There were three good things in last night’s Revolution premiere: the disaster porn, the sword-fighting, and the last five seconds. (And if you work at NBC, a fourth good part: the ratings.) Put another way, “the part like The Walking Dead,” “the part like Game of Thrones,” and “the part like Lost.” Proceed with caution, Revolution.
The good news is that a show grafted together from Walking Dead, GoT, and Lost DNA has promise. The bad news is that those shows share a similar weakness, which is that they can’t seem to figure out whom we’re supposed to care about. Having the most characters doesn’t mean you win! For shows like TWD and Revolution, the narrative danger isn’t in contradicting the central premise, it’s in diluting the character pool. Give us a few key people with credible behavior and emotions and we’re happy (or tense! or sad! or whatever’s appropriate!). Lost proved that there is an upper limit on the number of characters whose backstories any one show can invest in; Game of Thrones showed that if you want to increase that limit, you better have some really engaging action and non-negligible amount of nudity to go with it.
Revolution established its unusual world impressively quickly — and then twisted it with the reveal that Grace the former algebra teacher has a secret viable power source (contained in a locket like the one we see briefly pre-blackout) and some kind of old-school Internet. That’s more than enough premise at this point. Revolution has crammed idea after idea into the pilot (there’s a global blackout! and militias! and her dad! and uncle! and Chicago! and bad guys! and there’s a secret group of revolutionaries!), and that’s normal pilot stuff, and it’s fine. The show gave itself quite the set of extraordinary circumstances, which means its challenge now is to find moments of ordinary life. Not ordinary boring, but ordinary relatable; I’ve never been to a magical island, but I sure have fallen out of love. I’m not an evil queen engaged in twincest, but I know how much it sucks to feel like everyone’s second choice. (The Walking Dead could really stand to work on this.) So far Revolution’s moment of empathy was Grace logging on to her clandestine Internet: Once we have the house to ourselves, don’t we all race to the computer to chitchat with the outside world?