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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

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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  • bats :[

    I was always under the impression that wind turbines (aka, windmills) predated the introduction of electricity — why someone wasn’t clever enough for retrofitting a lot of the idle technology made me go “hmmm”.
    Is this why we only see good miniseries/series on cable these days?

  • This is not covered in the pilot. Too thinky, I imagine.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    There were two SF properties that have really pissed me off recently with their stupid. This was one of them. (The other was Prometheus *twitch*) 

    The promo material wants to talk about how awful it was after the blackout. But I look at the clips and all I can think is, “These people are hardly starving to death at all. In fact, they look remarkably well fed. To say nothing of their endless supply of shampoo.”

    And I have to ask (cause I really don’t want to watch it): does fire still work in their world building? I can’t see how it could. Otherwise, can anyone say “diesel”? How about “steam”? I mean, 3 or 4 billion would still die of starvation and disease in the first decade, but what you end up with should look very Steampunk, and I’m not getting that vibe at all.

  • Barrem01

    The clothes got to me at first.  (that leather jacket looks good for having been on a 15 year camping trip.)  Then the “You don’t understand, I’m not doing this for you.” dialogue chipped away a bit.  But I was willing to give it a chance.  I don’t need post apocalyptic fantasy to preach to me about my carbon footprint, and I’ll forgo realistic grubbiness for a pretty face. But the final scene, which destroys any reasonable explanation of the premise, made me curse my T.V.

  • possum

    Yeah, like my mom’s neighbors when she was a little girl.  In the late 40s, early 50s before electrification came to rural Iowa (darn socialist plot!) they jury-rigged the windmill to produce electricity so they could get a TV! 

  • mortadella

    Huh, OK. I thought everyone looked shiny and clean in the romo. And did they have to give that girl a crossbow? It’s too Katniss. An axe would have been just fine. They have guns, but I saw an awful ot of swords in the promo. Did they start offering classes after the lights went out?

  • RogerBW

    I can use a good guffaw. (And that’s why I’m looking forward to Elementary.)

  • I don’t need post apocalyptic fantasy to preach to me about my carbon footprint

    Who said anything about preaching?

    But the final scene

    Yup. It was bad up till then. And then it goes off some sort of bizarre deep end.

  • Oh god, Elementary is gonna be awful. Hopefully so awful that it’s hilarious.

  • bronxbee

    they seem to keep pushing Elementary back on the schedule… i think it’s the end of september now.  the promos look terrible.

  • Tonio Kruger

    But it’s all about a guy who sees things that other people don’t see. Which makes it as unusual as a TV show about a cop who doesn’t follow the rules. Or a TV show about a doctor who really, really cares about his or her patients…

    Actually the first time I saw the trailer for Elementary,  I was reminded more of The Mentalist than of any of the recent Sherlock Holmes projects. Which is not a good thing…

  • applekate

    I’m watching it on NBC now. MAJ, you were too generous in your review. 

  • I swear *The Mentalist* is designed to make stupid people feel smart by projecting the solutions to its “mysteries” in such a way that anyone can figure them out before its “genius” does.

    I could see *Elementary* being more of the same.

  • You know what a ‘mentalist’ is in British slang, I presume?

  • LaSargenta

    Sounds like The Postman was more believable.


  • RogerBW

    Having now watched, ‘cos I’m a glutton for punishment…

    I could more or less cope with the BS premise – it’s an Abrams show, so it has to have a Big Secret that they haven’t actually decided the details of, and therefore the gradual “revelations” won’t make any sense because they’ll just be whatever the scriptwriter of the week felt like putting in – and when it gets cancelled they’ll make something up. That’s not a deal-breaker for me, because I know it’s coming – as long as it’s a relatively small background element and the rest of the show is interesting.

    Which, well, it isn’t. Everyone being well-scrubbed and well-clothed is a standard problem with TV and film apocalyptes, but even that could be got over… but there aren’t any people here. I don’t care what happens to Fauxniss, or Google Stereotype Guy, or any of the others. Nobody there has anything to engage me.

  • RyanT

    This. I can suspend my disbelief on the pseudoscience and the beautiful healthy actors. I mean, people, this is TV for mainstream network. What I can’t take are the hollow characters. There’s one or two good actors doing good things in the pilot, but the rest… awful.

  • Lovely review…I couldn’t get past the first 10-15 minutes

  • Beowulf

    Up till about 125 years ago, people got along just fine without electricity. Things were far different, but there WERE civilized people and nations.

  • Tonio Kruger

    I blame that damn luxury creep. ;-)

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Yes, but 125 years ago, the world’s human population was about 1.5 billion. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/56/World-Population-1800-2100.svg

    Now, I think that if we were to lose the use of electricity, we (humans) would be able to adapt steam and diesel technologies to a point where our carrying capacity would be somewhere between 3 and 5 billion, at least, within a couple decades. However, the scenario Revolution proposes (the sudden, instantaneous loss of all electricity worldwide) would not allow for a gradual reduction down to those levels. The horrific chaos that would ensure as billions starved would likely knock the population down well below that, possible below 1 billion, before the dust settled. It would be decades more until the world got back to 1880’s levels of civilization. And in the interim, the world more closely resemble some mishmash of 17th and 11th century civilization.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I dunno. The promos I’ve seen (very few since I don’t watch much TV anymore) aren’t exactly astounding, but Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu are both engaging enough actors that I’m curious. And I really dig the gender- and race-bend on Watson.

