Divorce rates are high. Jobs are insecure. Conversations are often done remotely, and when done over dinner, tend to be interrupted by texting. Perhaps it’s actually the gadget that is most important — its glow of connection, ongoing distraction, promise of more. But what if that light were to be taken away? What would we ever do with our time? In what direction would we go?
Enter the long-awaited series, Revolution (NBC, Mondays at 10 P.M.), J.J. Abrams’ latest dramatic sci-fi offering created by Erik Kriptke, who brought us Supernatural, which premiered in 2005 on the WB. Revolution‘s premise: what would the world be like void of electricity? In the first few moments, we get a taste — gadgets shut down, airplanes fall from the sky and interstates come to a standstill. And then — poof! — we are 15 years into the future, piecing together the members of the Matheson family amid a dystopic, post-apocalyptic world.
The pilot episode sets up the parameters: we have a family — Charlie, the hot, unflappable 20ish daughter/niece; Danny, her asthmatic younger brother; Maggie, their father’s new girlfriend after their mother died; and uncle Miles, a former military man, who is basically an action figure in the style of Jason Bourne, minus the programming — plus Aaron, the resident dweeby former-tech exec intellectual. After Danny is captured by evil militia men, the others must try to find him and bring him back, revealing a plot full of bandits, warlords and magical secret amulets that transmit electricity.
The Mathesons seem to evade much work on Revolution (and food, for that matter, though Charlie, who is naturally great with a bow and arrow, does fetch some water from an idyllic lake). We glimpse a few people tending to a garden bed (made from a Prius!), but it appears to be the kind of gardening one does for leisure, not survival. Maybe a world without electricity isn’t so bad after all — or not so far from a weekend in the mountains, unplugged and without one’s iPad.
Jon Favreau, a producer of the show, directed the pilot, and he adeptly (if not boringly) treats the content like a Western, but I wonder if Revolution couldn’t benefit a bit more from Favreau’s whimsy and humor (he certainly made us laugh with him in Swingers and at Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man). As implausible a conceit as Revolution is, it is a compelling one. But for civilization to go black during the heydey of Google (character Aaron, a former Google-exec, once had $80 million in the bank and was probably a Les Savy Fav fan), there seems to be a lack of any real wonder in the world. Perhaps all the ingenuity died off when young creatives, too stubborn to leave the cities, learned that they were destined to perish.
In the Revolution world some propenents of the city are still intact: fashion and vanity still seem to be important (everyone looks great in their well-broken-in leather jackets and boots), and because leisure is apparently abundant, showers are presumably still taken in pastoral lakes, revitalizing shampoo and face moisturizers included. And not only is socializing in old churches still very hip, but Cheesecake Factory-decor is still very much in fashion. But in a world of science fiction, awe needs to trump credibility. Generally, if the devices used to feed the tale are wonderful and insightful, the viewer doesn’t really care if it’s plausible — it is merely one possibility in a world that was not only impossible yesterday, but didn’t exist. This should be Revolution’s biggest goal going forward — if not awe used as the proponent to spin the tale, then insight into the hardships of people in a post-apocalyptic world.
But life in post-apocalyptica doesn’t seem to be all that hard on Revolution, just different and quasi-reminiscent of a day and age when things where done on horses, settled with swords, and “magic” dwelled inside amulets. Piggybacking on the popularity of The Hunger Games will only get you so far before you have to dig down, do some hard work, and actually try to think about what the future might look like.
In the Revolution future, human connection (outside of some vague, corny notions of “family”) matters little more than it does now. Instead, connection is still tied to technology — this time an amulet that makes electricity possible, making computers run again. The most gifted and rare among us have access to a computer and modem.
(Revolution, Season 1, Episode 1 was consumed via Hulu on a 26″ Insginia Flatscreen with Roku box, connected wirelessly to the internet with lots and lots of commercial interruption.)