Crashing Pilots: Revolution
By David Mumpower
October 10, 2012

At least two of the people in this picture are already dead. Maybe three.

If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. This was an axiom we all learned as children that we immediately disregarded the instant we gained unsupervised internet access. As a rule, I try to avoid what The Newsroom recently defined as takedown pieces because I find them petty and, even worse, a lazy style of writing. I even gave Uwe Boll a third chance before eventually naming him the mortal enemy of BOP. This philosophy of stubborn optimism occasionally creates problems, with the most recent example being Revolution.

Theoretically, Revolution is a project I should enjoy. Series creator Eric Kripke displayed an inimitable level of creativity on the perennially underrated Supernatural, among the cleverest programs in the history of television. Kripke possesses the rare ability to cultivate abstract ideas from overly saturated subjects. He can mine gothic concepts such as werewolves and vampires into fresh interpretations that are sprinkled with a heady mix of horror and humor. Eric Kripke is a genius.

Readers of the site are aware of my innumerable objections to Lost, a wildly overhyped, ineffective attempt to combine methodical character development and frequent Huge. Shocking! TWISTS!!! This proved to be the worst marriage since Ike and Tina. I was wryly amused when the most ardent supporters of Lost decried the lack of closure during the final season/episode. J.J. Abrams and his team had long ago punted any intention of matching the storytelling achievements of more impacting serial dramas such as The Wire.

Whereas the David Simon series meticulously explained each and every loose thread from the entire run of The Wire, Lost fans still wander around mumbling conspiracy theories about The Others, the Smoke Monster, and the Four-Toed Statue. Lost is the hallmark example of shortcut television. Triggering viewer conversation was always more important than connecting the threads of a tapestry. The creative team behind Lost celebrated post-episode conversation more than cohesive story structure. This is their right just as I as a viewer quit watching the show a couple of times. I eventually watched every episode. I regret that.

In spite of my feelings about Lost, I still have a deep appreciation for the natural talents of J.J. Abrams. I have long maintained that Mission: Impossible 3 is one of the best action movies of this era while Star Trek is proof that even the most accredited franchises can and should be rebooted if the idea is strong enough to justify the concept. J.J. Abrams appreciates the importance of spectacle as much as anyone in the industry today.

The combination of Abrams and Kripke with some added assistance from Jon Favreau should guarantee the quality of a new television pilot. I would not have believed Revolution possible of failure before I watched any footage from it. With this much talent, the only other requisite for a quality program would be a solid premise. The premise for Revolution is clever.

A dystopian future exists when the laws of physics are thrown out the window by an as yet unexplained cataclysmic event that negated the power of electricity. As the son of an electrician, this premise bothers me on a fundamental level. Still, as a lover of quality science fiction, I recognize the storytelling opportunities presented by shaking an Etch a Sketch and thereby discarding all the known sciences.

What I had never expected is that the most impacting moment in the Revolution pilot would be a sword fight. I also did not expect that this scene would be so absurd as to play better as a comedy. In future years, I fully expect to utilize Revolution as the blueprint example of how the whole winds up being oh so much less than the sum of its parts.

Stating the obvious, Revolution is the worst pilot I’ve seen in several seasons.

Revolution does not start horribly. Unfortunately, the only interesting character is killed almost immediately. I don’t want to get too technical with the terminology here but this is what is known as a “bad decision”.

Actor Tim Guinee is the world’s youngest looking 50-year-old. His Hollywood career goes all the way back to being a regular guest on 1980s gem Wiseguy. I never noticed him until he started stealing scenes on The Good Wife. When I heard he was in the Revolution pilot as the father, I recognized that he would have to die at some point so that the teen heroine could mature. I did not expect this to happen in the pilot. Guinee’s character does not even last until the first commercial break.

Before Ben “Dead Meat” Matheson passes on, he does create interest by demonstrating knowledge of the impending blackout moments before the doomsday scenario unfolds. Then, Ben shows that he is a great father to his daughter and son as well as a remarkable farmer, tailor and town leader. I would also note that since nobody in town has had hot water in their lifetimes, the clean hair and teeth are impressive.

