The Primetime Emmys are just around the corner, so it’s no surprise that just as the fall network season is about to begin, discussions and debates abound over the quality of network television to premium cable.
I have to admit — I’m a fan of both distribution models. But there are times where I feel networks have excellent concepts, but just simply don’t know how to execute something fascinating and new.
And sadly, “Revolution” — the new heavily hyped genre series on NBC — may be a part of that list.
In the very near future, some freak event causes the entire world to lose power. Thankfully, writer Eric Kripke doesn’t spend too much time in the immediate aftermath of such an event, and instead, jumps us 15 years in the future. It’s kind of like when the Battlestar Galactica and its ragtag fleet find New Caprica, instead of making us sit through the establishment of an entire colony, we instead jump a year right in the middle of the episode to help keep the story moving.
Dystopia, even in the form of losing all of our creature comforts like the very Macbook I’m writing this preview on, is not new. But it doesn’t have to be — just the stories we tell, and how we tell them, should be fresh.
And “Revolution” tries hard. Tracy Spiridakos is the most fascinating of the bunch thanks to a character that is very quiet as a child, and not much noisier (except with her bow and arrow) as an adult. A little nod to Katniss from “The Hunger Games”? Maybe. But you won’t read any complaints about that here.
Also threaten to scene steal is Emmy-nominee Giancarlo Esposito, fresh off his work on both “Breaking Bad” and “Once Upon a Time,” and ready to play a soldier who might be working for the wrong side. There is something scary about the mere presence of Esposito’s character, Capt. Tom Neville, the sort of quiet insanity that makes you wonder what he might say or do next.
Billy Burke is passable as Miles Matheson, but really not because of the actor himself. Although it’s hard to judge characters on a pilot alone, Matheson comes off as far too two-dimensional, one of those know-it-all heroes that we have to lean on as an audience to walk us through this foreign land. And so that he’s a more “believable” hero, he boasts a rather obvious flaw that we have to take notice of, and watch as he predictably works through it when he’s thrown directly into the fire.
While I never have issue with eye candy, there is just way too many perfect bodies in “Revolution.” Spiridakos looks great, and her brother — played by Graham Rogers — looks like he just stepped off the set of a modeling gig. And don’t even get me started on J.D. Pardo. While he appears to have some decent acting chops, his presence makes me wonder if Burke has a Taylor Lautner clause demanding that some muscular handsome guy be present in any production he’s in.
And that’s just the thing — the cast is just too beautiful for the ugliness of dystopia. And I end up pulling myself right out of my suspension of disbelief, because I feel like I’m watching something involving the Jersey Shore or the Kardashians than what should be a smart new drama from J.J. Abrams.
It is smart, in certain ways. It’s just a little predictable. The concept is very fresh, despite its obvious connections to the likes of “Jericho” and maybe even “Lost” to an extent. But the storytelling is very 1990s — just enough drama to justify the action, and then with story and character twists that audiences can see happening nearly a mile away.
That’s not to say that “Revolution” will crash and burn. I hope it doesn’t — as long as it finds its way quickly. Pilots are always tough to judge, because it’s more setup than anything else. I prefer two-hour premieres so that we can not only get the setup out of the way, but jump right into the action. That’s not happening with NBC, and so we get what we see in the pilot.
I think there is strong potential. There is definitely solid acting, some interesting starts on characters, and an amazing leadership team that includes Kripke and Abrams. But the bar has been raised on television, and if “Revolution” doesn’t rise up to meet it, we’ll be talking about this show in past tense far sooner than any of us would like.
“Revolution” premieres Sept. 17 at 10 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch star Billy Burke talk about what his life would be like without power in our Comic-Con video by clicking here.