September 26, 2013

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Revolution”


REVOLUTION:  Wednesday 8PM on NBC

Can REVOLUTION save itself?  It had the splashiest start of any drama last season, leaping to a 4.1 rating on the back of The Voice.  (That’s even higher than this week’s launch of The Blacklist in the same slot.)  But from there it tumbled downward all season, losing more than half its audience by May.  NBC demoted it to the tough Wednesday 8PM hour, where it will have no lead-in at all and will have to fend for itself.  (Last season’s inhabitant:  Whitney.)  There wasn’t much mystery behind the plunge, as Revolution was a mess, with flat characters, pointless plotting (first everyone spent weeks walking in one direction, then after reaching their destination, they all walked in another) and spectacle for its own sake.  Toward the end of the season, it even screwed with its own premise of a world with no electricity, allowing the lights to go on in limited areas and then, in the finale, everywhere.

There’s been a vigorous attempt to scrub Revolution clean for its second season, with new showrunner Rockne S. O’Bannon joining series creator Eric Kripke at the helm.  Kripke has sole writing credit for tonight’s season premiere (directed by Steve Boyum) but the tone and narrative are distinctly different from last year.  Within seconds of the start, we learn that when the electricity went on at the end of the finale, it turned back off four minutes later–still too late to keep Philadelphia and Atlanta from being incinerated by nuclear bombs sent by the crazy scientist who seemed to be in league with the shadowy “President.”  The bulk of the action picks up 6 months later, and the show can’t tell us fast enough that Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) is no longer a girl, having her take part in hot bartender sex against a building wall.  She’s wandering around the Great Plains, while most of the rest of the characters are in Texas, where Miles (Billy Burke) brought Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) to stay with her father (new regular Stephen Collins) when she had a breakdown following the nuclear explosions.  Miles, having delivered Rachel, is ready to leave town, but a warlord (the reliably icky Matt Ross, from Big Love and Magic City) is threatening the inhabitants–one of his men actually kills Aaron (Zak Orth), who stays dead for a couple of hours before inexplicably popping back to life.

Meanwhile, Charlie runs into former General Monroe, now a flea-bitten bare-knuckle fighter in “New Vegas,” while in the settlement outside dead Atlanta, Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) seems like a broken man after acknowledging that his wife must have died in the blast, until to son Jason’s (JD Pardo) horror, he prepares to take arms again to go after the President and whoever else was responsible for the bomb.

These stories are more character-based than last season’s, which is a good thing, and the handling of Miles (more John Wayne than Humphrey Bogart) and Charlie is promising.  So is the whittling down of the show’s scale.  Burke, Mitchell and Esposito have always given the series a strong base of acting talent, and perhaps this time around the show won’t waste them.  The premiere doesn’t suggest, though, that Revolution 2.0 is going to be more capable of keeping a narrative focus than the original version did, with strands taking place all over what’s left of the country.  There’s also a worrisome fantasy strain involving clusters of fireflies and, of course, Aaron suddenly being not-dead, pieces that will have to be handled very carefully in order to avoid the silliness of last season’s secret amulets and hidden high-tech Towers.

It’s too soon to tell if Revolution can be more compelling than it was last year, and even if it is, it faces direct competition from CW’s hit Arrow (although the CW definition of “hit” is half of the lowest rating Revolution has ever had), as well as Survivor, X Factor and ABC’s comedies.  It hasn’t earned much goodwill after last year’s swoon.  But tonight’s steps seem to be in the right direction, and if Revolution really improves, there’s always room for another good series.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."