Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Lost In A World Without Power: Revolution Season 1 Is Engaging, But Not Overly Original!

The Good: Character development, Initial concept, Moments of performance
The Bad: Very derivative plot, acting and character arcs of other works by J.J. Abrams.
The Basics: Revolution’s first season might thrill those unfamiliar with the works of J.J. Abrams, but disappoint the rest of us who are.

One of the dangers of becoming a force in the entertainment industry seems to be that the people who surround the rising star either accept the limitations of the star without challenging them and/or that the rising star surrounds themselves with talent that speaks to them. In other words, the force surrounds themselves with sycophants who create derivative works of the rising star. The former is very evident with the works of Aaron Sorkin. I love the works of Aaron Sorkin and I would love to work with him, but fans of his works, by the time The Newsroom Season 1 (reviewed here!) aired have pretty much seen everything he’s got. The man has great talent, but he recycles more of his lines, plotlines and character traits than anyone working on television today.

J.J. Abrams appears to be at the other end of the spectrum. Abrams has become one of the most sought-after directors for film and television. At this point, though, there has become something remarkably formulaic to the projects Abrams begins. With Revolution, J.J. Abrams is only one of the executive producers of the show – he neither wrote, nor directed, any of the episodes (so far). And yet, having finally picked up and watched Revolution Season 1, it is hard not to see there is ample evidence of the second phenomenon. Revolution in its first season is essentially structured as Lost (reviewed here!) – which J.J. Abrams co-created, wrote, and directed – meets The Walking Dead (season one is reviewed here!) or Jeremiah (first season is reviewed here!). The derivative nature of Lost is so strong that in an early episode, when my wife – watching a man getting tortured – cringed and complained, “I don’t want to watch this; they’re going to slit his neck,” I was able to authoritatively say, “No, he’s going to stab him in the gut.” And I was right . . . because as someone familiar with J.J. Abrams’ works, I knew that was the way it would go. But, Abrams did not write or direct the episode . . . so he surrounded himself with people who write and direct what he would have if he was writing or directing the project.

Revolution sucked me in with its intriguing premise, one that is very reminiscent of Jeremiah: fifteen years after the world’s power goes out, survivors are struggling. All electrical power is dampened and Revolution starts in the United States where the northern states have become a loose confederation under Sebastian Monroe and the Militia. Fifteen years after the power is knocked out and dampened (independent electrical sources like battery powered flashlights and automobiles do not work), society is in shambles and the world is getting darker. Small dictatorships have sprouted up in the United States and the fiefdoms are kept in line using taxes paid in food and the fact that the militias control all the weapons.

Opening in a small village fifteen years after the Blackout, Ben Matheson is killed. Before dying at the hands of the General Monroe’s lieutenant, Tom Neville, Ben gives his friend Aaron a small pendant and tells his daughter Charlie to go find his brother Miles in Chicago. Aaron, Charlie and Ben’s partner, Maggie, journey to Chicago where they find Miles. Miles does not want to risk his status and anonymity in Chicago, but when Charlie is determined to go after her brother, Danny, who was kidnapped by Neville, and General Monroe’s forces descend upon his place in Chicago – thanks to a spy Charlie accidentally brought with her – Miles is forced onto the road. Determined to rescue Danny, Miles rescues a rebel, Nora, from slavery at the hands of Monroe’s forces.

As the small band makes its way from Chicago to Philadelphia to rescue Danny, they discover how dangerous the world has become. Charlie is horrified to learn that her uncle was one of the architects of the dangerous new world, and was the one who installed Monroe in power over the Midwest. Monroe uses Ben’s wife, Rachel, to try to restore power which will allow him to essentially rule the world. Monroe, using his men to hunt down the pendants, is stymied by Charlie and Miles, who use their determination and knowledge of Monroe. At each step in their journey, Miles, Aaron, and Charlie learn more about the events leading up to the Blackout and how to get the power back on.

Revolution is structured almost identically to Lost. Virtually every episode features flashbacks from a single character who is focused on as they struggle with something going on in the present time. Like Lost there are a number of relationships key characters have before and after the Blackout that weave in and out of the storyline. Obviously, Miles and Rachel have a backstory, as do Miles and Nora. Later in the season, though, a connection between Rachel and Aaron comes to light, as do connections between Miles and virtually every general the team runs into.

The show is pretty heavily serialized, though the flashbacks at the beginning of each episode are enough to catch viewers up on the essential information. As one might suspect, the key characters in Revolution are at the heart of both the destruction of the world and its potential salvation. Rachel’s backstory extensively details the personal trades she made that helped create the power outage. The science of Revolution seems initially sketchy, though it develops in an intriguing way. As the power of the pendants is slowly revealed, Revolution progresses in a compelling fashion. Like Lost there are intersections of coincidence and chance that force a real suspension of disbelief in the first season of Revolution (like how the hell does Monroe know when Neville is bringing Danny in if there is no communications network?!), but given how the writers all seem to be derivative of J.J. Abrams, none of the surprises seem especially surprising to his fans.

