Below is a review of NBC's upcoming Revolution, which contains a few tiny spoilers and allusions to events some readers may prefer to avoid. It's certainly nothing that will ruin the story, or anything that wasn't given away in the show's teasers/trailers, but this is fair warning.
Whenever a TV show comes shackled to a "high concept" idea, there's a chance it won't be able to tease out its story over a potential five years or more. NBC's Revolution follows in the footsteps of ABC's FlashForward, in having a a premise that nimbly sustains a workmanlike pilot (directed by Iron Man's Jon Favreau), but which leaves you uncertain its Big Idea will sustain itself for more than a season.
The pilot certainly hits the ground running, as Ben Matheson (Tim Guinee) and his wife Rachel (Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell) comfort their young daughter as the world's electronics and power shut down forever. City lights wink out, radio and television stop broadcasting, batteries become useless (wha--?), planes fall from the sky, and cars coast to a halt. Wisely, the story then jumps forward 15-years, where society has returned to a more rudimentary way of life. Crossbows and swords are commonplace, people live in shanty-towns or tented villages, urban areas are overgrown or flooded, and large regions of the country are run by warlords and militia. The Matheson's cute daughter Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) has grown into a capable young lady, who goes looking for her long-lost uncle Miles (Twilight's Billy Burke) when her father's killed and brother Danny (Graham Rogers) kidnapped by militia man Captain Neville (Breaking Bad's Giancarlo Esposita). It all most likely has something to do with the fact Ben owns a silver locket-USB thingummy that can apparently restore power with a localized effect.
It's very easy to pick faults with Revolution's hard-to-swallow concept, as I'm sure many have and will continue to do so, but the biggest issue is realizing the idea isn't particularly exciting or interesting. It certainly makes for a few good visuals (skyscrapers roped in vines, crashed passenger jets abandoned in fields), but it's ultimately no different to any story set before the discovery of electricity. You could have a Dark Ages TV show with an approximation of this story, and the only difference would be that Revolution has modern trappings and vernacular.
I just wonder how long the show will continue until audiences grow bored with the fundamental questions "who turned the planet's power off and why?" As FlashForward and The Event both learned the hard way, there needs to be more than a desire to get a few conceptual mysteries solved, particularly as the big answers aren't likely to be given soon.
Time and again writers forget that Lost, the initiator of this type of mystery programming, always had more going on than a simple question of "where are they?" It was able to ask many other questions (sometimes obfuscating matters, admittedly), but maintained clear emotional journeys and had interesting characters as a basis. The things people liked about Lost was there in the pilot, and very little was the posing of Big Questions. It was all situation, story and characters. After the first hour of Revolution, only Esposito has made any lasting impression as the villain, and even then I'm not sure how much of that is residual adoration of his time on Breaking Bad as a sphinx-like drug lord.
Revolution looks very pretty (do you expect otherwise these days?) and there are two decent twists at the end—one relying on the withholding of information from the teaser—but it wasn't enough to get me excited about this show's future. It felt like Revolution has an intriguing idea worth exploring in a movie, novel, or miniseries, but in order to become a continuing network drama it's bolted on lots of overly familiar relationships and characters. Unless the people and their story outgrow the mystery they're involved with, it seems like only a matter of time before Revolution's chalked up as another post-Lost folly.