Stay Tuned: ‘Revolution’ is smart science fiction
The central question of NBC’s new drama “Revolution” is: What would happen if the power went out forever? No planes, trains or automobiles. No cellphones, Facebook, Twitter, emails, shopping online, computer games. No films. No radio. No lights, refrigerators, microwaves, coffee makers. No TV! It’s a compelling (and frightening) premise that “Revolution” explores with a good mix of action, intrigue and emotion.
Fifteen years after technology dies, family life in the United States is based around small communities who have learned to survive by growing their own food. The head of government is a former Marine called General Monroe (David Lyons) who maintains his unpopular and unsteady control of the country through militia. While a Marine, Monroe served with Miles Matheson (Billy Burke) whose brother Ben knows why the lights went out. When a Monroe ordered mission to capture Ben ends with his murder and the kidnapping of his son Danny (Graham Rogers), Danny’s sister Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) sets out to find her brother and enlists her estranged uncle Miles and a few others to help.
“Revolution” is post-apocalyptic science fiction, which means that a key feature of the storyline is a group of survivors and the choices that they make. In this case, the group forms to find Danny and the choices they make as they encounter obstacles to his rescue, along with flashbacks to their lives before the power went out, sets the stage for the show’s bigger mysteries as well as its smaller emotional ones.
The “quest” part of “Revolution,” as Charlie and her group track the militia who took Danny, can drag on, and it often feels like Charlie is the TV version of Katniss from “The Hunger Games.” Where the show starts to pick up pace however, is when it goes back in time to the characters’ lives pre-blackout. These time-jumps, something executive producer J.J. Abrams did so well on his previous show “Lost,” give clues to the larger puzzle of what happened, why, and who knew what, when. They are a tease that give just enough information to satisfy the viewer but not enough to spoil the mystery.
The flashbacks also allow the show to develop emotional layers for characters that may otherwise be one-dimensional. Militia Captain Tom Neville, played by Giancarlo Espositio (“Breaking Bad”), is a cruel, violent man whose flashback narratives tell us how he came to be that way. His history doesn’t make you like him more but it does make you understand him better which in turn keeps him from becoming a cartoon villain. When flashbacks tell the story of a British woman whose blackout experience meant that she became stranded in America while on a business trip, her herculean effort to return to her children (she literally walks across the United States in search of a ship to take her back to England), is a deeply moving moment rare in series television.
The emotional impact of “Revolution” is matched by its biggest secret: Ben and his wife Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell), who appears to be a willing hostage of Monroe’s, figured out how to restore power. The answer lies in a set of pendants. One is with Ben’s friend Aaron (Zak Orth). But who has the rest? As the storyline shifts to the hunt for their discovery, “Revolution” promises to reveal more pieces to an already intriguing puzzle.
“Revolution” is on Mondays at 10 p.m. EDT on NBC.
Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.