In the first season of Revolution, the primary characters include:

Charlie Matheson – A determined eighteen year-old girl, she recovers from the death of her father in part because of Maggie, who sticks with her when everyone else leaves her. She is protective of her brother, Danny, and works hard to keep him safe both immediately following the Blackout and after he is abducted by Neville. She makes huge sacrifices for the cause and she has a crush on Jason Neville, despite his allegiances. She grows on the journey to rescue her brother and becomes a true rebel,

Aaron Pittman – A former Google millionaire, he discovered when the Blackout came that he was not suited to protecting his wife. Guilt-stricken, he accompanies Charlie on her dangerous mission because he wants to try to protect her. He is smart, delivers some of the season’s best one-line quips, and works desperately hard to maintain his humanity,

Danny Matheson – The asthmatic brother of Charlie, he is abducted and learns brutal lessons at the hands of Tom Neville. Even after he rescues Neville in a storm, he is tortured and abused as leverage against his mom,

Miles Matheson – The former military leader, he is happy to drink and remain off the radar until Charlie comes looking for him and brings a whole world of trouble to his door. As he approaches Philadelphia, he becomes more concerned about what it will mean to go head to head against his old friend, Sebastian Monroe. He is resourceful, smart, and determined once he takes up Charlie’s cause,

Nora Clayton – A demolition expert, she is Miles’s connection to the rebel network and she skirts at renewing the romantic relationship the two had,

Rachel Matheson – A scientist who made an unwholesome trade that plunged the world into darkness, she abandoned her children in order to surrender to Monroe, years prior. Now, she is compelled by Monroe to build amplifiers that will allow the pendants to power his war machines. Her love for Charlie and Danny is occasionally a liability, though she wants to do the right thing,

Jason Neville – A spy for the Militia, he begins to develop real feelings for Charlie. When his own father begins to develop psychotic tendencies, he is forced to choose between loyalty and his heart,

Tom Neville – A former insurance adjustor with a good heart, he falls in with the worst elements following the Blackout. As one of Monroe’s chief lieutenants, he continues to enforce (brutally) Monroe’s mandates. He deeply loves his wife, who does not trust Monroe, and seems to be uneasy about the way the world is spinning out of his control,

and Sebastian (Bass) Monroe – Originally Miles’s best friend, he developed into a warlord with Miles’s help and guidance. Now, he stands as the leader of a confederation that is one of five “nations” within what used to be the United States. He maintains control with fear and the guns that only his militia has . . . until Randall Flynn appears and offers him the chance to take over the continent and the world beyond.

In the first season of Revolution, the acting is a mixed bag. Elizabeth Mitchell is playing the same character the way she did in Lost and V, so either she is now typecast, used only for a very specific skill set, or she is a pretty terrible actress. At the same time, Giancarlo Esposito (Tom Neville) and Colm Feore (Randall Flynn) play their characters with the level of greatness expected of them. Esposito plays along the whole range of human emotions and Feore manages to play a creepy villain without even a hint of the character he played in The Chronicles Of Riddick (reviewed here!). Billy Burke (Miles) dominates the cast and proves to viewers that he had all of the talent and genius to be a credible warrior that the character demands. Zak Orth is also completely believable as Aaron Pittman.

Revolution is the first project I’ve seen where Tracy Spiridakos has a substantive role. As Charlie, she slowly evolves the character from a mousy, annoying girl into a warrior woman who represents hope for the future. The first season is basically Miles and Charlie’s journeys and Spiridakos makes Charlie’s journey from an innocent into someone seasoned with the same spices as Miles seem believable and interesting.

On DVD, the first season of Revolution has deleted scenes and commentary tracks on key episodes. They are interesting, but they do not solve the issues with the twenty episodes of the first season. As someone who was eagerly awaiting watching Revolution in one fell swoop and one who has liked many of the works of J.J. Abrams, I found the first season of Revolution to be a more violent and graphic derivation of much of the rest of Abrams’ works. The characters do not think with minds nearly as tactically sound to make it plausible they would have survived so long. But, for fans of The Walking Dead or those who like survivalist without the zombies, Revolution might well be the best thing dropping on DVD this month.

For other shows from the 2012 – 2013 season, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Parenthood - Season 4
Veep - Season 1
Game Of Thrones - Season 3
New Girl - Season 2
Happy Endings - Season 3
The Walking Dead - Season 3
Arrested Development - Season 4
House Of Cards - Season 1
True Blood - Season 5


For other television and movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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