Tonight was the broadcast premiere of NBC’s newest genre series Revolution, from executive producer JJ Abrams and creator Eric Kripke, best known as the original mind behind Supernatural. In a world where electricity has gone the way of the dinosaur and the physics of combustion engines have magically suspended operation, factions have arisen to make the most of a scary new world without advanced technology, lifesaving devices, or Angry Birds.
After a cursory intro peppered by distant, low-key plane crashes, the show’s setting begins fifteen years later after mankind has regressed to villages and an entire generation has grown up with only vague memories of ice cream and the Internet. Our heroine, Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos), is a more optimistic, less assured Katniss Everdeen who eschews regular bows in favor of a crossbow, which serves her poorly when she learns the hard way that reloading takes longer. At least, I hope she realizes her error. If she sticks with the crossbow simply to avoid trademark confusion, I’ve no doubt that future fight scenes will sadly gloss over this issue. Don’t be fooled by how easy the Huntress makes it look, kids.
After a tragic death and the passing of a family MacGuffin, Charlie reluctantly inspires a ragtag team of misfits to quest with her to Chicago. There’s her dad’s Australian girlfriend Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips), a doctor with sly methods for maiming a foe; Aaron (Zak Orth), a former Google exec who tags along because of comic relief; and Nate (JD Pardo), an archer with multiple weapon proficiencies and shifty priorities. They vow to walk dozens of miles together for justice, revenge, safety, and premise.
The reason for this quest? Charlie’s asthmatic brother Danny (Graham Rogers) has been taken captive by the most immediate Big Bad, Giancarlo Esposito (now departed from Breaking Bad and incarcerated on Once Upon a Time), a sinister militia captain named Neville who’s not thrilled with the orders he has to follow, but has no qualms about putting his crack-shot skills to use for his overlord, Sebastian Monroe, ringleader of the militia that rules the immediate surroundings within the landmass formerly known as the USA. Esposito firmly takes charge of every scene and won’t let go, particularly in a sequence in which he nimbly and unflinchingly mows down a row of uppity villagers, exactly one split-second bullet per villager.
Our Heroes’ not-quite-epic journey to save David — even though he’s a prisoner waaaay back home — trots them through O’Hare International Airport, fifteen miles east to Wrigley Field, a few miles south to the Magnificent Mile, then into the heart of the Loop, where an old hotel sets the stage to introduce Charlie’s long-lost uncle Miles (Twilight dad Billy Burke), who may be the lynchpin of their cause if only he can put down the bottle, stop hiding, and assume his role as the One True Main Character…who’s apparently expected to drop all his plans, trek with them back across twenty-odd miles of I-90 North, and save the day without an audition or an incentive beyond “Because family is important!”
When Evil Esposito isn’t onscreen, the first ¾ of the pilot skims through a lot of character meetings without many chances to get to know anyone at length. The energy level cranks up at the 45-minute mark (including network ads) when Miles, previously described in an offhand manner as a “killing machine” as if it weren’t nothin’, engages in the sort of well-choreographed, high-speed, one-man-army swordplay demonstration that was once the hallmark of bygone shows such as TV’s Angel. For a few minutes, I was on Action TV Cloud Nine.
If you’re patient enough to endure the setup and introductions, lying in wait after all that happy Errol Flynn-ing are two special surprises in the final five minutes: a revelation that threatens to undercut the show’s entire premise; and a better look at one of the show’s secret weapons barely noted in the preview materials — David Lyons, once known as TV’s The Cape! Somewhere out there, Abed Nadir is deliriously happy.
The pilot was released online early at NBC’s official site, but that’s not helpful to people like me who prefer larger TV screens, or to people also like me who somehow didn’t find out about the early release until after the fact. (For shame, Internet — you’re supposed to tell me these things!) Revolution isn’t quite A-plus material yet, but the pilot, as directed by Iron Man‘s Jon Favreau, climaxes with enough pizzazz and tantalizes with enough promise that I plan to check back next week for more, though I’m making no long-term commitment yet. After the sweat and tears normally poured into a pilot on big-budget double overtime, it’s usually the second episode that doesn’t try as hard to impress, and is a better indicator of the real quality control levels to be expected in the weeks ahead. Also, I’d like to see if Charlie wises up and ditches that awkward crossbow.