NBC took the premise of its new drama Revolution quite literally when it screened the pilot Tuesday night for a New York audience. The high-concept series, from Supernatural creator Eric Kripke and Lost co-creator J.J. Abrams, is set outside of Chicago 15 years after the world’s power sources are mysteriously eliminated in one fell swoop.
The screening took place at New York City’s Pier 57, a large open warehouse perched on the Hudson River. A long line of hopeful audience members queued outside the door, while inside strings of grass, fake torches and open hatches created an overgrown, dystopian feel.
But the star of the show – and the literal translation of its premise – proved to be the numerous stationary bikes lining both sides of the seating area in the middle of the room. Riders in black-and-white Revolution shirts sweated profusely as they pumped the pedals, manually amassing energy for a generator that would power the screening of the pilot episode.
Star Tim Guinee, who plays Ben Matheson – he’s one of the few civilians who holds the key to the secret of the world's lost energy sources -- stood before the crowd for a brief introduction, admitting he signed on to the project because, "Every actor on the planet wants to work with the folks at Bad Robot." Guinee was referring to Abrams' production company, responsible for hit TV series like Alias, Lost and Fringe, as well as such major films as Super 8, Star Trek and Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol, but he was also excited to re-team with Jon Favreau (Guinee played Major Allen in Iron Man and Iron Man 2), who directed the Revolution pilot.
Perhaps calling upon the training he underwent at a survival school to prepare for the role, Guinee helmed one of the stationary bikes to contribute power to the evening's premiere -- a detail not lost on the audience, which applauded him every time he appeared on-screen.
The episode begins with a harried scene featuring the Chicago-based Matheson family -- dad Ben, mom Rachel (Lost alum Elizabeth Mitchell) and their young children Charlie and Danny -- preparing after Ben rushes into the house to announce an impending blackout. Ben calls his brother Miles (The Twilight Saga’s Billy Burke), an off-duty soldier in his car with a colleague, to warn him. Immediately thereafter, all the power in the city dies. This is without a doubt the most haunting moment in the episode: We see a wide shot of a highway filled with cars behind Miles quiet to a halt as the Chicago cityscape darkens building by building and planes noiselessly fall from the sky, exploding intermittently among the eerie silence.
We're then treated to a post-blackout world 15 years later, where the Matheson patriarch and his kids live in a self-sufficient cul-de-sac outside the city (we learn that chaos, disease and widespread death reign within the urban landscapes, and most of the inhabitants have escaped to outlying areas). Members of the small communities have learned to hunt, create crop beds from old automobiles, practice herbal medicine and suffer the justice of the Monroe Republic, a regional militia that brands its recruits with an "M" on their wrists, and sends them to collect taxes from local townspeople.
Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) is now a beautiful young woman, especially skilled in archery and smothered by her overprotective father and his new wife Maggie (Anna Lise Phillps), brought into the family in the wake of Rachel's disappearance (and presumed death) into the wilds. Danny (Graham Rogers) suffers from asthma as well as an inflated sense of bravado when it comes to protecting his father from local militia head Captain Neville (Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito). A harrowing turn of events at the hands of the militia sends the family away from its idyllic, protected outpost in search of Miles, unlocking hints of Ben's secret along the way.
Despite the best efforts of Esposito, who valiantly attempts to appear menacing in his role as local justice dispenser, Spiridakos, emoting naivety and budding strength in her coming-of-age arc, and Burke, who's charged with some pretty potent badassery, the show never quite elevates itself beyond Terra Nova-esque levels. While a few campy audience-pleasing one-liners are strewn about, the sets are quite obviously just that – the lighting is harsh, imparting a low-budget din to even the most CG-mocked post-blackout cityscapes, and the action directing -- even at the hands of Favreau -- is without much edge or many stakes (especially within its appropriate-for-TV guidelines). The building of mystique and convalescence of numerous plot lines overwhelms any chance at empathizing with the characters – we’re hardly given time to know them among the development frenzy. And it's tough to imagine the premise carrying enough weight or intrigue beyond a few episodes.
With Abrams producing, it's possible that Revolution could have legs. One episode certainly isn't enough to judge by, but the effects, atmosphere and story already hint at a saga that may soon find itself grasping at straws.
Judge for yourself when Revolution premieres Monday, Sept. 17 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.