Thursday, November 7, 2013

Returning Shows: Revolution (Show's Still On, Power Isn't)

Before we begin, I would like to start by reminding everyone that I have never, ever claimed to have journalistic integrity. Not even back in high school when I took my job writing for the school paper way too seriously, especially given that I was prone to writing the kind of stuff that made students stop me in the hall and ask if I was on LSD or something harder. (True story.) 

Anyway, my point is, an honest journalist would probably be a lot better at this than I am. But you don't have an honest journalist. You have me. 

So suck it up, whiners.

Why am I bringing all of this up now? Because I'm going to admit something dirty and shameful right here right now. Or rather, I'm going to admit something potentially shameful, except for the part where it really isn't: I don't actually care about Revolution. There. I said it. Now feel free to excoriate me.

I really want to care about Revolution is the problem. I really love the premise - that when an unexplained catastrophe knocks out all the power and technology in the United States the country devolves into a sort of Revolutionary War era land of militias and bad medicine - and I like the characters well enough. Sure, some parts of the plot are a little hackneyed, and it's incredibly hard to keep track of who is on whose side this week, but overall, I don't have any big complaints about the show or anything. I'm just not that into it.

Not into it enough that I didn't actually finish watching last season. I mean, it's on my Netflix queue, along with about 115 other things, but I don't really anticipate getting to it very soon. It's more of an eventually kind of deal.

All of this would be fine if I were the sort of person who watched television casually or with friends, not the kind of weirdo who watches like it's a marathon and this is the final mile. Okay, that's a confusing metaphor, but the point stands. It matters that you know this because I am now going to attempt to review the first episode of the second season of a show that I desperately want to get into but just can't like.

Good? Good.

So, this season on Revolution picks up six months after the last. The previous season (apparently) ended with our heroes managing to get the power back on - only for a power hungry crazy person to launch nuclear missiles at Atlanta and Philadelphia. The crazy person - a former United States politician from before the blackout - was trying to unify the former US by means of a great tragedy. In their attempts to stop the bombs from detonating, Rachel and Aaron shut the power back off. For good. And then the bombs go off.

So now, six months in the future, Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) is choosing to burn out her memories of the catastrophic "Night the Lights Came On" with booze and meaningless sex. It appears to be working, though it also appears to leave her very sweaty. Sorry, but her stringy hair, while undoubtedly accurate to the character and the situation, was still very distracting. Girl needs some serious shampoo. Anyway, Charlie suddenly gets a bead on where Sebastian Monroe (David Lyons) has been hiding out since the Monroe Republic fell. She immediately rushes over, finds Monroe living as a bare-knuckles boxer, and decides to kill him.

Or rather, seizes the opportunity to kill him. One gets the strong feeling that she's been planning on doing this for a long time. Only problem is, when it comes time to take the shot, she misses. Not by her own fault, either. She misses because someone else decided to use that opportunity to grab Monroe. Dude does not make friends easily.

Enraged at the thought that someone else might try to kill Monroe, Charlie sets off in hot pursuit, and then... I don't know what happens next because that was all of the storyline we got in the first episode.

But in another part of the country, Miles (Billy Burke) and Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) are slowly piecing themselves and each other back together. Nearly catatonic after she couldn't stop the blast, Rachel has been slowly recovering with her father. 

She's better now, mostly, and only a little bit crazy. Sane enough to remember that she's in love with Miles (her dead husband's brother) and want to do something about it. Which means it's exactly time for Miles to go. He heads out of town on his horse, probably planning never to come back.

Only he comes back a few hours later to inform the sheriff that they have a problem. One of the northern War Clans has come a knocking, and Miles is fully aware of how they're about to go straight into murderville. The sheriff is less sure, but Miles decides to stick around and protect everyone. Because, you know, that's what he does.

That very night he is proven correct, when the war clan invades and tries to run off with the town's women (which might be the most insulting thing I've ever seen, but sadly isn't). Miles and the sheriff step in to stop them, which gets them beat up and kidnapped. The head of the war clan, an effete weirdo with a high voice greets them and says he hopes they can be friends.

And then that storyline ends too. See a pattern here?

