My opinion of J.J. Abrams is well-documented on here. It’s not positive.
Nonetheless, I sat down and gave Revolution an hour of my time because, first of all, it’s only fair and second of all, I liked the concept. A world without electricity is physically impossible, but it’s pleasingly silly, a thought experiment that will never happen but is nice to think about.
I should have realized that this is J.J. Abrams, and thought was the last thing I was going to see.
Update: It is true that Abrams is not credited as writer or director for this episode. That said, my understanding is that Abrams was heavily involved in the conception and the overall direction of the series, which is where the bulk of my problems lie and something I didn’t make clear. That was my mistake, and I’ve edited the piece accordingly to spread the blame out a little bit.
That said, some commenters have said that I should dole out some blame to Eric Kripke, the series creator and writer of the pilot, and Jon Favreau, who directed, and leave Abrams out of it, since he’s “only” an executive producer. The truth is neither do their best work here, but on a fairly basic level, it’s competent television. My problems are with the overall arc and direction of the show, and at best, Abrams either did not see these problems, which it is his job to do… or, considering they have the hallmarks of his writing, is actively at fault for.
#5) Contrived Contrived Contrived
One of the things that sticks in my craw about Abrams and the productions that he works on is that to be blunt, he can’t write a plot for crap, and he can’t see a bad one on paper. Everything relies on ridiculous contrivances, most of which are papered over by a time jump. Apparently now we live in a world that’s reverted to the eighteenth century, and is full of fascists because hey, the people need a bad guy! Why? Because f*** you, that’s why.
#4) Forgot About… Damn Near Everything
One of the things about this show that drove me crazy was the whole “ooooh no electricity or Internet means we’re all suddenly retarded” theme. We can still read. It’s not like we’ve always had electricity as a species, or that we haven’t been working on and refining non-electric technologies or that militaries and governments haven’t been working on living without electricity for lengthy periods of time. We don’t have more refined survival or farming techniques, there have been no advances in chemistry, certainly medical doctors have not studied the medical benefits of traditional remedies, we certainly couldn’t refine gasoline or biodiesel or use basic cars, I could keep going but you get the point.
A world without electricity is compelling, because it raises the question of how modern and sophisticated humans would deal with that problem. Revolution rushes through the answer, and worse, the answer is boring.
This is what drives me crazy about Abrams. He never cracks a book, he never sits down and tries to seriously think out the implications of his ideas or the idea of others, like an actual science-fiction writer. He comes up with a plot and then smashes it against his setting until he makes the two fit. If the show was going for a pulpy air, I could forgive this. Instead it’s going for a preachy one.
#3) The Unbearable Smugness Of The Opening
The overall message is that the Internet is making us less connected to actual people and losing it would be a good thing. Leaving aside for a minute that this is generally an opinion held by old people scared the computer will eat their soul and crazy people who live in the woods and eat bugs, it’s also a bit hypocritical coming from a TV writer who heavily relies on Internet hype to sell his shows and in fact has had the pilot to this anti-Internet show sitting hopefully on the Internet for months. The underlying theme here is that technology is eeeeeeevil, and it gets grating fast.
#2) The Visual Cliches
I really love the speculative series The World Without Us, but it’s done some awful things for post apocalyptic movies and TV shows. What was bothering me the entire time I was seeing wrecked Chicago was simply “Nobody figured out how to forge a set of hedge clippers?” Seriously. There’s not a moment in this series that doesn’t come from somewhere else, and blatantly so. If anything the Chicago scenes look more like The Last of Us than anything else, and that game is set in Pittsburgh.
#1) The Sheer Waste of The Plot
For all my carping, Revolution undeniably starts out incredibly strong. Planes fall from the sky, people panic, a lot goes wrong all at once, it’s absolute chaos, here’s this guy rushing to his family aaaaaaand FIFTEEN YEAR TIME JUMP!
Want to know how humanity got through those first days? Want to know how governments fell? Want to know how leaders rose? Want to see people dealing with the sudden and painful death of their loved ones, especially if they were on life support?
Too bad! That would be too much work on the part of J.J. Abrams or the people he hires! God forbid we go with the immediate, dramatic concept! No, let’s jump ahead fifteen years, because that’s cheaper, kids, and I really want to tell you this story of an annoying, unjustly arrested asthmatic!
In the end that’s why I hate this show the most. Within fifteen minutes, it pisses away its most compelling ideas and most dramatic moments. It’s like being told you’re going to see Star Wars and instead you get to see nothing but the meetings the Empire held to review what they know about the rebels.
It’s unfair to trash any show based on its pilot. Most TV shows only find their feet in the next few episodes. But honestly, the pilot is bad enough that you can count me out of this revolution.