I'm a sucker for post apocalyptic TV series. I loved JMS's Jeremiah when I was younger, and I very much liked CBS' Jericho despite its flaws. S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire series also ranges rather high on my 'have to finish reading it' list. So you can probably imagine my delight when I came across NBC's new project called Revolution. Here's what its all about:
Revolution takes place in a post-apocalyptic future. Fifteen years earlier, an unknown phenomenon permanently disabled all advanced technology on the planet, ranging from computers and electronics to car engines, jet engines, and batteries. People were forced to adapt to a world without technology, and due to the collapse of public order, many areas are ruled by warlords and militias. The series focuses on the Matheson family, who possess an item that is the key to not only finding out what happened fifteen years ago, but also a possible way to reverse its effects.
Is it any good? Well, they pre-aired the show's pilot this week and I was able to watch it. And what can I say? I'm a jaded bastard. You see the problem is, if you like post-apocalyptic fiction and consume your fair share of the genre you not only become somewhat genre-savvy but also become very observant regarding the small things that can make or break a setting. And Revolution? Well, let me just say that it's not off to a good start in that regard.
This is a potpourri of points and opinions which either myself or some other trustworthy individuals posted on two web forums which I condensed into this semi-coherent rant. On second thought, semi-coherent is probably a very polite way to describe these unrelated rambling. Structured paragraphs? Pah, who needs those...!
Production values are really high for a TV series. That's about it, sorry. The world looks great, if a wee bit too overgrown, and you get the idea that with Kripke and Favreau you've got two guys orchestrating this who have a good eye for the visual side of things. They don't pull any punches when it comes to showing what little is left of what used to be Illinois even though I think they should've gone for more signs of destructions within the cities and less 'the jungle conquered it all back'. Even rural roads won't be fully overgrown after fifteen years of barely any use, and large cities bristling concrete and steel are a whole other league to begin with.
The musical score also helps to underline the feeling of mystery of exploring a world we know and yet no longer know at the same time.
The Not So Good
I wish I could linger longer on some good aspects of the show but, well, there really aren't too many of them so far. What Revolution does wrong with its first episode is that it attempts to force 2-3 episodes worth of content into a 43-minute running time.
What, in a more confident show, would have been the first multi-episode story arc (Charlie's search for her Uncle Miles), is instead forced into severely limited space first with the opening prologue establishing the "blackout" that shuts down all technology, the establishment of the basics of the post-apocalyptic setting 15 years later, the introduction of characters, the establishment of relationships and dynamics among the main cast, the introduction of even more characters and new locations as the show rapidly expands, a major action scene with swords and muskets, hints to the broader mystery and major conflict that will likely dominate the rest of the season, etc. There's so much jockeying for attention from the start with this show that none of it is effective, none of it is involving, none of it actually works.
What feels like it could have been a good climax to a first episode, the abduction of Charlie's brother and the death of her father which serve as her "call to adventure," instead happens after only fifteen minutes.
Which brings us to a central weakness of the show so far. Yes, it's a bit unfair to call it that way after only forty-five minutes, but it needs to be said since it concerns the centerpieces of Revolution. With a few exceptions the characters are mediocre at best, obnoxious at worst. Billy Burke is a bad-ass. Giancarlo Esposito seems like a reasonable guy.
Charly (let's call her Not-Katniss), the female main protagonist, is a cliché rebellious teenager more suited for a contemporary series than Revolution, too curious for her – and her astmathic brother's good – despite having grown up in the very post-apocalyptica that caused her mother's death through the same lack of caution. And the first thing she does after leaving to get her stupid brother back is chat up the first random good looking guy (Not-Jacob) she comes across... because, caution, you know. Of course he's a militia plant who rats them out.
Her brother Danny is barely any better. In fact, given that his stupidity causes the death of their father I don't see how this is a character I could relate to.
The point is this: these people have grown up in what should have been hell on Earth. They should be intimately accustomed to this new world's dangers and to its do's and don't's. That especially the teenagers the most ingrained with this knowledge act the most recklessly is quite the turn off. If a platoon of trained and somewhat armed (more to that later) militiamen rides into your village the smart thing isn't to oppose them with a single crossbow and a fat guy with a gun.
Aaron (fat neighbor dude) is the comic relief, who of course goes on the journey to get their brother back unarmed. As does the medicine lady.
That's a problem but doesn't completely undermine my suspension of disbelief. What follows, however, does.
