May 21, 2014

THE SKED Series Finale Review: “Revolution”


REVOLUTION was sort of a sad story.  The lights-are-out sci-fi adventure was NBC’s top priority in Fall 2012, promoted like crazy and given the network’s prized post-The Voice timeslot.  At first the show looked like the hit NBC desperately needed, but once it started dropping in late fall it didn’t stop, and by the end of the season it was ousted from its cozy slot, moved to the unlovely berth of 8PM on Wednesdays.  Still, the show fought to survive:  experienced showrunner Rockne S. O’Bannon was brought on to steer the ship alongside series creator Eric Kripke, and a lot of the narrative focus changed.  Callow teen heroine Charlie Matheson (Tracy Spiridakos) was toughened-up (and sexed-up), and made more of an ensemble member, and her mother Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) was similarly presented as more of a warrior than a scientist.  Season 1 villain Sebastian Monroe (David Lyons) was turned into an ambiguous good guy with a newly discovered son (Mat Vairo as Connor), and the vaguely homoerotic bond between him and old comrade Miles Monroe (Billy Burke) was toned down.  (There were several winks during Season 2 to how close the two men were.)  The show became less about the mystery of how the electricity had been turned off and how to get it back on, and more about survival in a world without it.  Even with all the changes, Revolution never really worked, and the Wednesday ratings started off mediocre and got worse.  Last week, Revolution was canceled, but not in time to give tonight’s series finale any real closure–it resolved some plotlines, while setting up what would have been cliffhangers for Season 3 if there were still any cliffs.

Season 2 had mostly kept the overt sci-fi out of the main action, and proceeded as a straightforward postapocalyptic neo-western.  (O’Bannon had just come from another of those, Syfy’s Defiance.)   The villains were the powers behind the reconstituted “United States of America,” which had carried on the experiments that caused the blackout in the first place, and which was headed by treacherous President Jack Davis (Cotter Smith).  His goal was to set the other regional governments at war with one another, particularly Texas against California.  That plan was foiled in the finale, in a way both cliched and unconvincing:  the old bit where the bad guy delivers a speech detailing just what his dastardly scheme is, only to discover that it was all a plot for him to be overheard by his previously suckered-in allies, so they could realize how rotten he was.  (In the absence of technology, his unwise oratory couldn’t even be recorded–the Texans had to schlep all the way to the building where the President delivered his confession to hear it first-hand.)  The writers at least kept this part of the story moving all season, with plenty of action along the way, although they could never really figure out what to do with Giancarlo Esposito’s Tom Neville, who spent the entire season spitting fury at anyone in his path and plotting revenge for the deaths of his wife and son, but never really accomplishing anything.

The show’s sci-fi was confined to a parallel and unfortunate storyline.  We’d learned last season that the blackout was caused by nanotechnology, and this season, the nanos made their way into human brains, manipulating their subjects with a mix of curiosity and disgust.  This narrative was where Aaron (Zak Orth) spent most of his time, first as the esteemed inventor of the nanos, able to perform seemingly miraculous acts with their help.  When he rjected them, though, his ex-wife Priscilla (Maureen Sebastian) became animated by the nanos and essentially turned into every person possessed by an alien in a thousand cheap movies, calmly vicious and omnipotent as “she” reached the decision that humans were inferior beings who needed to be separated from their free will and wasteful emotions.  Priscilla was freed in the finale (again, none too convincingly, as Aaron basically talked her out of being possessed), but the big cliffhanger had the nano infecting the evil President, Tom Neville and many others to launch a war against mankind as quasi-zombies, which now will never happen.

Revolution had a real opportunity in its first season, but squandered it with weak characters and a meandering pace.  The improvements in Season 2 were too derivative to lift the show up from its bad timeslot and the general TV logjam of genre fantasy-action dramas.  (If NBC had cared enough, it could have put Revolution on Fridays with Grimm, which might have been more hospitable, but the show was produced by an outside studio, so there was limited upside for the network that probably didn’t justify the cost.)  As is often the case, some very fine actors like Mitchell, Burke and Esposito are now in need of a regular paycheck, but all will probably be seen again soon enough.  Revolution just never had the necessary juice to succeed.


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."