“Welcome to the SyFy Channel.”
OK, not really. Revolution aired on sister network NBC, both part of the Universal family. Usually the sibling resemblances are not very visible. Revolution, however has all the elements of a typical SyFy Channel series. These shows almost always start with strong source material or a crazy but clever idea. Most of the time the idea gets lost in bad acting, cheap computer-generated images and very low production values. None of those are a problem for Revolution. The acting is pretty solid. The effects are innovative and impressive (except for the really bad guys-on-fire images). The production values could stand against any series on the air. The creative team is overrun by talented people with proven track records. So how did Revolution go so far off the rails and end up in a pretty much deserved cancellation after just two years? Let me count the ways.
Let’s start with some of my problems going into the show. We were not provided with the first season to review when that set released last year. Without going into too much inside baseball here, this is a fair issue to disclose in a review like this one. With a staff of die-hard film and television enthusiasts, it’s rare that we are given a show or film that no one on staff has any experience with. If it’s a first season, there are no worries. If it’s a subsequent season that is mostly a procedural, again no worries. We’re smart enough to do the research and get up to speed. But if it’s a series heavy on mythology, that can be a daunting task, and it was my challenge to overcome such obstacles in writing this review. I watched every minute of every episode and all of the extras. I read articles and reviews on the first season and watched some clips online. It wasn’t quite enough. The natural question (which I will get in emails) is what am I doing reviewing the show at all then? Fair question. The answer is because someone here has to. You got me. With all of that said, here’s my take on what I learned and what I saw. This is also one of those times where I encourage you to use the comments section to challenge my observations or to simply add your own thoughts or take. Let’s write this review together, shall we?
“We lived in an electric world. We relied on it for everything. And then the power went out. Everything stopped working. We weren’t prepared. Fear and confusion lead to panic. The lucky ones made it out of the cities. The government collapsed. Militias took over, controlling the food supply and stockpiling weapons. We still don’t know why the power went out, but we’re hopeful that someone will come and light the way.”
The show is basically a post-apocalyptic story. Something/someone removed electricity from the planet. We’re not talking a simple EMP blast here. All electric processes are now impossible. No batteries. No generators. No lightning. The show doesn’t really explain how humans and other animals exist considering we all run on electrical impulses as well. I was tempted to keep my eye out for any static shocks throughout the series. Of course, society falls, and people are pretty much left to fend for themselves. Regional republics form, and alliances are played out without the benefit of most modern weaponry. Apparently muskets were a big part of season 1. We’re at least back up to machine guns, although machetes are the preferred weapon of many of the show’s characters. The season ended up focusing on characters involved in these regional struggles.
The first season ended with a pretty big cliffhanger. Rachel (Mitchell) pushed for a group to enter a tower and try to bring back the power. Sounds great, right? Well, it was quickly used by a maniac calling himself a Patriot to launch nukes at Atlanta and Philly. The power goes back out, but not in time to save the East Coast from nuclear devastation. The second season jumps six months later, and our players are spread out over the map.
Most of our regular cast have made their way to Willoughby, Texas (a nod to the original Twilight Zone). There we find the Matheson clan. Rachel’s been living with her father Dr. Gene Porter (Collins) and daughter Charlie (Spiridakos) and former hubby and militant leader during the previous season’s wars Miles (Burke). The Matheson family is, of course, an homage to the great writer Richard Matheson. He wrote the story I Am Legend which became the source material first for Vincent Price’s Last Man On Earth and Charlton Heston’s The Omega Man before finally being filmed under its original title with Will Smith and family. This material obviously served as inspiration for many elements of the film.
It is here in Texas that we discover who these “Patriots” were, and Tom Brady isn’t on the roster. They claim to be the remnants of the American government who spent time in exile in Cuba. Now they’ve returned to rebuild the American government. This unit is headed by Commander Edward Truman (Culp). They come with smiles and promises of aid, but what they really have are plans to reinvent America through genocide and military control. They come complete with re-education camps and trains that provide the first near-modern form of transportation. Of course, the Mathesons discover the truth and form an armed resistance with the help of the former President of the Monroe Republic, Sebastian “Bass” Monroe (Lyons).
Elsewhere, another member of the failed Republic is Tom Neville (Esposito) and his son Jason (Pardo). They blame the Patriots for the bombs that they believe killed Tom’s wife. They plan to join the Patriots and work their way into power. Tom’s a devious man as his comrades discovered during the first season war. Unfortunately, he finds out more than he was looking to discover, and it will send him on a collision course with the rebels in Willoughby. The Neville name is another Matheson I Am Legend homage. It’s the name of the protagonist in that story.
Then there’s Aaron Pittman (Orth) who is killed and brought back to life by some mysterious force who manifest themselves as lightning bugs. The characters call them fireflies, but we know what they really meant. It also gives him the supernatural power to set people he’s angry with on fire. He can even do this in his sleep as he comes to the aid of Miles without even knowing where Miles was. He discovers that these powers and his resurrection are the result of nanotechnology that Rachel developed and that his code brought to life. These nanos become a central story element that is never really developed the way it was promised. This part of the story is the one that lived up least to its promise and wasted some wonderful potential to set this show apart from the rest.
