Monday, September 24, 2012

Like a Circle in a Circle, Like a Wheel Within a Wheel

Last week, I watched the series premiere of Revolution, the new series on NBC that takes a look at what the United States might be like after all electricity stopped working. 

Take a look at the trailer:

There's a lot to like about the show.  The whole thing has a Hunger Games feel to it, complete with a strong(ish?) female lead, and while this might not be terribly original, it makes for a good story.  I love the show's visual aesthetic--there are lots of shots of broken down and abandoned buildings, including Wrigley Field, which does a wonderful job of establishing the mood of the show.  (If you enjoy this aesthetic as well, check out this forum over on Reddit.)

I'm also very intrigued by the central question of the show, which is clearly articulated in the trailer:

What the hell happened?

But the fact that this is the question that has me hooked also makes me wonder about the long-term prospects of the show.  Sure, lots of books and movies are driven forward by trying to find out what happened in the past.  But these are works that don't need to create a narrative arc that will extend over several seasons.  They can reveal what happened in the past at the climactic high point of the narrative, and then the story wraps up and everything is great.

But in a TV show, narrative structure works a bit differently.  Instead of having one climax that the entire work builds up to, each season has to have its own narrative arc.  And in the best shows, these narrative arcs build off each other, always moving the plot forward in the larger narrative arc of the show.

And this is where my concern about Revolution comes in.  It seems that the narrative arc that will drive the first season is one that will answer this question: "What the hell happened?"  But this is an arc that is fundamentally backward-looking.  It looks to the past, rather than the future, to create the tension of the show.

But the show can only rely on the past to create tension for so long, otherwise viewers will lose interest.  And once the big secret of the past is revealed, the show will have to switch directions mid-stream and start moving forward, much like that awesome car stunt that Edward does in the Twilight movie (please note that I said the stunt is awesome, not the movie as a whole):

While Edward Cullen can pull this move off smoothly, I know that if I tried to do it, I would wreck my transmission and quite possibly total my car.  I think Revolution will face a similar challenge--once they reveal what happened in the past (an event that will probably occur at the end of this season), how will they shift directions and start moving forward?  While you can tell that the show is trying to establish interest in what's going to happen to Charlie, her uncle, and her brother, I care much less about that than about finding out what happened in the past and what role Charlie's (now-dead) dad played in all of this.

Given the things that this show is doing well, I hope they don't crash and burn when it comes to make this turn, but I'm not holding my breath.

By Jen Miller


  1. I must admit, the Wrigley Field advertising pulled me in... ;)

  2. I am a sucker for post-apocalyptic stories. I have seen one episode thus far and hope the show will move forward and develop as you suggest. Am I mistaken or were some of the militia soldiers using 18th century muskets?