The new TV season is shaping up to be a slim one for science fiction fans. Several shows will be returning, of course—the final season of J.J. Abrams’ excellent FRINGE, the more paranormal SUPERNATURAL and WAREHOUSE 13 and the thrillers PERSON OF INTEREST and NIKITA, for example. (The return of the alien-battling FALLING SKIES must wait until January.)
But only one new show can claim true science fiction bona fides so far this fall: NBC’s REVOLUTION, a near-future post-apocalyptic adventure series from the minds of J.J. Abrams and Eric Kripke (of SUPERNATURAL fame). First episodes were directed by Jon Favreau (IRON MAN). So right away I’m thinking, with this much talent how can you possibly go wrong?
The short answer is: by not following your own creative instincts and letting the network dictate your parameters. Take the premise, for example. One day in the not too distant future, all the electricity simply stops working. All at once, without explanation. Cars crash on the highway. Planes drop out of the sky. Chaos ensues, and the country (indeed the world and all its many governments) falls apart.
This is not exactly an original idea. Science fiction author S.M. Stirling’s 2005 novel Dies the Fire, the first in his The Change trilogy, describes a time in our immediate future following a flash of light that renders all electronic devices, electricity and firearms useless. (If I remember correctly, Stirling explained that any quick thermodynamic reactions were untenable, thus no explosions, no gas combustion engines, etc. Humankind was instantly set back to the Dark Ages.) Stirling set his folks much more of a challenge and, at the same time, eliminated the basic inequalities of folks-with-guns vs. folks-without.
But, okay, ideas are not copyrightable, so we’ll move along. In REVOLUTION the assumption is made (as it always is in the post-apocalyptics) that lack of our comfy lifestyle immediately brings down our fragile government. Within fifteen years, according to the premise, we are left with nothing but a “militia” (national? local? that’s not clear yet from the two episodes I’ve seen) that terrorizes the peaceful little villages that have sprung up in former suburban cul-de-sacs. Of course, no one is allowed to own guns except the militia. Yes. The political point is as subtle as a rifle butt to the head. This will be the survivalists’ favorite new show, with extremely high ratings in places like Idaho and West Virginia.
We skip all the ugliness from The Day the Lights Went Out until 15 years later, when the militia roams the countryside unopposed except for a few stubborn resisters who insist on hoarding U.S. flags and shooting their own deer for supper. So we can’t know how the poorly equipped militia (on horseback) managed to subdue the armed populace. We see scenes in which only a few of the members of a militia squad have guns and are taken down by one man with a sword. (Really? Maybe it’s just a lack of proper training.) Seems to me there are enough guns in the hands of private individuals in the country right now that this particular militia wouldn’t get very far. The show’s writers either need to beef up the militia or beat down the resisters.
This being network television post-HUNGER GAMES, we must have a female teenage protagonist and her rival/love interest teen heartthrob counterpoint. In this case, the girl is Charlie Matheson (Tracy Spiradakos), whose father (killed in the first episode) may have had something to do with the blackout. Charlie is searching for her brother who has been taken by the leader of the militia (Giancarlo Esposito). Of course, she carries the requisite bow weapon—at least they adapted it to a crossbow. On a quest to rescue her brother, she meets Danny, a mysteriously protective member of the enemy militia, etc.
I would already have stopped watching if that was all there was to this show. I don’t like teen protagonists. I don’t like the thinly-veiled politics. So far, the SF clichés have run amok. But a couple of little plot twists came in toward the end of the second episode that added some interest to the adult characters that may keep me watching for another few episodes.
After all, as SF fans, we can’t be too picky this season. Next week, the military thriller LAST RESORT promises Andre Braugher in a RED OCTOBER-meets-LOST kind of story. I’m willing to expand the SF ranks to include a spooky nuclear war conspiracy scenario, and I’ll review it next Friday.