After watching the first episode of "Revolution," you may have questions. With any luck, some of those questions are answered in this interview with the show's executive producer and showrunner, Eric Kripke.
"Revolution," which also counts J.J. Abrams and "Iron Man" director Jon Favreau among its executive producers, takes place 15 years into the future, in a world in which all electricity -- anything that can throw a spark or carry a charge -- doesn't work any more. The country has been taken over by various factions and militias, and in Monday's premiere, the Matheson family was torn apart by Captain Neville (Giancarlo Esposito), a high-ranking officer doing the bidding of those running the Monroe Republic.
According to the producers, we'll see flashbacks to the early days of the blackout in upcoming episodes, and Esposito, who talked about playing Neville in a recent interview, says viewers will learn more about the hardscrabble lives of average citizens and the "world of ease" occupied by high-ranking Monroe Republic officials. Fellow cast member Elizabeth Mitchell promised lots of "swashbucking sword action" in this interview.
But the ultimate task of the show's writers, according to Kripke, is to flesh out and develop the show's main characters, which include Charlie Matheson (Tracy Spiridakos), her ex-Marine uncle Miles (Billy Burke), her kidnapped brother Danny (Graham Rogers) and other survivors, including the nerdy Aaron (Zak Orth) and the mysterious Nora (Daniella Alonso).
Deepening the characters is an excellent -- and necessary -- goal, but it's one that sometimes conflicts with the overall goal of most broadcast networks, as viewers have often seen on genre dramas. Networks usually want to give viewers unambiguous characters to root for, but complex mythologies are worthless without complex people to inhabit them. As I noted in my conflicted "Revolution" review, the show's premise is alluring, but the networks have created so many failures in the sci-fi arena in recent years that it's hard not to feel gun-shy about this latest "what if" venture.
So how dark can "Revolution" and its characters get? It is, after all, set in a post-apocalypse America, in which we see entire cities that have emptied out thanks to the violence and chaos that engulfed the nation after the blackout. But NBC clearly doesn't want another "Walking Dead," despite the AMC show's hit status. Judging by the "Revolution" pilot and the remarks the show's producers have made to the press, the network wants a much more hopeful tale, one in which the good guys go on a heroic quest and chalk up a bunch of wins in the course of an epic road trip.
Kripke has some experience in this arena, having created and run "Supernatural," the tale of road-tripping brothers on a long-term quest to fight many different varieties of evil. Fans of that show know how consistently Kripke created believably complex emotional stakes and suspenseful scenarios for the Winchester brothers -- all on a CW budget.
But "Revolution," an ensemble drama, is a different animal, and CW ratings won't fly on NBC. In the interview below (which assumes you have seen the "Revolution" pilot so spoiler-phobes, beware), Kripke talks about what "Supernatural" skills are transferable to this new drama, the mistakes other shows have made in the high-concept arena and what he sees as the show's ultimate goals.
The broadcast networks keep trying to do these ensemble shows with genre elements and overarching mythologies, and these are obviously shows that the networks want to be broad hits. I feel like there are a lot of things in these two kinds of shows -- a compelling mythology-driven drama and a broadly accessible hit -- that are in conflict. You know, the fans might want the dark, scary scenarios, but I can see networks getting nervous about anything too pessimistic. That might be why those shows usually last only one or two seasons -- a bunch of different shows in the past few years have had trouble balancing those conflicting agendas. How is your show going to do that?
There's no question that the landscape is littered with genre ensemble shows that didn't work, and I also realize that people have loved and lost so many times that they're growing skeptical. What you hope for and what I'm confident that we'll have is the right combination of ingredients, and letting it come from a coherent voice with a coherent vision. I like to think that's what I'm providing. I feel like one, I learned a lot from those shows in terms of the potholes that they hit, and two, I also have my own take on the type of show I want to make.
I think some of those shows were far more focused on the concept than on the characters. One of the reasons I wanted to be in business with [J.J. Abrams' production company] Bad Robot is because "Lost" is the gold standard of genre ensemble storytelling. I was a huge fan of "Lost," and I was interested in the island, up to a point. I wanted to know why they were there or what was going on, but I was far more taken with those characters and how they were going to interact in that environment.
For me, moving forward with this series, it's character first. I'm not going to short-shrift the mystery, but my emphasis is not on the mystery, my emphasis is on these characters, and the journey they're having as they're struggling to reunite their family and eventually battle against this dictator. That's why the show's called "Revolution." So [the idea is to] focus on the characters and hope that the genre concept at the heart of it is a really grounded and relatable one.
Maybe even a preferable one.
Yeah, exactly. We talk about the world [the audience sees in "Revolution"] not as a bad or harrowing place -- we talk about it with a lot of wish fulfillment. Like, "Wouldn't it be great to live that simple life and be with your family and be connected?" I'd be dead on Day 2, by the way. [Laughs.] But hardier people would find it a very romantic place to live. [We're] hoping that that concept resonates with people, because we all sort of feel in our guts that we're over-extended as a technological society. Beyond all our Blackberries and iPhones, we're dangerously separated from our food and water supplies. And this idea -- where hopefully everyone asks, what would they do in that world and how would they survive and realizing how reliant we all are on technology -- it's hopefully a way in that makes people think, as that's happening in the background of what is really a character drama.