Nitpicks such as the above are annoying, I realize. They are also unavoidable in watching Revolution. I suspended disbelief less often when people effectively flew in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Honestly, the only time I suspended disbelief in the post-power era (i.e. the final 42 minutes of the 45 minute show) is when Gus Frink showed up to kill Ben. The combination of two marvelous actors in a showdown that unintentionally led to Ben’s death is the only time during the entire episode when I wasn’t fighting back laughter.

Before I get to the unintentionally hilarious moments, let’s explore why the Revolution pilot fails. I maintain that a lot of television programming is won and lost in the casting department. The afore-mentioned The Good Wife is an impeccable example. Actors generally found in movies trust this show’s production team enough to accept minor parts. Michael J. Fox effectively made his comeback from Parkinson’s Disease in a recurring role. Meryl Streep’s daughter, Mamie Gummer, has been honing her craft. And I have already celebrated the talents of Tim Guinee. The Good Wife is maintaining proven talent as well as drawing attention to rising stars.

Revolution goes an entirely different way. The Hunger Games has encouraged the concept of female archers. Presumably, at some point, Charlotte aka Charlie Matheson will evolve into this sort of Katniss-kicker. Thus far, actress Tracy Spiridakos has demonstrated the sort of latent thespian abilities that are usually found in stockbrokers. Even star athletes forced to do commercials demonstrate more instinct and ability. Charlie has all of the emotional range of a battery-drained doll. Maybe there was a previous ability to walk, talk and blink at the same time but that moment has long passed.

Amazingly, Tracy Spiridakos is the more talented of the Matheson scions. Graham Rogers was a complete unknown prior to Revolution and the world was better for it. Thus far, this kid is a hairdo and very red lips away from having no discernible traits. When I performed a Google Image search for this column, I realized I could not pick him up out of a police lineup. I am so unhappy when he is onscreen that I automatically look down in the same way people avert their gaze from tragedies. I have watched four episodes of Revolution thus far. The only impression Rogers has made is that if he ever experiences a human emotion, the shock of it will kill him.

Yes, Revolution is a show about the Matheson children that has somehow managed to blow the casting of both kids. In less than four hours of viewing, I have grown to dislike Spiridakos so much that if she released the sexiest sex tape ever tomorrow, I would not watch it. The entire time the video plays, I would find myself uncomfortably remembering terrible quotes of hers from Revolution. The stink of failure is that dramatic. Amusingly, nothing else on Revolution is the least bit dramatic.

The intention with Revolution is for Billy Burke to finally fulfill his promise as a lead actor. The Twilight dad has been on the cusp of greatness for a dozen years now. Revolution is unmistakably his big break, Twilight’s massive popularity notwithstanding. Burke is a charismatic actor I enjoy a great deal. Rather than use him effectively, the producers of Revolution have instead given Burke’s character a laconic personality as well as a constant anger about his circumstances. This may or may not be a metaphor about the show.

The one quality Burke’s character, Miles Matheson, does possess is the ability to fight. Yes, Revolution is at least vaguely intended to feature the occasional action sequence. And this is what leads to one of the silliest television scenes ever filmed. A group of military mercenaries shows up at a three-floor building and attempts to imprison Matheson for questioning. Approximately 15 men attempt to accomplish this task.

I should note some aspects of the new physics of Revolution. Gunfire was presumed not to work right up until Miles’ brother, Ben, was shot to death. Guns are apparently difficult to acquire these days, which is odd because musket technology has not been cutting edge for a few centuries now. Several of the members of the militia who attack Miles are armed with swords, as is our hero. One guy has a bow and arrow while another has a rifle.

I do not mean to sound like Sun Tzu but I would be remiss if I did not point out that guns and bows fire projectiles. These travel so quickly that most human beings are innately unable to avoid the bullets and arrows flying at them at tremendous velocity. We know from the earlier scene with Ben that this science still holds. And this begs the question of why 13 of the 15 men charge at Miles rather than, you know, shoot him. In order to throw together a fight scene that establishes Miles has game, the viewer is asked to ignore this thought process.

