Review: NBC’s Revolution is Solid with an Excellent Pedigree, but Needs a Little More Spark

Minor spoilers about basic premise.

No pun intended with that headline, but NBC’s latest high concept drama Revolution does lack a certain spark that was undeniably present in the network’s past attempts in the genre.

Nonetheless, the series’ pedigree (unlike one of NBC’s other new series, The New Normal) actually helps the series and gives hope that it’ll deliver in future episodes.

Revolution begins as the world goes dark. Everything from gadgets and appliances to cars and planes all just shut down without warning. Except from Ben Matheson (Tim Guinee) who hurriedly comes home and tells his wife Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) that it’s about to happen.

15 years later, the world has fallen into chaos. The big metropolises are now filled with overgrown greenery and even water, architectural icons have fallen apart and the people left in the world have had to go back in time and live like their ancestors before Ben Franklin flew a kite in a lightning storm. Governments have fallen, giving rise to armed militias who are now in control.

What was once called the United States is now the Monroe Republic and one General Monroe is in charge. He’s looking for Danny and his brother Miles and has sent one of his men, Captain Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) to bring them in under the assumption that they know what caused the blackout and maybe how to turn the lights back on. Information that would give the holder immense power in a, literally, powerless world.

However, things go awry when Ben’s son Danny tries to prevent his father from being taken away. Instead, Ben is shot dead and Danny is taken in his place. Before his last breath, Ben tells his daughter Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) to go to Chicago to find his brother Miles who’ll be able to help them save Danny.

So begins the adventure. It isn’t easy for Charlie to convince her Uncle at first when she finds him, but after clashing swords and exchanging arrows with some militia, Miles agrees to join them.

It is a solid start with an intriguing premise. And yet, the aforementioned spark just wasn’t there. Most drama and comedy pilots feature a cliffhanger at the end of the episode to get you hooked and bring you back for more. Revolution actually has more than one, yet they didn’t really pop as much as those in series that have come before it. It doesn’t help that one of the “surprises” is actually featured in promos for the show. And maybe since the blackout itself is the big *gasp* moment.

The cast may have some work to do. Giancarlo Esposito is superbly menacing as Captain Neville. But Billy Burke and Tracy Spiridakos as our uncle and niece heroines need to loosen up a little. And David Lyons (after ER, the dead before even seeing the light of day Day One, and The Cape) may have a role, which I can’t describe without spoiling a big plot point, that he can finally sink his acting chops in.

But what gives hope that Revolution will be Must See TV is its pedigree in J.J. Abrams and Eric Kripke. Executive Producer Abrams, of course is no stranger to high concept thrillers. He’s had a successful streak on television starting with Felicity before juming into the genre he’s known for with Alias, the big one in Lost and Fringe. (We can skip Undercovers.) He’s managed to transition seamlessly into big budget theatrical blockbusters too.

But it’s all Eric Kripke, who is the creator of the series as well as EP and was responsible for really one of the few successes of the CW network, Supernatural. Though no longer the showrunner, Kripke’s creation is about to enter its 8th season, something that seemed impossible when the series first started. Kripke crafted what was originally a simple monster of the week procedural into an overarching, all-encompassing mythology that presented fresh takes on old ideas while still being fun.

Now he has the opportunity to do something on a bigger network with a bigger budget and without ghosts and monsters, but with just as much creativity and imagination.

Jon Favreau also adds his experience, directing a continuously moving visual narrative that helps bring Eric Kripke’s vision to life.

Revolution‘s premise is simple, yet intriguing. It’s a high concept mystery that isn’t hard to understand, and thankfully doesn’t dumb things down. And as a fan of fusion sageuks, Korean series that blend historical costume dramas with contemporary action and storytelling sensibilities, I very much enjoyed the swordfighting and bows and arrows in Revolution over the more common (and contemporary) guns and car chases. (And the idea of the right to bear arms looks to be something the show will touch on.)

The pilot might not have hit every mark, but with its intriguing premise, slick action and excellent pedigree, Revolution deserves a shot to succeed and definitely is worth a look.

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