Tag Archives: JJ Abrams

Fall 2012 Review: Revolution

27 Sep

One of two new long-form serial shows on network TV, along with Last Resort (which I preferred),  the central premise of Revolution is  that all electricity in the world has turned off for some mysterious reason.  This is far more science fiction than Last Resort, which is more hard-boiled political thriller, and it has the JJ Abrams good conspiracykeeping seal of approval.  There’s a whole lot of premise and plot in the first episode to attempt to put the show on solid footing going forward, so some plot now, and more opinion at the end.

The show begins in the current day with a family in Chicago, composed of a father, a mother (played by Lost’s Elizabeth Mitchell), and a little girl.  The father says something like, it’s happening, and that means that the world is losing power, which he knew would happen; he calls his brother, in the military, preserves a USB key which is placed on an unnecessarily special looking necklace (Chekov’s USB key? Also someone should tell them that it doesn’t matter what the USB key looks like, it works the same).  And then it happens; power goes out everywhere, planes fall from the sky, people die, mass hysteria.

It’s now 15 years later.  A bunch of people are living in an old fashioned village, and a portly dude with glasses (where do they get glasses from?  I guess he just had the amazing fortune to never break or lose his glasses in 15 years of mass hysteria) is telling a group of kids about how the world used to be.  The father from the first scene is here along with his two kids, teenagers, Charlie, the elder girl, and Danny, the younger son.  They’re part of a family unit with their dad’s new girlfriend, an Australian doctor, who joined up after his wife died (sidenote:  we, of course, know she’s not dead, because Elizabeth Mitchell is in the main credits, so unless there’s just a shit ton of flashbacks, or hallucinations, she’s somewhere).

Representatives from some sort of evil-seeming militia, the Monroe Republic, come up on horseback with weapons, led by Giancarlo Esposito (on a villainous streak coming off playing Gus on Breaking Bad).  When the father assures Esposito they’ve paid their taxes, Esposito explains that’s not why he’s here; he wants the father and his brother Miles.  The father doesn’t want to go, but on threats to the rest of his family, he agrees, asking just a moment to say goodbye.  The members of the little town, including Danny, don’t understand, and stupidly try to turn their weapons on the much better equipped militia.  The father ends up being shot and killed in the crossfire  which means Esposito, to save his own hide, takes Danny, the son, instead.  The father, before succumbing to his wounds, tells his daughter that she needs to seek out his brother Miles in Chicago.

Off to Chicago!  The great journey begins!  The daughter, Charlie, the new girlfriend, Maggie, and the fat dude, Aaron, all set out to find Miles, who will hopefully help them rescue Danny.  Charlie runs into a young attractive dude with a bow and arrow and tells him where they’re going.  The crew tries to sleep on the plane (en route, the fat dude, says he used to be a multi-millionaire from some company name Google, but that’s all worthless now), where they’re assaulted by some hooligans.  They attempt to rape Charlie, but the crew escapes because the hooligans drink some of Maggie’s poisoned whiskey, and the young bow and arrow dude from before shoots another hooligan.  Nate, the bow and arrow dude, accompanies them; while Maggie pleads with Charlie not to trust him, his act of helping them out wins the day.

That’s it, they’re in Chicago.  That was fast (their speed in reaching Chicago reminds me of this Flight of Conchords scene).  They go to a random bar, and naturally the first person they meet, the bartender, is Miles, though he doesn’t want to admit to it, and he talks to Charlie in private, and tells her he can’t help.  Also, he discovers that new friend Nate is a spy, and warns Charlie and crew to get the fuck out of Dodge for their own safety.  The militia comes in and it turns out Miles is a super duper badass who kills just about every militia member and at the end of the battle it also turns out that the rest of the crew stuck around to help him.  So, his niece convinces him to join with them and find her brother.  Meanwhile her brother escapes, is taken in by a woman and helped, then caught again at that woman’s house.  The woman also has a crazy USB key which she puts into a super old PC and types in the command prompt to someone else.  Power still exists!

So there’s obviously one huge question hanging over the entire show – why did the power go out?  Then there’s also, why do these people have ridiculous USB keys, and all of that.  Initially I’m less impressed with the characters than Last Resort, as they seem more likely to be cardboard action-adventure clichés and I almost wish this show was just set in this post-apocalyptic society, and there were no USB Keys, and no crazy power conspiracy, but then it wouldn’t be a JJ Abrams show, would it.  For all the later disintegration of Lost, damn, that pilot was captivating and I haven’t seen one as good in a Lost-type show since.  I do wonder though whether the end of Lost has made me look for the potential future problems in all of these first episodes.  When I watched the Lost pilot, I was innocent and naive, assuming the writers had a brilliant plan for how the series would be laid out just as good as that first episode.  If I had to guess there’s ten ways this show can come apart and at least one will happen, either due to the plot, or due to everything else being uninteresting besides the plot.  It doesn’t have to go that way though, and it’s unfair to judge the pilot simply on the likeliness that that will happen.

