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Revolution: J.J. Abrams tells the Inconvenient Truth

September 19, 2012

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.


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Every week, PCI’s Tod Brilliant will be offering an assessment of NBC’s new J.J. Abrams sci-fi drama, REVOLUTION.

Why the TV talk at PCI? Two reasons:

1. PCI Population Fellow William Ryerson has spent decades advocating, with great success, the Sabido Method, a methodology for designing and producing serialized dramas on radio and television that can win over audiences while imparting prosocial values.

2. The premise is irresistible: Our entire way of life depends on electricity. So what would happen if it just stopped working?

From the NBC website: Well, one day, like a switch turned off, the world is suddenly thrust back into the dark ages. Planes fall from the sky, hospitals shut down, and communication is impossible. And without any modern technology, who can tell us why? Now, 15 years later, life is back to what it once was long before the industrial revolution: families living in quiet cul-de-sacs, and when the sun goes down, the lanterns and candles are lit. Life is slower and sweeter. Or is it?

And so, no matter how implausible or improbable the storytelling, Revolution offers an entry point for millions into a deeper understanding of energy scarcity issues.

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I just watched my first prime time television show in years, NBC’s Revolution.

It’s fifteen years after the Great Blackout. The United States, at the very least, is entirely free of electricity for reasons as yet unknown (but it sure smells like, get this, a conspiracy!)  Humans have left the cities for the countryside to live in communal villages or prey on one another. The good guys sport henleys and hoes. The bad ones also wear henleys, but they ride horses and carry swords. Gun ownership is banned, effectively preventing any protection of property or crops (Transition Towns take note. Hah.). The post-carbon women are smokin’ and the men have Tom Brady jaws and stomachs of steel. In a barter economy, hair stylists seem to be highly valued. “There was sickness without medicine. People starved. Governments fell. Militias rose up. If you were smart you left the cities. If you weren’t, you died there,” intones a pudgy proto-hipster and former Google gazillionaire who wishes he could trade his useless bankroll for a roll of toilet paper.

The first episode was a clunky, standard-issue character intro piece, so there weren’t a lot of post-carbon takeaways. Regardless, here’s my hot list:

* Centuries of advanced sword fighting and archery skills have been recaptured in a decade. No doubt thanks to surviving LARP nerds who have become the world’s elite fighters.

* There’s plenty o’ firewood. Meaning the U.S. population must be greatly reduced. I reckon 300 million freezing Americans would decimate the forests rather quickly. But, I didn’t look too closely…our heroes could have been burning fake logs. Maybe a future episode will show a raid on a Duraflame warehouse.

* A smaller population also explains the easy availability of designer clothes. After all, why bury a corpse in Rag & Bone? (Personally, I’d rather be caught dead in my Raleighs.)

* The men of Revolution value impeccable grooming. Bic and Gilette have clearly crafted enough razors to last centuries. I bet we learn that maintaining a pre-collapse appearance is a sign of social status. This will explain the metrosexual stylings of young Danny and Nate. The latter reminds me not a little of Taylor Lautner’s (Twilight) “gay werewolf” character. While he’s not a very convincing tough guy, his pecs are arguably the hottest things on TV.

* In a post-carbon collapsed world, nobody cares about Roe V. Wade or Dwayne Wade. Priorities have shifted greatly in a survival-first society.

* Most important of all, it’s a super great idea to carry a flask of poisoned whiskey. I want one. I Googled “poison whiskey” and came up empty, though I’m thinking Yukon Jack may work.

So you’d think everyone desperately wants the power back on, right? Not so fast. Power, you see, means power. As the single malt scotch-loving Uncle Miles puts it when talking about the shadowy bad guy, “(power) would mean tanks and planes and factories, and he’d steamroll the entire country.” And here, perhaps, we have the seeds for an interesting conflict of worldviews: Those who want to go back to a highly industrialized world vs. those who see high value in smaller, more intimate communities.

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Whether or not Revolution explores this schism or other obviously intriguing subplots remains to be seen, but it can be argued that 15 million Americans are now thinking about electricity, something they largely take for granted, just a little bit differently. Judging from the online fan forums I’ve scanned, it’s clear that new conversations are underway.

Thanks, J.J. Abrams. I think.

Episode #2 Review: Step On a Nail and Die, Already