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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

'Revolution' Season 1, Episode 3 Recap

Make a sentimental choice. Fight off bad guys. Get captured. Get freed. Wash, rinse, repeat.
  • NBC
  • Make a sentimental choice. Fight off bad guys. Get captured. Get freed. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Over the last two weeks I've been informally polling friends, family, and strangers about the new Fall shows. Many express a doubt over whether they should invest in some new series in case they get cancelled, others are overwhelmed with the current lineup, and almost everyone universally hates the New Normal. When it comes to "Revolution," there are skeptics, but the most-oft refrain is, "that's the show that's like 'Lost,'" right?

Wrong. There are superficial similarities, absolutely: a ragtag bunch of renegades are stranded, the future is uncertain, there's a nebulous goal to achieve that we clearly won't get to for several seasons (hopefully there's a plan this time), there's a central mystery, and then there are the flashbacks. As the series went on, "Lost's" flashbacks became an increasing point of annoyance, as our focus was entirely on the island. By that point, we didn't need further characterizations fleshed out, or need to know who these people were in the past. Who they were in the here and now is what mattered. In fact, many fans have skipped the flashbacks altogether on their rewatch of the series. They were at best one-off entertainment (Nikki and Paolo) or at worst, filler ("how Jack got his tattoos"), but what's so strikingly different about "Revolution's" flashbacks, which are numerous, is that they are the best part of the show. For more on how "Revolution" could right itself by turning inside out, hit the jump.

"Revolution's" main problem (out of many) is that it doesn't seem to know its best content. As I've mentioned in the past, the struggle to survive after the blackout — the starvation, the confusion, the fall of governments — has much more innate interest and emotional draw than the present (fifteen years later) that we're in for most of the episode. Perhaps it's because we were dropped there without context. We are told the cities are death traps and that everyone else is living a kind of quiet agrarian life ... how? How do they utilize their old skills, if at all? Who taught them how to farm? Where did they get seeds and supplies, and how are the vestiges of a life with electricity still useful to them as repurposed tools? How do they get food now?

We get none of that. Instead "Revolution" already reverts to a formula that it developed in the pilot and has relied on ever since — Charlie makes a sentimental choice, Miles fights the bad guys off, gets captured, and then gets freed by Charlie before the next commercial break. It's incredible to me how any decent writers could sit around thinking that this is their best material when their best material is literally all around them. Narratively speaking, "Revolution" hides its story T&A and gives us a lot of flabby midriff instead. News flash: not interested.

Not all of "Revolution" is bad. Aaron is a general highlight, usually getting the best lines like how the world being a schoolyard now, and figuring out some of the power of his "ugly ass" pendant. The mystery of the power is obviously something the series wants to hold off in revealing, but the drip-drip pace in which they do reveal things is so obvious they might as well just ignore the issue entirely for seven episodes rather than string it out as such.

The other highlight this week was (naturally) in flashback form — giving us a tiny bit of backstory on how terrible things were in the aftermath of the blackout, and how Miles and his pal Monroe figured out that well-trained militias could help save the innocent population from the cretins killing them for food. Since "there's no help coming" (a really ominous thought, and one I'm glad they repeated a few times for effect) they have to take matters into their own hands. Monroe is hesitant, but we know all that changes. That story is far more interesting than anything happening back in present day, where suddenly the dialogue and plotting goes from mildly interest to clunky and predictable beyond all belief.

Thankfully, "Revolution" did borrow one good thing from "Lost," and that was from the cast — Mark Pellegrino did everything he could with his militia man character Jeremy, and the results were the most lively and engaging acting we've seen yet on the show (apparently in the future, everyone loses their personality, too). The twist at the end that Jeremy had been with Monroe and Miles since the forming of the militia was the first decent surprise the series has pulled off, and where that goes next could be of interest. Danny, too, seems to have actually found something to do and may be forming a bond with Captain Neville, a fantastic development. But are these few pieces here and there worth sticking around for?

This is my last week with "Revolution," at least recap-wise. Other series I've written about for three episodes then closed the book on, but said I'll keep watching, well, I didn't. There's too much other good TV out there. But NBC was wise to put Revolution on an otherwise dead night with a strong lead-in, so viewers may be tempted to stay tuned. I think "Revolution" has a chance, not to be a great show, but to at least survive cancellation this year. It might have made a great miniseries, or a great post-apocalyptic thriller in the vein of "The Walking Dead." It might have been a lot of things. The biggest thing it isn't is revolutionary.

Musings and Miscellanea:

— I hated Pellegrino's character Jacob on "Lost" but I like the actor in general, and he's a lot more likable here than ever before. "Do you guys remember that show One Life to Live?"

— Digging a tunnel to get out in a hurry? Digging a tunnel?? The stupidest idea in the history of ever. I had so much embarrassment for that entire sequence I almost had to turn it off.

— For anyone surprised that the iPhone would have turned on even with this magical power device, I found a cell phone I haven't used in nearly ten years recently that turned on perfectly without having to charge it. It's possible.

— What is more questionable is how Aaron could still be so fat on a diet of vegetables and homemade bread.

— I loved how Jeremy's game plan against the rebel sniper was to go Full Russian ... i.e. just throw bodies at it until they run out of bullets!

— Charlie almost has personality now, and same with Danny. Maggie is a blank slate though, which is ok since I can almost guarantee she'll get killed off soon.

— It always amuses me when a show tries to age down an actor by CGI-ing their wrinkles in flashback scenes (like with Miles this week). It never looks quite right. Just give them different hair like in the old days — you're not fooling anyone!

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