Broadcast Date: 17 August 2012
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Eric Kripke
Cast: Billy Burke, Giancarlo Esposito, Tim Guinee, Maria Howell, David Lyons, Elizabeth Mitchell, Zak Orth, J.D. Pardo, Anna Lise Phillips, Graham Rogers, and Tracy Spiridakos
NBC’s Revolution opens with a somewhat exciting teaser (if you’re into that sort of thing) in which all technology across the world ceases to work, leaving the human race in the literal Dark Ages. Elizabeth Mitchell of Lost and V fame makes a surprise appearance, bringing an immediate smile to my face. Unfortunately, my glee turned to raucous laughter the moment airplanes started dropping like flies, echoing the Y2K segment of The Simpsons’ 1999 episode “Treehouse of Horror X”.
My amusement (or perhaps bemusement) persisted as an unseen narrator proceeded to explain what we’d just seen, confusing the old storytellers’ adage “show; don’t tell” with the grade school activity “Show and tell”. What with the meat of the series taking place fifteen years later, I wonder why executive producers Eric Kripke (creator of Supernatural) and J.J. Abrams (creator of everything else fantasy-related on television) didn’t spread the sequence across several flashbacks. Granted, there’s a fair chance I would’ve switched channels after the first act, but the unfolding mystery might have provided some sense of momentum as the insipid characters made their insipid mistakes on their insipid journey.
Forgive my grouchiness, which stems from learning five minutes in that Mitchell’s character died off screen (though I suspect she’ll be back one way or the other), leaving us to follow her daughter Charlie, whom Tracy Spiridakos portrays as generically intrepid, pouting and shouting incessantly because, you know, that’s what teenagers do on network television. Consider our heroine’s asthmatic sibling Danny, played by Graham Rogers as, well, Tyler from V (Mitchell should just give up procreating on the small screen). When the all too reasonable Captain Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) comes knocking, the boy manages to get not just his father (Tim Guinee) killed but countless villagers as well. Is it any wonder his big sister and stepmom skip town immediately after?
Actually, Charlie and Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips) team up to rescue Danny, seeking out Uncle Miles along their Hobbit way. Now, this guy I dig, largely because he’s portrayed by Billy Burke, who’s wowed me as Bella’s dad in every single entry of The Twilight Saga and as the mass murdering leader of a satanic cult in Drive Angry (2011). Here he plays the toughest outlaw rebel in the new world, cracking wise and swashbuckling his way out of poorly choreographed sword melees (what happened to you, Jon Favreau?). Were laser guns available, he’d be shooting first if you know what I mean.
It occurs to me Revolution might have benefited from a two-part premiere with the first and second episodes aired back to back. As it is, the pilot feels a bit like watching the opening half of Star Wars (1976), in which the two droids wander aimlessly, and then stopping just as Han Solo offers his services. Perhaps my objection stems from my never having got on the heavy serialisation bandwagon, but it seems to me a television pilot ought to introduce the series’ principal dynamics before asking us to tune in next week.
This proves especially true when the characters consist of stock clichés lifted from even the lamest fantasy blockbusters. Consider Charlie’s love interest, Nate, played by Taylor Lautner lookalike J.D. Pardo. She’s instantly smitten, of course, because the Twilight demographic requires every young heroine to obsess over a guy who treats her like garbage. He carries a bow and arrows, of course, because, like the rest of us, Kripke and Abrams saw The Hunger Games (2012), The Avengers (2012), and Brave (2012) this summer.
Here’s another one: with Nate fighting for the opposition (which the pilot fails to establish save for the name “Munroe”), we seem to be left with the cast of The Wizard of Oz (1939). Charlie, for example, serves as Dorothy, plucky and family-oriented; Grace (Maria Howell), with her magical Internet access, functions as the Good Witch of the North; Danny matches the brainless scarecrow and even finds himself in a wheat field; Bass (David Lyons) plays the cowardly lion, what with his sniveling all the time; and Miles is the heartless robot, whose blood pump will have resided in him the whole time. I realise that leaves Maggie with the role of Toto, but please don’t read too much into that.