I also misjudged how the show would work, even in the first episode.  I thought the quest to Chicago would be an epic multi-episode spanning arc in which we’d slowly learn more about the world that exists in Revolution, but instead it took about five minutes.  This isn’t in and of itself bad, except that it leads to likely pacing problems in the future.  Shows like this want to have extremely plot-heavy first episodes to get the viewer involved, but if the next few episodes end up becoming much slower to compensate, it basically defeats the point.  There’s so many more ways to screw up long form serial conspiracy shows than to get them right that it makes one very dispirited just trying to think past a pilot.

Will I watch it again?  Yeah, I’m going to watch a couple more.  The more I think about it, the more I expect the show to get at least mediocre and then quite possibly bad, but because I desperately want one of these types of shows to succeed and be good I’ll give it a couple of chances.  My report and opinion after five episodes will carry a lot more weight than this first impression.


Spring 2012 Review: Alcatraz

26 Jan

Alcatraz is based on the supernatural premise that right about the time super prison in San Francisco bay Alcatraz was supposed to close, every prisoner disappeared instead of being transferred to other prisons.  These prisoners have started reappearing in San Francisco in the current day at the same age they would have been in 1963.  Main character and homicide detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) is solving a homicide which leads her to Alcatraz, and to a nerdy PhD who specializes in all things Alcatraz named Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia, or Lost’s Hurley).  The two of them briefly meet up with her “uncle” who was a guard at Alcatraz (played by Robert Forster), and eventually run into the paths of FBI agents Emerson Hauser (played by Sam Neill)  and Lucy Banerjee (Parminder Nagra), who seem to already know about the return of the prisoner from Alcatraz.  Eventually they round up the inmate, and the FBI invites Madson and Soto to help out with the upcoming appearances of other former Alcatraz inmates in modern day San Francisco.  However, they’ll be on a need to know basis – it seems as if the FBI has a lot of secrets they’re not telling about why and how these inmates are coming back and who is behind it all.

We learn a couple of titbits in the two hour pilot which go toward these mysteries (the first two episodes were aired back to back).  First, Madsen believes originally that her grandfather was a guard at Alcatraz, and learns both that her grandfather was actually a prisoner, and moreso that her grandfather, also back at the same age he was in 1963, was responsible for the death of her partner, which happens in the first minute of the pilot (her partner falls off a roof as she tries to help in what has to be a homage to all-time great San Francisco film Vertigo).  We also learn that Hauser’s partner Banerjee hasn’t aged since the 1963s, like the escaped criminals.

Alcatraz is produced by J.J. Abrams, and comes with the imprimatur of some of the people who brought us Lost.  Like Lost, Alcatraz deals with the supernatural, and time travel in particular, along with big questions which leave the viewer waiting for answers which hopefully come sometime down the line.  Lost, however, started with a much larger story, was initially much more ambitious (I don’t mean that as a good or bad thing), and had a much larger cast.  Lost additionally had virtually no procedural aspect.

Although I haven’t watched Fringe, Alcatraz has a lot more in common initially with X-Files and with what I imagine Fringe to be about than Lost.  There’s a largely procedural element, a monster of the week, so to speak (inmate of the week in this case).  There’s also an ongoing long-term story which involves some shady super secret government organization which knows a lot more than anybody else about the mysterious circumstances, in this case, the disappearance and reappearance of Alcatraz inmates.

I appreciate that I know I’m in for the supernatural up front, and I don’t feel like the scope will continue to grow exponentially from season to season, compared to Lost, which is the upside of a more limited ambition.  Unfortunately, I also don’t find it nearly as intriguing as Lost from the first episode, though maybe, considering how I felt about Lost by the end, that’s a good thing also.  The show already has fallen into the cop cliche pile several times and while these cliches are so ubiquitous that I have learned to tolerate them well enough, it’s hard for a police-based show to be great without at least starting to break away from the most basic, such as the cop who cares too much, the cop who works best as a loner, and others.

The X-Files was an excellent show that became spotty and inconsistent, and a show in which the monster of the week or freak episodes were better than the long-term plot or myth episodes.  I’ve heard with Fringe the opposite is true, that the running plot episodes are better.  If this show can live up to the better-than-average if not great standards of these two shows, it will probably be at least a relatively enjoyable show if not a great one.

Will I watch it again?  I might.  I wasn’t blown away, but it was intriguing enough and I’m hungering for new shows to follow, particularly large mystery shows even though I know I’m likely to get hurt in the end.  After Luck, this is so far the second best new show, but I think there’s a fair distance between the two at the moment.