Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Revolution (Season 1) (2012-2013)

I had high hopes for Revolution. Produced by J. J. Abrams and with a pilot directed by Jon Favreau, the NBC show debuted with a lot of hype. More importantly, this was the new project from Eric Kripke, creator of Supernatural. Kripke hasn't had too many other credits to his name, but, during the five seasons he ran it, Supernatural was one of my favorite shows on television, and so I wanted to see what new project he left it for. Unfortunately, although Revolution's first season was more entertaining overall than Supernatural has been in Kripke's absence, it's not exactly a good show. It's also not quite a bad show, and not a merely inoffensive one (which is sadly what Supernatural has become). By the end of the season, I didn't feel especially strongly about it one way or another, and yet I also wouldn't say I was apathetic about it. I was intrigued to see where it would go, whether it could right itself and become a good show—I felt the potential was there, and still do—and, even as the show weekly failed to deliver any kind of payoff, I strangely felt compelled to keep watching.

This first season was all over the place. For the first half, it felt like a frontier serial fit for family viewing. I would tune in weekly to see what latest operation or heist the heroes would take on in this post-apocalyptic future, where fifteen years without electricity had resulted in the collapse of the U.S. government, leaving feuding dictatorships and militias the only law of the land. Early episodes provided some mild thrills, but the plots became progressively more contrived and the execution clumsier, and characters remained poorly written, especially the obnoxious teenage siblings that were ostensibly the driving focus of the show.

After a long break, during which I had all but forgotten that the show had ever existed, Revolution returned to television and, as if in acknowledgment that many elements had not been working, the second half featured some significant retoolings. It became a far more serialized story—no more operation of the week—and the show became far less interested in exploring the post-apocalyptic world and more in developing the mysteries of the blackout—what caused it and how it might be reversed. Young protagonist Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos), still somewhat irritating but no longer as tiresomely wishy-washy, became more of a supporting character to her sword-swinging uncle, Miles (Billy Burke), and her estranged scientist mother, Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell). It was a better show, but only marginally so, and it still felt a long way from getting viewers invested in these characters, for whom the writers seemed distressingly without any plan or purpose, instead just making things up one episode at a time, having characters go through preposterous changes of attitude and allegiance, and killing some off for cheap thrills alone. And it seemed to inherit only the worst aspect of Supernatural: the atrocious confessional moments, when characters would pour out their feelings in soapy yet aggressively masculine manner by declaring, through overblown dialogue, what they thought of themselves, what everybody else was also supposed to think of them.

Well, Kripke also tried to carry on his Supernatural tradition of opening the finale with a comprehensive "previously on" segment set to a classic rock song. That was always a cheer-worthy moment during his seasons of Supernatural, as the clips would run through the journey the characters had undergone en route to the climactic confrontation to come. On Revolution, this sequence painfully highlighted just how errant and haphazard the season had been, as there were almost no scenes they could call back to from more than a few episodes ago that still held any relevance by the finale.

The one legitimately standout aspect of Revolution was David Lyons's performance as General Sebastian Monroe, the primary antagonist for most of the season. In flashbacks, we're shown that Monroe and Miles used to be best friends—Miles actually co-founded the dictatorial Monroe Republic, before deserting for reasons still not fully depicted—until, somewhere along the way, Monroe became power-mad and brutal. This may be a classic "power corrupts" premise then, but what makes Monroe an interesting character is that Lyons plays him as clearly a mentally ill person. We're told that Monroe "lost it" after Miles abandoned him, becoming increasingly paranoid and deranged, but Lyons goes above and beyond the material, fully committing to giving an unnervingly convincing portrayal of insanity, not in the typical over-the-top TV sense (which we see on this very show, in the form of the weepily psychopathic Rachel), but in the sense of a person who seems to suffer from a legitimate chemical imbalance that, in the real world, might be addressed with treatment and medication (or else end up on the streets, one of those unfortunate stuttering and agitated lost souls that litter our inner cities). One can imagine that, if only he could get treatment in the fallen world of Revolution, Monroe would be an okay guy, instead of the monstrous villain at the top of everyone's hit list. Instead, he seems in perpetual anguish and agony, even when his side is winning, as though he doesn't even really care about ruling the world, doesn't even especially want to live, but is too afraid to die and equates his power with his life, since his pursuit of power has already cost him everything else in his life.

I still have many issues with the character, but these problems are on the writers and not on Lyons. The big question is how he ever became the commander of the Monroe Republic in the first place. Even in the flashbacks to when pre-blackout Monroe was but a lowly sergeant, he doesn't seem the most mentally stable individual—not twisted, just shaky, but, in any case, not someone who could capably lead other men. We could suppose that Miles actually did most of the work, hence why Monroe unraveled so quickly after Miles left him, but, in that case, how has he managed to wage a war, or even to keep his command, without Miles directing at his side?

Revolution has managed to get a second season greenlit that it probably didn't earn on the quality of its first, but if we wrote off every show that had an underwhelming beginning, then I'd have missed out on some of my favorite shows, including The Vampire Diaries, Parks and Recreation, both Buffy and Angel, and even Star Trek: The Next Generation. Revolution's biggest problem is that it has so far instilled no confidence that the writers themselves are clear on what direction to take the story. That's not a fundamental defect but something that could be figured out by the second season, at which point it could potentially become a good show. There remains room and opportunity for it to fix itself, and I'm hoping it does.

1 comment:

Fringe (2008-2013) | FRAGGIN' CIVIE said...

[…] that it will improve. I certainly can’t make the same guarantee with something current, like Revolution, a mediocre-at-best show that might become good if it makes it to a third season (though it would seriously surprise me if […]