Everything and everybody is way too clean. In fact they look as if they had just walked out of an shampoo commercial rather than spending 15 years without electricity, new clothes, healthy food or running water, let alone haircare products and cosmetics. Clothes barely look worn. People are extremely healthy, given the ordeals they must've gone through: they're muscular, not set on by ilnesses, some even carry quite impressive girths around with them. Ironically it's the extras who probably are clothed the most reasonably.
What makes this allthemore problematic from a perspective of in-universe plausibility is that especially our "starting group", the community our story begins in, are former suburbanites with a supposed white collar background. There are no known farming backgrounds, there's no prior knowledge regarding raising cattle, cultivating crops (without pesticides and fertilizer!) and there's no knowledge in construction.
The militia itself and the "other republics" are just as baffling. The latters because we know nothing of them except for their supposed existence. The militia, on the other hand, is a crowd worse equipped than the Union Army of 1861. If this really was a Dies the Fire scenario (and they've just put enough space between themselves and S.M. Stirling to avoid a law suit) I could somewhat understand this (well, after 15 years that'd stretch things...). What we have to ask ourselves is how a supposedly potent military force like the Monroe Militia is primarily armed with melee weapons, flintlocks and crossbows. This is not a small question. We're talking about a US population reduced from above 300 million to maybe a tenth of that, and an amount of firearms in public and private ownership probably equalling the pre-collapse population numbers. Add to this literally billions of rounds of ammonution and scores of protective gear in circulation with the armed forces, militias and law enforcement and it makes it hard to believe that the single most powerful military force in the Chicago area doesn't use Kevlar, helmets or modern firearms whatsoever.
One thing that bothered me is also this, because it directly plays into the complete lack of modern equipment bit: Esposito's character mentions that owning a firearm is an offensive punishable by death. Now, leaving aside the obvious problems of trying to disarm a post-apocalyptic, entrenched society, shouldn't this mean that the ones doing the confiscating - the Militia - ought to be swimming in gear and guns? I don't expect them to all wear pristine M4s, but given the amount of guns compared to the relative scarcity of people they should at least all be equipped with modern firearms and a modicum of actual (para)-military gear. A bit like Daniel's army in Jeremiah, for example.
This is all even more absurd considering that the guy behind the Monroe Militia isn't some kind of doofus but a former NCO with - at least the in-episode dialogue makes it sound like that - some special forces background. Why would he, of all people, ditch the advantge that modern gear, guns and armor have to offer?
You might say they want drama between attractive people. Not rugged survivors in tattered clothes, armored fighting men and return to sheer medieval brutality. My answer to this is: Then do a different premise. If you're going to ignore a bunch of the implications, the show has no depth and looks like cheese despite costing much more than a "modern" show to produce. You give people swords, give them armor. Apart from making you fight a lot better, it's very advisable in a world where medical care & availability will be poor.
I know that this is the first episode and everything, but has there been any mention about steam engines or diesel engines? Neither one of those engines utilize electricity to function, the technology is over a century old and every first year university engineering student can probably MacGuyver something together in just a few weeks/months time, so after 15 years I would imagine that there should be hundreds (if not thousands) of such engines in existence across the country.
In fact: think about the Coolness/Geek Factor if the Militia rolled into the village with a steam engined powered tank. Now wouldn't that had showed the viewer what badasses they were... But instead we get dudes with machetes and crossbows.
That's something I really don't get. There's basically nobody who can make a good sword these days, especially in America. Or even an adequate one. There's at least thousands of people out there who can make a decent enough gun, and millions who can reload ammunition. Machine tools don't *really* need electricity, in fact, much of the gun "cottage industry" relies on venerable old machines dating back to WW2, which are powered by belts that run up to the ceiling. They'll run on anything that can spin the pulleys. Water wheels, steam or diesel engines, bunch of dudes turning a capstan, etc.
That, and very few people know how to fight with a sword these days. Even fewer than did so in the past, naturally.
And the fact that at some point he's going to have a big mano-a-mano fight with Billy Burke at some point is so phoned in its not even funny.
Some things just don't make any sense, like the water levels having risen by what looks five meters or more in Chicago. Why?
And one more thing: why didn't Esposito's guys tear that black lady's house apart? Why was she let go scot-free for harboring a fugitive (Charly's brother)?
Sorry, the more I think about it the less the story and its characters make sense so far. I didn't want to go at this series all negative, but aside from its optics it has pretty little going for it right now. But I'll keep watching it. Maybe it'll get better. The series does have potential. But from here on it's treading a thin line. I just hope they won't waste it.