The Televangelists: An Apocalypse You Can Believe In

Each Friday in The Televangelists, one of our writers examines the met and missed potential of television.

Revolution

Last week, Slate‘s Torie Bosch posted a rather unorthodox critique of NBC’s new sci-fi series, Revolution. She didn’t seem to actively dislike the show, but something about it bugged her… the fact that the women in the show’s post-apocalyptic society still had perfect hair.

The daughter of Revolution, Charlie (played by Tracy Spiridakos), wears carefully tousled waves with a hint of highlights. (OK, her character spends time in the sun, but come on.) Her Revolution hair doesn’t seem all that different from the glamour shot on her IMDB profile. And in the pilot, it is always loose, falling prettily over her shoulders, in the go-to style for post-apocalyptic TV shows and films. But if you’re hunting with a bow (or fighting with a sword), would you really want to risk the wind blowing strands in front of your eyes or getting tangled up in your equipment? At least Katniss kept her locks secured in that trademark braid.

Another Revolution character, Maggie, boasts the kind of springy curls that, in the wild, are usually found only on young children. Most of us with curly hair have to engage in lengthy morning rituals to look so presentable. Maggie, who apparently disappears from the show after a couple of episodes, certainly doesn’t have a diffuser. She probably doesn’t have a good deep conditioner, gel, or a microfiber towel, either. Just one female character we’re introduced to in the pilot — Grace, played by Maria Howell – wears her hair very short, close to the scalp. So where’s the frizz? The Road-style grime?

It is, as Bosch admits, “an utterly petty complaint”. And yet, I had my own issues with the series’ pilot episode, which aired on Hulu last week. Revolution is set 15 years after a mysterious event shut down the world’s electricity. Survivors now live in small, agrarian communities watched over by roving bands of militia. One man holds the key to potentially rebooting the world, but when he’s killed — don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler if you’ve seen any trailers for the show — it’s up to his children to protect that key from those who would use it for selfish reasons.

Produced by J.J. Abrams (Lost, Fringe) and Jon Favreau (Iron Man), Revolution is a well-made show with a concept that has potential — and room for lots of mysteries. (J.J. Abrams is involved, after all.) And yet, I found myself constantly taken out of the series’ post-apocalyptic setting. Perhaps it was the too-perfect little towns, which looked almost Rockwell-ish, or the fact that somehow people still managed to get their white shirts perfectly pressed and cleaned, or that characters spoke and dressed in a sort of colloquial western manner akin to something you’d find in a Firefly episode, or that soldiers were shooting honest-to-goodness muzzle-loading rifles. What, are 9MM pistols, shotguns, and semi-automatic rifles in short supply after the blackout?

These may seem like petty issues, but the devil’s in the details, as it were. Indeed, the bigger the scope, the more the little details matter, because they are what help the world to tick. They’re what make the world believable, that help it ring with truth. This is especially important with the post-apocalyptic genre, because it’s so well-suited to asking poignant questions about humanity. How do humans react when pushed to the edge of existence, when everything is taken away from them? Do they devolve into “survival of the fittest” mode, or do they rise above, and still exhibit love, mercy, and grace? These are powerful questions, and they require high stakes to ask them effectively, stakes that require truth in the details more than perfect hair or clean shirts.

About Jason Morehead

Jason Morehead lives in the lovely state of Nebraska with his wife, three children, zero pets, and a large collection of CDs, DVDs, books, and video games. He's a fan of Arcade Fire and Arvo Pärt, Jackie Chan and Andrei Tarkovsky, "Doctor Who" and "Community," and C.S. Lewis and Haruki Murakami. He's also a web development geek, which pays the bills — and buys new music and movies. Twitter: @jasonopus. Web: http://opus.fm.

  • Larry Prater

    Great premise for Revolution but shoddily executed. Moreover, it reminded me, vaguely, of The Postman. I expected General Monroe to be Will Patton. Giancarlo Esposito was, of course, a bright spot in an otherwise mediocre, at best, first episode. I really don’t see this series running that long without some massive improvements.

  • Geoffrey R.

    While in some senses, the slickness of the pilot bothered me, overall I liked Revolution. I am interested in what its political theory approach will be. Since the blackout effectively creates a “state of nature,” will we get a Hobbesian perspective (a state of nature is a state of war, absent a strong central government) or a Lockean perspective (people will generally get along, with government there to help facilitate things)? Right now, it seems to have a foot in each camp (a Lockean communal camp and a Hobbesian depraved city).

    Honestly, I didn’t track with many of the critics’ complaints. I thought the actors did fine with their characters, which, if not 3-dimensional, are at least 2 1/2-dimensional with room for expansion. And though, as I mentioned, in some senses the slickness bothered me, I’m also a bit weary of the all-on post-apocalyptic dystopias; having a show that is more an action-show with some thought could be a nice reprieve (and whatever else, Revolution does its action well).

    Geoffrey R.


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