I distrust luddites.
They would say I trust in technology too much. And then I would say something mean and hurtful, bringing up a detail from their personal life, pouring salt on it, and then tying it back technology. Sorry, but that’s just how I operate.
But I can certainly see why the idea is appealing. It's one part “everything was great once before the fall," and another part, "this modern world is too full of bullshit.”
I don't agree with the first part, that's a looking-backwards-through-a-telescope kind of idea (see Stephenson, shipwreck in five acts), but I can't say there are not times when I identify with the second part. That, I think, is just part of human nature. We’ve only very recently become civilized animals. One of the great appeals of LOST, I've often said, is that all of us, secretly, sort of wished we could crash land on a mysterious island and start over. NBC's new hour-long, Revolution, aspires to be LOST, and somehow misses that point, along will all the other lessons that network execs really should have learned by now about what made LOST so great.
Let's get this out of the way, Revolution is a show about a world where electricity stops working. Then cut to 15 years later where humanity seems to operate in something like an 1800s western frontier society, populated by blemish-free Abercrombie models wearing incongruously fashionable clothing. I think it's a major fail at the heart of the show's concept that they gloss over and hand-wave away the most interesting part of this premise: what happens to society in the days and weeks after the lights go out.
That would have made for great television, just as the survivors of flight 815 learning how to live off the island did. But if I'm going to be fair, I should be criticizing the show for what it's about, rather than what it's not, and there's plenty more to find fault with anyway.
To cover it all would be exhausting, so I'm going to focus on what I think are the three main failings of the show: the characters, the plot, and the suspension of disbelief.
(If you want more of this kind of take on the no-electricity high concept, read --or better yet don't read-- "Dies the Fire" by S.M. Stirling, where we get the aftermath of such an event told (entirely without irony) through the eyes of a devout Wiccan singer-songwriter and a humorless asshole of a former jarhead: two of the worst protagonists ever put to page.)
Let's start with the characters, who are mostly all one-note and forgettable. There's the main girl, Charlie, whose acting is very unfortunate. She is introduced quickly with some bro (Danny, I think), then her dad or uncle or somebody yells at her for going outside their compound, even though she looks like she's 24, then her dad dies and she's all sad (Dad actually says “Daddy’s gone,” to her and then dies. Really.) and so she has to go rescue that bro Danny from the bad guys. Charlie has no discernible personality other than "move the plot forward." Juliet from LOST is her dead mom, maybe. There's the guy who used to be a rich Googler and is basically a shameless Hurley analog. And then there's fucking Billy Burke who is some sort of badass uncle who can kill 30 armed men at once in single combat and tends bar in what's left of Chicago, or something.
Oh, and Mr. Fring from Breaking Bad shows up as the evil militia dragon, but you get the feeling that NBC is going to have him heel face turning before the end of the season, because Giancarlo Esposito has more charisma than all the other actors combined.Also, Billy Burke will probably turn out to be evil because he is Billy Burke.
Everyone should have figured out by now that LOST was great because of its compelling characters, and none of these bland cast members comes close. The show seems to want to build some sort of mystery like LOST, but there's really no hint that any of the characters has a secret, or an interesting personality quirk below the surface. They actually manage to be less interesting that the dramatis personae of Flash Forward.
As to the story, well, there's some sort of mystery about why the electricity stopped working that seems incredibly boring and uninteresting. The father figure guy who dies at the beginning of this episode seems to have some secret info about that, and the evil militia guys want it, so they kidnap his son Danny, but Charlie--who I am honestly not sure is the daughter or not, cause if she is, she’s eye-fucking her brother--has Dad's secret USB flash-drive/talisman, and she takes it to Billy Burke instead. …zzzzzzzzz.
Seriously, this is weak fare. How many episodes are they planning on stretching out this macguffin story-arc over? What's the long-term plan here? What is this show really about? There's no larger theme or clash of ideas here. Not yet, anyway. Is this going to turn into a luddites vs. technophiles story? Rural agrarians vs. centralized city leadership? Military vs. pacifism? Tribalism vs. liberalism? The big reveal at the end of the pilot is that the main bad guy who Mr. Fring works for used to be a military bro with Billy Burke. So? Oh, and electricity might still work, but only on 1970s UNIX computers lifted wholesale from the Dharma Initiative. Yawn.
This brings me to maybe the biggest failing of the show, which is that due to the thin characters and thinner plot, I found myself totally incapable of suspending my disbelief. The Rule of Cool applies here, as there is nothing remotely cool happening that would let me hand wave away the scientific absurdity, thus I end up noticing and picking apart every false detail and anachronism I see. Like, why do the young male actors appear to be wearing $300 custom-tailored shirts? Why didn't our adventurers set a lookout when traveling through supposedly dangerous territory? Are we really supposed to believe that they live within a day's walking journey of downtown Chicago? Why would planes fall straight down out of the sky when the electricity went out? Why does everyone look like they just came from their trailer instead of living hard off the land for 15 years? If Billy Burke can take on 30 dudes with just a sword--when some of them have guns--and win, then what the hell kind of adversary will they need to face for our heroes to feel in danger? 60 dudes at once?
Also, flint-lock muskets? Really? So those 300 million guns in the US and untold billions of stockpiled rounds are all gone already? And when you start picking at these scabs, you get right to the central premise: by what laws of science would this world catastrophe even happen? Why would guns still work but not internal combustion? What magical praxis is keeping all the machines off, but the bio-chemical electricity in our bodies still ticking? Does nuclear power still work? Is there still lightning? Making the plot mysteries somehow related to military experiments only makes it worse, as an scientific explanation is only going to come off like total bullshit. Better to just say it's magic or aliens.
Revolution wants to be LOST, but it never will and likely won't last a season. LOST was a fantastic concept and a fantastic show. It was all right there in the title: a show about lost people who found themselves on an island. Revolution isn't really about anything, certainly not revolution, which was probably just a name picked out of a hat by marketing at NBC as the least scary synonym for "apocalypse" that they could come up with. It's just another in the long line of network TV failures to recapture the magic of the Island. Note to TV execs: it's the characters. It's the characters. It's the characters.
We have to go back.