And then the last part is, I didn't show up with my pitch as, "I'm going to learn from the mistakes of 'The Event' and 'FlashForward.'" I came to this as, "I want to do 'Lord of the Rings' on the American highway." I didn't approach it [thinking] "Here's this insidious mystery that I'm going to tease out over seasons." I came in with, "I want to tell an epic saga on the American road, and I want to tell a story about characters that are on this grand journey over this transformed American landscape, where there's swords, and magic and secrets and royalty …"
Well, there's technology. A woman with a Commodore 64 [which we saw at the end of the "Revolution" pilot] in this world is magic.
In a way she kind of is. I wanted to tell this grand, sweeping saga, where I wasn't beholden to procedural elements. In "Supernatural," the myth has all of that [saga material], but there was also a very specific procedural responsibility we had every week. [With "Revolution,"] I was just interested in, "What about the epic journey of it?" The pure Joseph Campbell myth, this grand saga. Let's do "Star Wars," lets do "Lord of the Rings," let's do "The Odyssey," let's do "The Wizard of Oz." Let's tell just a grand journey where I have 12 or 13 or hopefully 22 episodes to really flesh it out and expand it.
The technological breakdown and the reasons for that -- do you want to get that out of the way sooner rather than later?
Yeah, you know, for me, why the power went off isn't nearly as interesting as whether they can turn it back on. And that's not to say it's not an important part of the mystery. People love a good mystery, I understand that. But it's not my taste to be too precious with that.
With "Supernatural," you would usually wrap up one big piece of mythology before you turned to another. Is that the approach here?
It is my taste to have clarity in mythology. The short answer is, yes, I would like to translate a lot of the things, and am in the process of translating a lot of the things I thought worked about "Supernatural," in terms of an aggressive mythology, a mythology that was clear and straightforward, a mythology that doesn't take seven years to reveal, but once it's revealed, it opens the door to a bigger and scarier world.
Bad Robot is famous for long-term mythology and I would argue that they're the best in the business at mystery. And J.J.'s been invaluable about [things like] "It we drop in this little piece, plant this little element, we can pay it off later." Between the two of us, our sensibilities are combining in a way that hopefully the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. And it's not going to take forever to get through this mythology, but that there is an intriguing mystery and what-if at the heart of it.
Can you talk about the process of deepening the characters, given that …
That's what the show's going to be about? They've all got really interesting backstories and histories, and I just like making shows about families. This is a show about a family. Charlie and Miles are related by blood, and the other ones aren't necessarily related by blood, but family is where you find it. It's about this de facto family that is traveling across this very dangerous American landscape, and they are stuck together and they irritate each other.
Miles and some of the characters who are a little bit older, they have tragic and interesting backstories. They're on journeys of salvation and redemption. You just start revealing more and more of the dimensions of who these people are, let them really coalesce as a unit, make them really feel like a unit, make the audience's hearts go out to them. That's the best I know about how to make a successful show.
Does that apply to the militia people as well?
To a certain extent. There's no question that they're bad guys, because you need a clear dichotomy in this world. You need good guys and bad guys. The reference I use a million times in making this show is "Star Wars," and you can't open with the personal story of Jim the Storm Trooper and how he really just wants to make it home for his daughter's wedding. You can't start with that story, you have to start with, "They're bad badasses!"
That's not to say you can't eventually get to [the part of the story where] Darth Vader has a mystery and is torn by familial obligation. That's not to say that Captain Neville doesn't reveal interesting facets of who he is and certain members of the militia can have very complicated stories as they're wrestling with the good and evil of it. But for now, we just need to establish the good guys and the bad guys.
And then from there -- and this is why making it a TV show and not a movie makes sense -- you present these characters and then you start delving into their dysfunctions and what makes them human and what makes them lovable and maddening. You meet Miles Matheson in [the pilot] and he seems like Han Solo, but once you start scratching beneath the surface, there's an endless depth of heroism and dysfunction and good and bad. You start really investigating these characters, much like I did in "Supernatural" -- that's what I'm really interested in doing here.
Along those lines, I get why NBC wants a big, broad hit. But those don't often allow for a lot of ambiguity.
No, and the good news is I have very red-blooded movie tastes. I'm not down to make the Abel Ferrara movie, I'm down to make the Spielberg-Lucas-Zemeckis movie. I like accessible; I think accessible and smart are not mutually exclusive, by any means. Look at [executive producer] Jon [Favreau's] work in "Iron Man" and J.J.'s work. I want accessible.
But I'll say this, we're a couple scripts in and we have a bunch of outlines turned in to the network, and Bob [Greenblatt, NBC entertainment chairman] and Jen [Salke, NBC entertainment president] are really committed to changing things up. And I'm the first to complain about the suits, believe me. But they are really committed to changing things up, and they are amazingly supportive about a really character-driven storyline, where these characters are complicated and nuanced. They just keep asking for more of it. They have not been pulling us back; if anything, they've been pushing us forward.
"Revolution" airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.