Ugh, the guns. The guns and the hair. The guns, the hair and the complete lack of forward motion.
Hello all, and welcome to the ongoing shiva service I’m holding for the death of NBC’s Revolution, a show for whom the end of the world came twice: Once when the series started - the premise was that something had turned off all the electricity in one fell swoop and here we are 15 years later and how you like me now, civilization? — and on May 21, when the second season aired its final episode and the lights went out for real.
There were 42 episodes of Revolution, and I watched ‘em all. That’s the equivalent of 21 movies worth of Post-Apocalyptic Scooby Gang adventures of Miles, Charlie, Tom, Aaron and Rachel going nowhere and not making very good time. They slogged through the weediest looking version of the ex-U.S.A. ever portrayed on network television week after week, in which nothing much ever seemed to happen except the same things that happened the week before.
Revolution could have been a good show. It nearly was. I kept hoping the writers would wake up and realize they had written the same episode 42 times. But it was never going to happen, a fact I realized after talking to the showrunner, Rockne O’Bannon, earlier this year. What I was seeing were rebels who never won a battle in which they gained narrative or moral high ground; who never grasped the larger picture; who never seemed to actually deal with the fact that the world had been grinding down for 15 years in any way larger than not getting regular baths.
O’Bannon saw mythic heroes in the making. “The way I come to the series is we’re watching the heroes of the future, Miles and Rachel and the others - 100 years from now they may erect statues to them. They are likely at the forefront of establishing what sort of society there will be coming from the ashes of the blackout,” he said.
The end of the world is not easy on fans of fictional post-apocalypse stories. There are plenty of them on TV these days, including Falling Skies and The Walking Dead and, inexplicably, The 100 but I sense we may not see too many more ambitious attempts in the near future. Because writing the end of the world is hard. Fans want to see the nitty-gritty consistencies of civilization’s falling apart; writers in comfy air-conditioned rooms want to tell about relationships, interpersonal reactions, emotional difficulties and petty squabbles. There’s a middle ground, and sometimes Walking Dead stumbles over it, but not always.
Revolution, unfortunately, suffered from a case of the creeping stupids, which included:
- women in battle with long, flowing locks who never master the art of a ponytail
- switching from the (good) idea of using knives and swords 15 years post-blackout to a sudden glut of guns and bullets for all
- horses everywhere, nobody taking care of them
- medicines that apparently haven’t expired despite being a decade and a half old
- ditto computers and televisions (yes, a few function sporadically for various plot reasons)
- no issues over clean water or sanitation
- no queries or discussion over how the rest of the world has fared in the dark
Those are nit-picky. But the most serious flaw in Revolution’s ointment was the lack of direction. In all of those hours, not one selfless leader with big ideas and the charisma to rally the masses into organizing for the common good emerged. Instead, each and every leader proved to be deluded or evil or both - and everyone else, including our band of heroes, was ineffectual or directionless.
Revolution is an example of how not to do a post-apocalypse series. It should be noted that the show was hampered by the requirement of 20-plus episodes each season; writing and shooting that many episodes in a year is much harder than it looks, which is why most of the TV shows that last any more on broadcast networks are plug-and-play procedurals, not long-arc, big-idea stories.
But the real crime is the squandering of a show with this potential - and producers J.J. Abrams and Jon Favreau behind it. It could have been so much more. It was always about power - what it means to wield it and to be without it, literally and figuratively. But it shouldn’t just have just been about the way power fails. When the lights went off in this show, they also died in its creative heart. And pulling the plug was, ultimately, a mercy killing.
Watch Revolution tralier here.