For most of the season we’re treated to a familiar string of events. There’s always the gathered Intel that puts them on some kind of mission. A lot of guys get sliced and diced, but someone ends up getting captured. Now there’s the rescue plan which usually fails and leads to the plan B plan that gets our characters quite ridiculously out of the jam of the day. In the extras I hear the creative team talk about how disappointed they were that season 1 ended up just being this war, and they changed the game in season 2. But they didn’t. It’s just a war with new bad guys and the obligatory changing of sides, internal conflict and a change of location. It’s still a war and with less of the grand fighting and more of the small skirmishes. Same tuna, different label with less actual tuna after all is said and done.
On the positive front the show has an excellent cast. There are no real weak links here. Billy Burke and David Lyons are particularly dynamic to watch. The two share a wonderful chemistry and deliver on a complicated relationship. They have this love/hate relationship that truly feels as though they’ve been through the ringer together. Burke is the best performer on the show and gives us wonderful character depth often with just a grin or a shrug. The actors are doing one hell of a job here and can’t be blamed for the show going off the rails.
The production values are just as impressive. Each week the production team delivers great locations and set pieces that suck you into this world entirely. From costumes to locations, there is care in each detail of the show’s appearance.
The creative team includes creator Eric Kripke who brought us Supernatural. There’s JJ Abrams who knows this kind of mystery show backwards and forwards giving us the likes of Alias and Lost. I suspect his day to day involvement is something less than nothing. He’s in England right now working on some small obscure science fiction sequel that comes out in a couple of years. Jon Favreau brought us the first Iron Man. Rockne S. O’Bannon was one of the creative geniuses who brought us Farscape. I frankly expected a lot more from this dream team of showrunners.
It’s in the writing room where all of these people and the fans were let down. Part of the problem is that the writers all appear to be producers. It might have been better had they had one thing to focus on. There was also an open cooperation with the UN to get some of their messages out. The messages about energy poverty are worthy causes and deserve attention, but the story might have suffered to provide another agenda. While there are plenty of great character moments, that’s really owed to the performers. In the end the show ends up pretty much where it started. The flashbacks were confusing and an overt attempt to copy Lost. There were aspects of The Walking Dead. Often our characters would come upon Patriots and have to do some slashing. Substitute zombies for Patriots. Jericho comes to mind when you seen the overall feel of the show. They spent a lot of time trying to be someone else or deliver someone else’s message that I don’t think they took enough time to ask the question: Who are we.
The result is that the show was dropping viewers. I’m sure it had a core of faithful followers, but they were not enough. Revolution had another thing going against it. In today’s television business model the real revenue is in home video. Networks are willing to give a show with potential time because they have a chance to make the money in syndication, home video, internet streaming services. These all add to the bottom line. While Revolution played on NBC, it’s a Warner Brothers produced show. NBC makes no back end on the show which often leads to a shorter plug. If you’re a fan, don’t boycott buying these discs because your pissed at NBC and don’t want to give them any more money. NBC isn’t the one getting the money for this release. In fact, you should be wanting to support Warner for giving you a quality release for the show.
In the end, you can’t really did what I did and start with season 1. The set is strictly for the fans.
Each episode is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 25 mbps. This high-definition image presentation is quite impressive. Like I’ve already stated, the production values weren’t the issue and they shine on this release. There’s a lot of visceral texture to be found here. The production design team did an excellent job of creating this world and using detail to make it real for you. The release honors this effort quite well. Black levels are solid, which helps in a world without power. Fans should take heart that the reproduction here is everything they could have asked for in a television release.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is often quite active. Fight scenes are loaded with opportunity to surround you with immersive effects. Dialog never suffers, and I was able to hear every word with crystal clear clarity. Bass levels weren’t anything to write home about, but there were a few moments during explosive scenes. The music blended well as did the many songs used for montage or background.
Deleted Scenes on most episodes. Usually just 1 short scene.
Impact Revolution – Conversations With The UN: (11:49) This piece talks about the cooperation with the UN Energy folks. I didn’t realize that 20% of the world’s population do not have access to reliable electricity. We do take it for granted.
Gag Reel: (3:18)
Revolution – Heading West: (23:22) Jon Favreau and Eric Kripke lead the writers in a discussion about the changes between season 1 and 2. It’s obvious they recognized the weaknesses of the first season and talk about changing it, but I think they fell into the same traps they reveal they were trying to avoid.
2013 Comic-Con Panel – Q&A With Cast And Creators: (28:04) Most of the cast and showrunners are here. Mitchell is the most notable absence. They provide the usual entertaining banter and information.
DVD copies of the show.
I know many fans will take issue with this review, and I do welcome your input. First I merely ask you to ponder one question. Are you really happy with how this show delivered on the potential you saw in it from the beginning? I think, if you’re honest, you expected more. That’s what really killed the show. The shows are now here for you to own. Treasure it and look for something better in the future. Revolution is gone. “It’s going to turn off, and it’s never going to go on again.”