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PILOT LIGHTS 2012: REVOLUTION

We continue to look at some of the most significant shows premiering as part of the US's new season of action shows… today: Revolution

What happens if the lights go out? Not only the lights, but the basic laws of physics appeared to change? Electricity – gone. Cars – forever standed. Laptops – mere paperweights. What if, in a split-second, all the modern facilities that we take for granted were rendered obsolete and we had to go back to basics… horses, weaved clothing, farms… where you needed eye-pads, rather than iPads.

Revolution begins in just such a moment, when scientist Ben Matheson (Tim Guinee) bursts into the family home to announce that something is about to happen. It happens. Every light, car, computer and electrical product in the area – then the world – stops working. Planes fall from the sky, towerblocks flicker out. Ben manages to download some critical information from his PC to a pendant-shaped dongle before the hard-drive goes dead, but by then it may be too late…

Fifteen years later and Ben and his two children (his wife, recast from the pilot with LOST/V's Elisabeth Mitchell apparently lost in some tragedy many years before) lives in a small rural community, trying to avoid the  various militias that enforce selective and brutal authority. Unknown to his children, he still carries with him the secrets of why the blackout happened, but when a militia under the control of Giancarlo Esposito (The Usual Suspects, Breaking Bad, Homicide: Life on the Streets) rides into town to find him, he is fatally injured and his son, Danny (Graham Rogers), taken as leverage. His daughter, Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos)… the requisite spunky ingenue channelling a tomboy attitude, complete with archery skills… rushes back to camp, but it's too late to receive anything other than her dying father's wish to track down his estranged brother Miles (Twilight's Billy Burke) to save Danny. As Charlie, her father's new lover Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips) and nerdy geek Aaron (Zak Orth) head out to find Miles, little do they know their actions may dictate the future of the entire country and secrets from the day the world went dark…

Revolution  (pictured above with the original pilot line-up – before Elizabeth Mitchell took over the role of Rachel – right, back row) feels like the labratory-designed child of Dark Angel and Jericho and unapologetically bred to serve a post-Hunger Games audience. The former was the 2000-2002 show (featuring a pre-Fantastic Four Jessica Alba, a pre-NCIS Michael Weatherly  and a pre-Supernatural Jensen Ackles) that was set in a future urban America after a EMP-style device wiped out a lot of the modern conveniences, the second was the post limited nuclear-strike drama which ran for to season in the mid-Noughties, detailing how a small rural Kansas town deals with the aftermath. As for the Hunger Games franchise.. well Twilight is like, SO, last year, right? 

Every concept can arguably be tracked back to inspirations elsewhere – though this one doesn't need a road-map so much as a line-of-sight. But the problem with any show is that the pilot has to give you a massive information-dump, introducing characters that populate the premise. That often gives little chance for the nuances and elements that may work better as the show progresses. It's always going to be more of an unapologetic sales pitch, than instantly pitch-perfect.

And that's what J J Abrams shows tend to be… a one paragraph concept with a twisty mystery at its heart and solemn promises that we won't go the way of LOST (though we're already flasbacking to-and-fro to those early blackout days) and have so many questions and so few answers that you feel like you've mugged by mythology gone maverick.   Honestly, trust us, even though we don't know how long we'll last, we're not making this up as we go along! That's not to say the central conceits won't work, but it is akin to being asked to commit longterm on the strength of a first date who won't tell you what they do for a living. Abrams tends to pull out all the stops to impress on that first encounter, but a few episodes in to each of his shows, there's often the illusion of change rather than real momentum. Based on past performance,  that's not clever foreshadowing so much as creative stalling.

Dark Angel was lovely to look at but its landscape was litered with convenient logic-jumps over what could/could not have survived the EMP apocalypse and we're promised that will be more carefully monitored in Revolution. However, if neccesity really is the mother of invention, then it appears Revolution's world had an apathetic apolcalypse – no-one seems to have re-harnassed water or steam… this is one un-industrious revolution, to be sure.  The pilot suggests that despite locations that look like rural heaven, but the beautiful people of the countryside still look as if they have access to Maybelline cosmetics and the GAP.  And there's the rub – the younger cast don't seem like backwood survivalists roughing it out in a new age of Aquarius… fifteen years after the end of facebook and cell-phones, they still look ready to be OMG and LOLing rather than going AWOL.   NBC might pretend their cast is living 'off the grid' but it's hard to believe any of them would even last a single day in Central Park. 

There's a decent (literally) post-modern idea in Revolution – one that looks at how people handle a lack of gadgets as they go back to earthly basics – and even the question whether the road to restoring modern technology and balance is the right one –  but unlike cable-show The Walking Dead, this apocalyptic network venture seem restricted to demographic-serving, soft-focus and familiar formula rather than the rougher edges the idea really needs. A smudge of dirt on your cheek is not the new 'gritty'. To be fair, there IS a spectacularly choreographed (if totally illogical and pragamtically unlikely) fight sequence – with a swords vs. guns to boot! – near the pilot's climax. If we could lean more towards that kind of action and less on the frowny teen-angst, the show may be actually onto something…

Hunger Games? On the strength of the pilot, picturesquely directed by Iron Man's Jon Favreau, Revolution may well be a lovely-looking dessert to serve the peckish rather than a satisfying feast for serious sci-fi fans…

7/10

Revolution starts on NBC tonight. A UK airdate has not been confirmed.