The idea of an epic TV show is pretty hit or miss. For one thing, television generally does not have the production luxuries that feature films do; considering how significant a role the physical setting of an epic work plays in the quality of its overall story, this has the potential to present major setbacks. But one advantage that television does have over movies is the opportunity to develop characters overtime. The greatest epic programs — such as Lost, the Star Trek franchise, and the short-lived but excellent Firefly, among others — were not only great at building fascinating worlds, but also at delivering truly engrossing, three-dimensional characters. NBC’s attempt to bring a new epic to television in the form of Revolution seems to make good on the promise of a breathtaking reality, but looks like it might fall short in the realm of character.
The premiere opens up in a world “before things went dark.” Ben Matheson (Tim Guinee), a family man with apparent government connections, rushes home in a panic, informing his wife and young children that the world is about to lose its power. Before things turn off completely, Ben manages two quick tasks: first, he calls his brother Miles (Billy Burke), a soldier on leave, to warn him; second, he downloads something from his laptop computer onto an ominous zip-drive of sorts. And then: bam. Blackout. All over. Forever.
The post-credits scene picks up fifteen years later. Ben and his now grown children, Charlotte “Charlie” (Tracy Spiridakos) and Danny (Graham Rogers), live in a rural small town among people like village educator/ex-Google employee Aaron (Zach Orth), and Charlie’s and Danny’s ad-hoc stepmom Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips) — their mother and Ben’s wife who we met in the prologue is nowhere to be found. Peace and socialism are the default setting on this society… until the militia, led by Breaking Bad favorite Giancarlo Esposito, makes its way into town, looking for Ben, whom they presume to have answers about how to get the power back on.
What follows is tragedy for the Matheson family. Ben is killed, Danny is kidnapped, and Charlie is forced to set out on a journey to reconnect with her estranged Uncle Miles, described by Ben to be “only good at killing,” and save her brother from the militia. This is about where the story really begins, and about where we begin learning about the characters.
I don’t want to fault Spiridakos for overacting, because it’s really impossible to know just how a person would genuinely behave after having grown up in a post-apocalyptic world without a mother, only to see her dad die at the hands of a self-appointed government. But her performance does seem to be pushing a little too hard for audience sympathy. In any event, her character Charlie doesn’t yet seem to be much more than a vehicle for plot movement; while premieres are notorious for not being able to flesh their characters out well, she is the hero of the show, and should have more going for her than exposition and melodrama.
Miles has a lot more going for him. He’s a drunk, a loner, and apparently a former close friend (from the “normal” days) of the man in charge of the vigilant militia that reigns terror over post-blackout Chicago. Presented as a man in need of personal reformation, it’s probable that we’ll see the most amount of effort afforded to his development over the course of the series, or at least the episodes immediately to follow the pilot. This is promising enough; the sheer matter of having endured fifteen years of adulthood living on his own after losing his family and apparently being abandoned or betrayed by his friend. His interim backstory could be fruitful enough to keep the show interesting until we’ve learned all that we can about Miles; not to mention, the “bad guy with a heart of gold” routine is always a safe bet to charm viewers.
The third and fourth tiers of the traveling team, Maggie and Aaron, are in the mix to provide a mother figure to Charlie (though not quite a welcome one), and for a healthy sum of comic relief, respectively. The premiere even plants subtle seeds for a romance to brew between the pair – something that could work if handled honestly.
But these characters, likewise with asthmatic Danny and a more hokey Gus Fring, aren’t what the show is really invested in building. The mystery of the blackout and the strange zip-drives, that’s the pull. The tyrannical militia and its seemingly endless reach, that’s what’s interesting. The aesthetics, icing on the cake. But the fact is, a good story cannot become great without full characters. And unfortunately, Revolution has churned all of its power into the world and its puzzles, leaving the people we’re supposed to care about drained of battery.
[Photo Credit: NBC]