There’s bad news and there’s good news about Sky One’s new tentpole science fiction series from the JJ Abrams stable, Revolution. The bad news is that it’s not very good at all and is only borderline watchable. The good news is that it’s not actually dire: just very, very disappointing.
Credit where its due, it has a great initial concept – what if all electrical power on earth suddenly stopped working? And it kicks that off with an effective first five minutes showing the lights go out all over the planet, including planes dropping from the sky. Visually this part looks great, and indeed the FX of the post-power landscapes are also genuinely eye-popping. Unfortunately all of this good stuff has already been shown in the incessant trailers for the series that have pervaded every ad break on Sky over the last month.
Sadly the show itself seems to have absolutely no interesting ideas of how to proceed from that promising start. Instead, it cobbles together a number of bland second-hand clichés, some of the most cardboard characters seen this side of the Terra Nova dud, and then wraps it all up with some of the laziest writing I think I’ve seen in a TV series of the last decade.
Which is all really quite amazing coming from an executive producer of JJ Abrams’ pedigree, but then his TV output since Lost has been in steady and sharp decline. More surprising is that the actual script execution is so poor considering that it’s the work of Eric Kripke who created and show-ran Supernatural, a series I have a lot of time and admiration for. Whether it was Supernatural that was the flash-in-the-pan or whether it’s this instance that sees Kripke drowning under the pressure of network executives and focus groups remains to be seen.
What we have here are bits of Lost (with its flashbacks and drip-feeds of a deeper mystery that includes mysterious messages appearing over a PC screen), a colourless clone of The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen, and a tale of survival in a post-apocalyptic ruined world borrowed straight from The Walking Dead without those nasty zombies, overwhelming sense of despair or anything else too troubling to spoil the picturesque locations for a mainstream audience. None of the characters manage to make much of an impression in the first two hours, despite a decent cast doing their best that includes Billy Burke, Elizabeth Mitchell, Giancarlo Esposito, David Lyons and Tim Guinee.
Story-wise, there’s coincidence piled upon even more hugely unlikely coincidence. People walk into town looking for someone and it’s the first person they talk to; or they go looking for a rebel fighter and immediately stumble over the chain gang where that person is incarcerated. Just how obvious and unambitious the whole thing is going to be is clear from the start, when we get the lamest plot exposition device in the playbook: a voiceover from a teacher telling local children about the history of the last 15 years since the power failure. Not only is this lazy, it’s executed sloppily: this narration mentions people had to leave the cities to survive, only for the show to later to visit a busy Chicago full of people. Not a great start to consistent, coherent world-building.
None of this makes the show so bad that it’s worth getting riled up or angry over. It’s just instantly forgettable, so generic, humourless and bland that I almost forgot I was watching it even while it was on.
Why has it attracted the huge ratings that it has in America? I can only guess that it’s because it taps into a few of the current Zeitgeist concerns such as survivalist fears of the imminent collapse of civilisation. But boy, does the show lay it on thick: the very first scene presents the problem with modern life as being our slavery to all our electrical gadgets – TVs, computers, tablets – stopping families from talking to one another, so in a sense the blackout that ensues is a return to the simpler times many yearn for.
There’s bad guys of course, in this case a former army sergeant who has now raised himself to the rank of general and president of a republic run by an armed militia, which has outlawed guns in anyone’s hands except their own. It’s like an NRA recruitment poster – “See? This is what happens if you try and usurp the Second Amendment!” – and that fact that the rule is murderously enforced by a black character extorting taxes who then orders the burning of the old US stars and stripes makes it hard to believe that this isn’t a very intentional swipe from the right at Obama and the Democrats.
There’s certainly nothing I’ve seen here that makes me want to watch further. I very much doubt that the one interesting aspect – the story of what made the power go out in the first place and whether it can be undone – will get satisfactorily resolved before the time the programme gets killed off. And if I’m honest, I simply don’t care about it, because I don’t believe in this pre-fabricated world and its pre-fabricated characters.
Revolution continues on the UK on Sky One on Fridays at 9pm.