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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Revolution: Pilot (review)

Revolution red light Tracy Spiridakos

We really need to thank NBC for allowing us to view, on the Web, the pilot for its new faux science-fiction series Revolution in advance of its over-the-air debut this coming Monday, September 17. Because it means that if this is an itch you must scratch, you can get that taken care of and free up your Monday… and, indeed, subsequent Mondays to come.
You will not want to keep watching. You might not even be able to get all the way through the pilot without guffawing or throwing stuff at your laptop.

For Revolution is science fiction for people who don’t want to be bothered with any of that tedious thinking stuff that tends to go along with true science fiction, and just want to get to the action. And the action isn’t all that fabulous here, either, frankly. It’s tough to figure out whom NBC thinks is the audience for this tripe: it certainly isn’t the sort of person who, as I think most SF people are, like to consider how the world could be different than it is — not necessarily better, just different. But it also doesn’t seem to be viewers who enjoy authentic human drama.

For one huge honking problem, Revolution does not appear interested in committing to its own premise. This is alleged our world, 15 years or so after all the power went out all over the planet. Not merely like a blackout that turns out the lights and your fridge and your TV and your computer, but like a worldwide EMP that disables cars and causes every plane in the air to fall to the earth. And OMG the cell phones don’t work anymore. We can presume that billions of people died in the upheaval; we know for certain that anyone who was an adult when the power went out and who has survived to this day will have been traumatized to see Life As They Knew It radically altered. Food is homegrown; medicines are scarce; life and the fulfilling of all its basic requirements does not extend beyond the immediately local. The world has regressed to, at best, a medieval sort of scraping out a subsistence living.

But the adults seems pretty fine. Worse, the kids — such as Our Heroine, Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos), around 18 or 19 years old — do not appear to be children of this new world. They look like spoiled little L.A. rich kids who haven’t even been roughing it for a weekend, never mind almost their entire lives. This is a theme-park apocalypse, where everyone gets to keep their teeth and their shiny hair and their machine-made clothes and their psychological well-being.

I was worried that Revolution was a ripoff of S.M Stirling’s brilliant series of speculative novels about “the Change,” about what happens to humanity after a similar but even more all-encompassing shift in the laws of physics. And I’m still not sure that Stirling wouldn’t have a viable case for creative theft. One big difference: guns still work in the world of Revolution, and they get used a lot in the pilot, which instantly makes this world less interesting than it could be, but way more ready for primetime mainstream American TV. One much bigger difference: Revolution makes no bones about the “fact” that its blackout was manmade and may be reversible. Which suggests that this series is going to be all about restoring the world to its “rightful” order, and not about exploring a new way that humanity might organize itself in an era of diminished natural resources.

This could have been a powerful parable for the transition to a less carbon-intensive economy that is coming, one way or another. Instead, it seems to have plugged its fingers in its ears in order to avoid hearing a hard truth. Which renders it instantly irrelevant.

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