There are a couple of other plots going on: Aaron (Zak Orth) has some deep and meaningful angst about the power situation, which his girlfriend tries to soothe. This fails miserably when she nearly gets snatched by the war clan and Aaron ends up gutted for trying to save her. Rachel performs surgery, but Aaron dies, only to reawaken moments later because of reasons, I guess. He was talking about how the fireflies were being weird or something. It's moments like this when I have a sneaking suspicion watching the previous season might have been helpful.

Also happening? Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) and his son Jason (JD Pardo) wander through refugee camps searching for Tom's wife. Jason has a hunch that his mom is dead, because no way would she have left home, but Tom insists they keep searching. He's even grown a beard, to show how deeply distressed he is. 

The beard, however, comes off pretty quickly when Tom hears that the former United States government is coming back, and they're clearly up to no good. Springboarding off of the horrible nuclear attacks that we are pretty sure were their idea in the first place, the former administration is blaming everything on Monroe and his supporters, of which Tom was one. 

He will not stand for this.

And, for once, I actually appreciate seeing a character like this shave his beard and go back to being a conniving crazy person. It suits him. And it makes the show a lot more interesting.

But my real complaint about the season opener, and the show in general, is the pacing.

None of the stories feel even a little bit finished when we end this episode, and that's not a new thing. That's actually a huge part of why I stopped watching, because it is very difficult to stay invested in a story when it alternately drags and skips - showing things that you honestly could have done without, and skipping right over the moments you really, really want to see. Also? Flashbacks. Too many of them. Sick of flashbacks.

This weird pacing has the result of making the show alternately torpid and confusing. In some moments, when the story is cutting back and forth from one lazy storyline to another, you just know that you're going to go the whole episode without a single thing of note happening. In other moments, though, you sit back and go "Huh?" as the episode whirls past you and develops too much too fast, based on things you only vaguely remember from previous episodes and a lot of crap that was mostly off screen. It's annoying.

Revolution, you're a show I want to like. A show I daresay I could like. But I can't stand it when you get like this. I need my shows to have a backbone, a core. Something that keeps the episodes driving forward even when the character development slows to a crawl. Honestly? I need a monster of the week. A something of the week. Something to provide just a little bit more structure than you currently have. Because while I'm all for serialized plotlines, I think you're getting kind of ridiculous.

Oh, and another thing. Stop being so darn sexist. Like, this seems to be a new thing, or at least it is since I stopped watching in the middle of last season, but it is a bad development and I don't like it. It also does not escape my notice that this show is created and produced by Eric Kripke, who also created and produced Our Mother of Misogyny, Supernatural. But seriously. Stop making your female characters go from badass to feeble, from "I'll stab a guy so you can't get rid of me," to "Is that a burn wound? Must go catatonic now!" And having savages run off with the women folk? A savage war clan that was predominantly made up of people of color?

Ahem, your bigotry is showing.

But none of this is so far along as to be incurable. There's still time. Sure, you've killed off all the female characters of color thus far introduced on the show, and it is admittedly true that the female characters left are all emotionally wrecked white women. Also, the good guys are all white (except for the token-y feeling sheriff (Adam Beach)), and the morally ambiguous guys are the only substantial characters of color on the show.

I'm just saying. It doesn't really sound good, does it?

Now, like I said in the beginning, I'm hardly the most integral of reporters here, and I'm sure some of this would be explained if I had just bothered to watch the other episodes. But, honestly, it shouldn't have to be. 

Television is a medium that is meant to be watched, not like a movie where you sit down and watch straight through, but in installments. Sometimes, with large gaps in between (I'm looking at you, Sherlock). While binge viewing is on the rise, most viewers really do see TV the old fashioned way - on a television, once a week. Which means that episodes like this, where nothing really happens and the whole thing is a floppy string of flashbacks and meaningful glances, just plain aren't good. They really aren't.

This isn't Breaking Bad, guys, even if it does have Giancarlo Esposito in it. It isn't the kind of show where you can demand that your viewers know the ins and outs of every single plot development and where they will wait faithfully for you to slowly establish character and mood and setting. It's a post-apocalyptic adventure show, with a lot of schlocky elements. Own that! There's so much room for you to make this amazing. I really want that for you. I do.

But I will wait for someone else to tell me that you've gotten there, because, honestly, I have better things to do than wait around for you.

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