The most compelling thing about J.J. Abrams and Eric Kripke's Revolution is how, despite a spectacular opening filled with plenty of mystery and suspense, the pilot pushes into a somewhat listless story of a world irrevocably changed.
15 years into the future, everyone refers to the world as having once plunged into chaos, and for obvious financial and storytelling reasons, this event is not depicted, so we are left with the aftermath: a society where most folks seem comfortable enough – though certainly not by today's standards - but in creating that atmosphere, the larger notion of conflict with implications for all mankind is sapped from the pilot's narrative and the show is basically forced to start over.
Revolution has a fascinating concept and there's an abundance of intrigue: clandestine groups controlling the world's fate through energy deprivation, a massive militia being run by a despotic individual with a penchant for branding those in his charge, and a group of survivors banded together to unravel the mystery that plunged the world into chaos in the first place.
What Revolution manages to do with all of that intrigue is point toward what could be a compelling series. As it stands now, the pilot episode is a mostly perfunctory endeavor that is overflowing with character beats and reveals so that we're left with only the faintest, most basic idea of who these characters are, and why we should care. Most troublesome, is that the pilot seems convinced in having the least interesting people set the plot in motion. As such, Revolution is primarily concerned with making the two teens, Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) and her brother Danny (Graham Rogers), as exciting as possible, but does so without much success.
Danny doesn't qualify for anything more compelling than being asthmatic, which seems to be an affliction that humanizes him, but isn't debilitating enough that he can't function – or his asthmatic episodes offer plenty of chance to put him in the good graces of more interesting characters. His sister Charlie has the independent spirit required of such an adventure program, but also a worldly innocence that puts her in search of an uncle and kidnapped brother with nothing more than a former Google employee named Aaron (Zak Orth) and her late father's crafty girlfriend, Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips), in tow.
Maggie and Aaron each bring something special to the table: Maggie's a doctor and can whip up some potions to quell Danny's asthma attacks, while Aaron is basically wistful for products of convenience like Charmin and can identify things like airplanes for members of the younger generation. On their journey, they come across the mysterious Nate (J.D. Pardo), an obvious person of interest for young Charlie, but, as with the issue facing her and Danny, Nate suffers from having all the charm and flavor of white toast and water. Thankfully, the plot speeds along at a good clip and much of the episode is spent getting these disparate people together to form what will be the series' core group – the reluctant cornerstone of which has the tired and unappealing attribute of being good at killing people.
Despite the character handicap, Billy Burke's portrayal of Miles, as the roguish, sarcastic uncle with some serious distilling skills is, in addition to Giancarlo Esposito's Monroe Militia commander, Captain Tom Neville, the saving grace of Revolution. Though their paths never cross in the first episode, they grant the program (as was likely intended) its two most dynamic and interesting characters so far. Esposito is every bit the polite, but ruthless character he portrayed in Breaking Bad, but considering Neville is operating under the auspices of the Monroe Militia, there's no need for secrecy – and that, has Esposito turning in a good performance, despite having a much a duller edge to work with. Still, for a pilot in desperate need of some defining characters, Esposito and Burke are certainly putting in double duty.
What's most interesting about the program is that it's been 15 years since the lights went out, but, as opposed to other similar storylines, the world doesn't seem to be in bad shape. Sure, it's a little disorderly, plants are growing in and around everything and some cars are now used as flower boxes, but it also looks like a quaint, agrarian civilization where the most immediate threats are conscription and reeducation by the local militia, or the occasional bandit one might meet on the road. Who hasn't thought of a world where the various annoyances, complexities and dangers of modern society simply don't exist any longer? Suddenly, the world is a much bigger, and in some ways, less complex place, and in order to make it, one has to have some relevant skill to offer. Of course, as Aaron's contributions to the group so dutifully illustrate, many of us would be about as worthless as his $80 million dollars in such a world.
That's definitely an intriguing concept worthy of exploration, but perhaps what's most troublesome about the pilot is that with names like Eric Kripke, J.J. Abrams and Iron Man director Jon Favreau helming the episode, the end result (at this point anyway) feels short of what the trio's extensive and impressive resumes suggest they could have delivered.
Certainly, since the success of ABC's Lost, NBC (among many other networks) has been trying to find that program's successor and bring it on board to lift their once mighty ratings. While Revolution utilizes plenty of the same narrative elements, it's too soon to tell whether a world without energy will capture imaginations like the survivors of Oceanic flight 815 once did. There are plenty of enigmatic clues pointing to what truly happened/is going on and the use of a green computer screen in the episode's final moments is more than a little familiar. The question now becomes, can Revolution build on the premise and develop its characters sufficiently so that viewers tune in long enough for the show to expand and explore its characters and mythology to the point that it might become more compelling? Right now, there is intrigue, but Revolution has a way to go before it becomes genuine interest.
Revolution continues next Monday with 'Pontiac, Illinois' @10pm on NBC.