Children of the Revolution: NBC’s Revolution Pilot Review
With names like JJ Abrams, Jon Favreau and Eric Kripke attached to a project like NBC’s Revolution, there is an expectation of greatness. It comes as a relief therefore that the first five minutes of the pilot episode do not disappoint. Not quite as spectacular as the opening moments of Abrams’ Lost, as slick as Iron Man or as creepy as Supernatural’s first season, Revolution does however succeed in presenting a compelling picture of a planet plunged into chaos, complete with airplanes tumbling from the sky and cityscapes slowly but inexorably succumbing to the darkness, as the world suddenly loses all means of conventional power.
At the heart of events is the Matheson family, and despite Patriarch Ben Matheson’s (Tim Guinee) foreknowledge of events, there is nothing he can do to stop the encroaching global blackout, except to use those precious remaining moments to stock up on water and eat the contents of the family freezer. (After all, it may be some time before ice-cream is readily available again!)
Cut to fifteen electricity-starved years later and the Matheson family (intriguingly sans Elizabeth Mitchell’s Momma Matheson) are eking out a primitive living, hunting and farming in the overgrown ruins of their gated suburban community. The world is a different place now, we are told. Apart from people using their cars as containers in which to grow vegetables, the central US government has been superseded by a series of Republics run by local militias, not all of whom have the best interests of the populace at heart. In addition, there are bandits and thieves on almost every highway, ready to steal, rape and murder the unwary traveler.
Probably best to stay at home is Ben’s mantra – especially where his daughter Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) is concerned. But this is easier said than done. Charlie, now an inquisitive and adventurous young woman, is both starved for experience and desperate to reconnect to the outside world she dimly remembers from childhood.
Charlie really is the heart of the show, and Spiridakos should be praised for her ability to engage the audience with her portrayal of an innocent, curious young woman with an unwavering faith in the goodness of other people and a singular determination to do the right thing.
Charlie finds her boring life in the burbs cruelly interrupted one day when the local Monroe Republic militia turn up unexpectedly with questions for Ben that may relate to the events of fifteen years ago.
A tragic incident causes their leader Captain Neville (played with delightful, mustache-twirling, bad guy appeal by Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito) to arrest Charlie’s younger brother Danny (Graham Rogers), prompting Ben to send Charlie to Chicago to enlist the aid of his brother Miles (Billy Burke) to get him back.
It’s at this point that the pilot really comes together beautifully. Charlie finds herself accompanied on her quest by her father’s closest friends – former Google Geek Aaron (Zak Orth) and perpetually suspicious village doctor Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips). There really is an almost Tolkien-esque quality to events as the trio set out on their journey, naively taking leave of their cosy rural home for adventures in the unknown. There’s even a ring of sorts – a pendant that may or may not be some sort of pen-drive, which Ben entrusts to Aaron for safekeeping.
A post-apocalyptic TV show calls for some memorable landmarks and once again Revolution does not disappoint, providing plenty of visuals to ooh and ah over besides the prerequisite weeds and rubble. (In the future, nobody will bother to tidy up, it seems.) Several Planet of the Apes style mementos from the past including rusting Ferris wheels, crashed trains, and giant weed-choked landmark buildings form a casual backdrop to our heroes’ journey, reinforcing the notion of a world plunged back into the dark ages.
Along the way, Charlie meets Nate (JD Pardo), a handsome but overly-curious young man who pitches in to help when the hobbits are attacked by some would-be thieving murdering rapists. However, despite his skill at dispatching bad guys with his bow, Nate is still not accepted by Maggie because strangers can’t be trusted. Period.
In Chicago, Charlie meets her uncle Miles, a former marine, who we are told is ‘good at killing people.’ This turns out to be true, and the latter half of the pilot showcases some spectacular and highly entertaining fight sequences involving swords, crossbows, knives guns and a lot of killing people.
Billy Burke is spot on as a weary cynic (Think Han Solo if Luke had never dragged him from the cantina bar) who really just wants to be left alone.
“Why didn’t you [let me rot?]” Burke’s Miles asks at one point.
“Because we’re family, and that’s what my Dad would have wanted,” Charlie tells him, her eyes brimming with tearful conviction.
“Kid,” Miles sighs into his whiskey. “If I’m coming with you, you’re going to have to dial it back a notch.”
Overall, Revolution is an action-packed adventure which shows a lot of promise. The pilot is reminiscent of some classic TV and movies without falling into the trap of being derivative, and there are several surprises in the final moments that have the ability to take the story in several new directions over episodes to come.
There is the concern that as a futuristic dystopia, the show will need to continue to impress visually (weeds and rubble will only take an audience so far, after all). Additionally, we’re far from knowing what caused the blackout, or even why the show is called Revolution, but the solidly-written and easily identifiable characters, delightful future-world elements and galloping action sequences provide enough entertainment and distraction for us not to really care too much at this point.
Revolution puts out the lights Monday September 17th (10-11 p.m. ET) on NBC. Keep up to date with our continuing show coverage on Screen Spy and look out for our interview with Revolution star Tracy Spiridakos coming soon.