    I appreciate that it’s a bit cynical to try and cash in on the characters’ recent popularity but:  1) as much as I love both the Downey-Law-Ritchie movies and the Cumberbatch-Freeman-Moffat show, if I was honest I’d say they’re both only good about 2/3rds of the time; and b) TV cash-ins have given us a lot of crappy TV, but every now and again we get M*A*S*H.

  • Fire works.

  • No, what is it? (I could Google it, but I won’t.)

  • It was!

  • *Far* fewer people got along without electricity. Big difference.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    To that I say: Fuck you, “creative” team behind Revolution. Fuck you with one of the vibrators from “Hysteria”

  • ceti

    Well, not surprising, but still disappointing. Screw this, I’m going to go watch Threads. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MCbTvoNrAg

  • Thunderguy80

    as I read this review and the subsequent comments made here and several other reviews,I have come to the conclusion that this so called critic and most of her followers knows nothing about reviews and should abstain of making anymore reviews.I remember your reviews on the new Dredd  movie you criticized about how the entire northeastern part of the USA would have been unlivable and how they should have shown the actors face.As a kid I read the comics and in the comics that was how it was shown and written.The Judge Dredd movie was based off the comics by idea only and never really followed the story line,this new reboot however does,as far as revolution you fail again you saw the show but never really actually see it,you seem to have this concept that if such a thing truly happened everyone would look like the homeless all gritty missing teeth and so forth which is obviously far from the truth.I saw in a comment below that they could use steam and diesel power for electricity again that would be wrong,steam power would be useless as most railway track switches use electricity now and it you wouldn’t be able to use diesel because diesel is oil and to become diesel has to be refined and to run a refinery you need electricity not to mention you would still need electric to run a generator anyways as generators use spark plugs which are electrical.One final thing,the clothing,you seem to believe they wouldn’t have leather but in fact leather clothing has been around for a few thousand years ,you do realize leather is nothing more than cow hide right.In my final words the backdrop of this show is not far from reality and if you fail to see or believe this than you prove that you are not very intelligent but completely naive.

  • zanelewis

    A couple of things. 

    Rudolf Diesel ran his engines on peanut oil.  Bio-Diesel is regular vegetable oil.

    Electric track switches can be ripped out and replaced with mechanical switches.

  • Robbie Collins

    This is wonderful review that captured all the misgivings I have about this series. I really want to like ‘Revolution’ but there are just too many improbabilities. Aaron Pittman, for example, is still overweight after 1.5 low-cal decades (Zak Orth needs to consult Christian Bale on physically immersing himself in his character).  Hip-hugger jeans and cleavage are still the rage even though they would be dangerously provocative in a lawless future (if I was a woman on the road I’d be wearing a one-size-too-small sports bra, layers of loose-fitting apparel, and short-hair). I could go on-and-on.

    This is the same sanitized world we were presented in ‘Terra Nova’ that
    underwhelmed us at every turn.  Too little dialog, improbable hook-ups,
    and no one that is actually science literate.  Aaron isn’t a
    convincing geek any more than Charlie is an experienced huntress (she needs to channel Katniss of ‘Hunger Games’).  Aaron can’t talk-the-talk or walk-the-walk. Geeks are
    about knowledge for knowledge’s sake and successful geeks know about
    cutthroat business politics. These characters are just so many paper dolls.

    The big question is why the creators of this series are so spineless. Climate change, Peak Oil, collapsing fisheries, the demise of petroleum-based Big Ag — these are realities that loom on the near horizon and Kuntsler’s ‘The Long Emergency’ should be the writer’s travel guide to the post-apocalyptic, post-fossil fuel world. 

  • Revolution could have looked and felt like Kunstler’s novel World Made By Hand (a fictionalization of his Long Emergency ideas). Maybe a cable network with some guts will pick that up (or Stirling’s Change novels, which would seem to be an ideal next favorite show for Game of Thrones fans).

  • which is obviously far from the truth

    Please explain why.

    in fact leather clothing has been around for a few thousand years

    Of course it has. But not machine-made leather clothes. Have you even seen handmade leather clothes? They don’t look like that jacket Charlie is wearing.

    I do wonder, however, how you’re so schooled in postapocalyptic lifestyles that it makes my commentary “naive.” Please do enlighten me.

  • DaNerd

    Ms. Johanson, thank you so much for putting into words what I have been trying to express about the faux SF series. I stopped watching it after Episode 2 (except for an occasional accidental viewing of a trailer). Given that it is still on the air, I am now convinced that the Mayans were off by one year. A culture that will keep a show like this on the air is in its final stages of decline. My basic problem with applying ANY thought to the premise is: The fat nerd to the contrary, the laws of physics have NOT been “cornholed!” The laws of fluid mechanics still work, because our blood still flows and air flows into and out of our lungs. The laws of chemistry still work, because plants still photosynthesize and animals still metabolize food. And MOST of the laws of electricity and magnetism still work, because the propagation of light depends on those laws, and we can still see! So anyone who has been at all exposed to the scientific method has had fifteen years to formulate hypotheses and test them, and by now there should be SOME kind of knowledge of where the boundary line is between “Stuff that doesn’t work any more” and “Stuff that still works.” But that kind of thing only appears in plots of stories written by people who think!

  • Darcwolf

    The writer of this pretty much invalidated everything they said after the first paragraph with this sentence
    “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,”
    Yes, because there is such thing as “TRUE” science “FICTION”, lol.
    This is a great show and if you want to nit pick don’t get me started on the most over rated show on tv, breaking bad.

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