Four months after leaving the TV airwaves, NBC's "Revolution" finally returned on Monday. So what did the show, which chronicles life 15 years after the power went out, learn during its hiatus? And will the tweaks unveiled in Monday's return make the show worth watching on a regular basis? Let's go through the list of "Revolution" pros and cons to find out.
What "Revolution" did right:
- It upped the stakes (up to a point). During its fall run, "Revolution" often came off as "The Walking Dead" Lite -- the version without the pesky zombies and too often without the suspense. Monday's episode marked a turning point in that arena: The introduction of armed helicopters, cars that work and characters who can use electrical power -- even that power is temporary and tenuous -- sets the stage for more dramatic confrontations (something that creator Eric Kripke promised in this recent interview).
- It killed off someone who matters to several key characters. Let's face it, Danny (Graham Rogers) never made an impression on most viewers -- he was as bland and charisma-free as the rest of the show's younger cast. But the quest for Danny gave a shape to the fall run of episodes, and it was encouraging to see "Revolution" kind of acknowledge that it hadn't had much success in turning him into a human being with an actual personality. The show kills two birds with one stone with Danny's well-timed death: It makes it clear that almost any character can go at any time (though let's face it, Charlie and Miles are probably safe), and it gives the rest of the rebels a cause for the remainder of Season 1. They'll be avenging the death of the youngest member of the Matheson clan, who at least got to go out a hero.
- Charlie's actions, attitudes and facial expressions no longer give me a migraine. Opinions are divided on Tracy Spiridakos' portrayal of Charlie. Not everyone thought she was the show's biggest problem, but the one-note character was a turn-off to a significant number of viewers. It was good to have four months away from Charlie, and in the show's return, "Revolution's" writers continue the process of making her a bit tougher and less of a gee-golly-gosh annoyance. She's never going to be one of TV's leading action-adventure heroines, but at least she didn't spend Monday's episode looking distractingly dismayed. Charlie's steely desire to avenge her brother's death is a much better fit than the wide-eyed confusion and whiny frustration that were her hallmarks earlier in the season.
- There are some moderately intriguing questions to explore as Season 1 trundles forward: Did Miles (Billy Burke) and Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) ever have an affair? What's the blinking object Rachel removed from Danny? What's "the Tower" that was referred to? How can Randall (Colm Feore) help Monroe (David Lyons)?
- There are still too many boring and underdeveloped supporting characters. Jason Neville (J.D. Pardo), Nora (Daniella Alonso), Aaron (Zak Orth) -- why do I care about them again? Four months on, they're once again ciphers to me and their deaths wouldn't have any impact on any part of the narrative. "Revolution" has to make these characters reasonably memorable -- or at least useful -- from week to week, or else offer them up as further sacrifices in the war against Monroe.
- Dial down the safety and dial up the plotting. Why is "The Walking Dead" one of the highest-rated shows on TV? In part because it springs danger on the characters when they (and we) least expect it. "Revolution," on the other hand, often takes its ponderous time setting up the next act of each episode, and the results can be groaningly predictable. In Monday's episode, for example, the rebels had 12 hours before the air strike arrived -- way to drain all the tension from prelude to the encounter! (Didn't entire hospitals empty out in a quarter of that time before Hurricane Sandy arrived?) I don't care how long it takes to get from Point A to Point B in this post-apocalyptic world; this is just one example of how self-defeating "Revolution" can be when it comes to narrative drive. It simply needs to kick its storytelling up a notch if it wants to keep viewers around. The NBC drama is never going to be as dark and as dangerous as "The Walking Dead," but "Revolution" has a ways to go before it definitely lands in the must-see TV category.
- Promote Neville. Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) is playing second-fiddle to Sebastian Monroe, and this makes less and less sense every time I think about it. Lyons, who plays Sebastian Monroe, has had quite some time to sell his malevolent leader routine, but it's never really gained serious traction, not consistently, anyway. The best thing the show could do is give Esposito as much screen time as humanly possible. He's one of the great American actors, and watching him play second fiddle to a second-rate dictator can be very frustrating. Getting rid of Monroe in a bloody power struggle would be a good way to go; we've seen how brilliantly Esposito can play a ruthless leader on "Breaking Bad." [Addendum: I'm hearing from many folks who like Lyons as Monroe, and the thing is, I've liked him too at times, but the character has worn on me. Much of my problem with Monroe, I'll admit, stems from the inconsistency of the writing for him -- his scenes often have a melodramatic tone and there are some glacial bits of exposition that tend to slow things down in Monroe-ville. Give him more scenes with Miles and more compelling motivation than "I desire power!" and I'll be willing to give Bas another chance. But I still want Neville to be promoted.]
- Use the versatility of brightest lights of the cast. Mitchell, Burke, Feore and Orth are the show's strongest links. The more screen time they get, the better "Revolution" will be.
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