I finally got around to watching the pilot of NBC’s Revolution last night. Since the days of Rambaldi prophecies and SD-6, J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot Production family have been my goto team, my Steven Spielberg of television. His unique storytelling vision and serialized, comic book sensibility seemed to closely align with my personal TV viewing needs and the idea of a new show “from J.J. Abrams” always unleashes my inner smoke monster. The perfect storm occurred (mentioned in the aforementioned post) eight years ago when the Lost pilot changed my TV life forever. At that time, Alias was still doing some of its best work and season 1 of Lost became a pop cultural touchstone.
Unfortunately, “from J.J. Abrams” has increasingly been not all it is cracked up to be. Six Degrees (I literally forgot about it), What About Brian (never found its footing), or Undercovers (the pre-show buzz was so bad I never gave it a shot) all came and went faster than Nikki and Paulo’s turn on the Oceanic Flight 815 crash site. Fringe (now in its final season, relegated to the purgatory night of TV that is Friday) has been a slightly more successful beast (at least in the eyes of its loyal but very small fan base), but after giving season 1 a try on dvd, the sci-fi balanced too much on the fiction side of real.
Last season’s TV lineup brought new promise to the J.J. Abrams name. Two new shows were debuting that each had J.J. Abrams as the executive producer, a fantastic actor from Lost back on the case, and a film actor from one of my favorite movies as one of the stars. The first of which is Person of Interest, saddled in CBS procedural land which doubles as the land of the TV success factory franchise (although you may not know a soul who watches them: see anything with the CSI or NCIS prefix to name a few of these monster ratings hits). POI, with Michael Emerson (Ben Linus from Other-ville) as an enigmatic pre-crime watcher and Jim Caviezel (who I have loved on screen in The Count of Monte Cristo and The Thin Red Line) as a Batman-like (without a costume) vigilante action hero, provides a very satisfying, taut hour of television. Sadly, its less serialized leanings and largely procedural format yield the upkeep of viewing less essential. I have watched and enjoyed most of season 1, but the final four episodes have literally sat idle, unwatched in my DVR queue since May and let me tell you, I have had many a three hour stretch since to crank them out, but for some reason, I haven’t gotten around to (yielding POI on the DVR season pass death watch for season 2).
The other new “from J.J. Abrams” show last season was Alcatraz. Debuting in Fox’s American Idol charged midseason lineup, “The Rock” had Jorge Garcia playing the most Hurley-like character imaginable (which was all good), Sam Neil of Jurassic Park (a top 20 film favorite), a cute leading lady played by Sarah Jones, an oft-coma-ed Parminda Nagra who seemed out of place and wanted back on the soccer field or to an er led by Dr. Carter, and a mythology driven/villain of the week format that had real initial promise. My Alcatraz viewing story closely resembled that of the general populace (a rarity in recent years) – the further in to the thirteen episode run and more we knew about the time traveling mysterious circumstances, the less I cared. After the finale (I was off the island by then) ratings reached a new low, another J.J. Abrams vehicle had been permanently extinguished.
As you can probably imagine, the journey into the electricity-less land of Revolution must be a lesson in caution and reasonable expectations (especially when NBC is the network). Pre-pilot buzz has been mostly lukewarm: cool premise and good technical execution, but mostly forgettable actors and missing a heartfelt connection. I do know that pilots have to be viewed with an understanding that they are often unable to replicate what the show will really be like due to budget difference, the time prep differences, and exposition obligations. A good pilot does not mean a bad show. A bad pilot can be a good show and so on. In the humble opinion of moi, Revolution was a predominantly successful pilot that may have resonated more cinematically than as a serialized TV show.
Here is what it got right:
– The Giancarlo Esposito character, Captain Tom Mellville of the militia, was a welcome return to my TV life. Since the Gus Fring character “blew up” on Breaking Bad, Mr. Esposito has been a pleasure to watch and its seems no different here. This is casting at its best.
– Jon Favreau knows how to direct action. His fighting sword play scenes were great for the medium and gave the pilot its most dramatic moments.
– The Lost connection is much appreciated with Elizabeth Mitchell playing a “did she really die” mom.
– The premise is really interesting. What would happen to your life if you no longer had any of the technology you use and love? The dystopian transformation of America set fifteen years in the future is well executed especially the ivy-enhanced Wrigley Field and the use of cars as large planting pots. The mystery behind this event (what happened? who did this?) is enough to want to watch more and may have given my stomach a Lost like feeling a la Charlie’s “Where are we?”
– Crossbows rock.
Here is what did not sit well:
– Besides Giancarlo Esposito and Billy Burke (apparently he is in Twilight – don’t care), there were no standout performances or characters in the pilot. It is going to be an ensemble-piece and in its infancy, it was hard to make the connections.
– From what we do know of the mythology, I am not sure if the writing team can sustain the concept long-term. It seems ripe for 4-5 episodes, but beyond, the gimmick may fade to black if we don’t care about who is living it.
– There was too much focus on the quest to Chi-Town and not enough on establishing the society and how it has been affected at the familial level. The need for action early offset the need to care.
– The pacing suffered halfway in – it didn’t move the way you want a pilot to move.
The overall good news, I was pleasantly surprised. Revolution gave me enough to want to come back for more…and I will. Its pilot ratings may have been the best news NBC has received since the late 90s, and I am so rooting for it to be a success. With The Voice as a lead-in extraordinaire (do lead-ins matter anymore anywhere but CBS?), it should have some time to find sure footing and I really hope it does. In the interim, spending an hour with Juliet and Gus Fring every week continues to be my privilege. I say I want a Revolution (for now) and (for now) “don’t you know it’s gonna be alright.”