So let’s assume for a moment that people with firearms should be perfectly willing to stand by as their friends rush at the enemy and thereby stand in the line of fire. A bunch of guys with swords should have only one goal, right? They should attempt to disarm their opponent and then pummel him to the ground. You’ve seen the end of those police chase videos when the perpetrator is finally captured and then savagely beaten with police batons. You understand where I’m going with this.

Apparently, the cataclysmic changes in science in the world of Revolution preclude anyone other than the Matheson clan from demonstrating anything resembling tactical awareness. Four enemies form a straight line and run at the accomplished swordsman. These four “soldiers” are predictably stabbed to death.

Suddenly, the ostensible leader of the group suddenly realizes that gunfire is a better method to kill a man. Two people suddenly have guns, which is one more than before but let’s ignore that quibble for now. Miles Matheson does not fear bullets in this world of new laws of physics. To the contrary, he casually strolls to the next tier of this library (?) and patiently waits for another swordsman to request impaling. A soldier is more than willing to oblige, which forces me to wonder how does religion work in this new world of science? Is the afterlife better because iPhones work there?

Alas, Miles grows a bit bored after four consecutive disembowelings. He switches to arrows (or crossbow bolts)? Two career military men take an early retirement via the less popular Pointy Thing in the Stomach method. Once again bored and probably a bit annoyed by the repetition of the whole affair, Miles parries these dual dueling attacks and knocks out these two clowns. Eight out of 15 soldiers are down and I’m having trouble avoiding giggle fits from the absurdity of it all. Couldn’t they afford Jackie Chan for the fight choreography?

How daring is Miles the Brave? He runs toward the gunfire because bullets do not scare this man. Until they shoot at him. Then, he dives to the ground. If he was afraid of getting shot, staying on the higher level where they couldn’t hit him was the better decision. Even Miles Matheson is not above the shaky tactical awareness of this brave new world of Revolution.

Miles is bailed out when henchman number eight awakens and runs at him. This enables Miles to again incapacitate his counterpart and thereby use the man as a human shield long enough to reach the ground floor. At this point, we discover that the rifles being used require cleaning between rounds, which is odd given that there were several shots fired immediately. Let’s not think about that. Instead, let’s focus on Dashing Miles as he beats down a gunman who has kindly finished reloading just in time for Miles to use that ammo against the other shooter.

With both of his bullet boys down for the count, the ostensible leader of the group looks frustrated. Does he join the battle? Of course not! That ploy may work! Instead, he remains in the corner as if he has been placed in timeout by some unseen parent of Revolution. At this point, Miles is overwhelmed with numbers and appears likely to be defeated.

Deus ex machina alert! Miles’ niece, Charlie, arrives just in time to shoot an arrow into a dude’s back (how heroic!). Then, she…leaves again. This really happens. We quickly learn this is a ploy in order to lure the henchman back to the show’s nerd (because all JJ Abrams shows have to have a nerd) who bayonettes a soldier American Gladiators style. Back inside, Miles slaughters the remaining underlings.

Only at this point does the leader of the group choose to engage Miles. Do you know when would have been a better time for the guy who is presumably the best fighter of the 15 to attack? When his minions still had a pulse. Fourteen minions and one boss is a good boss fight. Miles against one guy is the same as your being level 50 in a videogame when your opponent is level one. The boss quickly dies squirming on Miles’ blade, which I cannot say in a non-homoerotic manner.

If I made any of this sequence sound awesome, it is only because I’m a decent writer. If you believe nothing else I ever tell you, trust me when I say that this four minutes of television is unbearably bad. It’s like an episode of Hercules without the ironic understanding of the absurdity of the situation. This is Revolution best summarized. The show asks for more from the viewer than it delivers in return.

Loathe as I am to damn a project after only 45 minutes of footage, Revolution is a failure. I realize that the show has already been renewed for 22 episodes just as I know that its ratings have gone down each week thus far. Every episode disappoints more consumers as the constant, oppressive stupidity of the characters overwhelms the senses. Other than the thus far wasted presence of Billy Burke, I found absolutely nothing worthwhile in the pilot. After the first half of the season ends in December, I will post an updated evaluation of whether my opinion has changed. What I say with certainty right now is that a Kripke/Abrams/Favreau project should never fail to this degree. The pilot throws under what I would have believed to be the worst case scenario result.

Revolution is unwatchable.