Wednesday, September 25, 2013

REVIEW: 'Revolution' Returns Refocused in 'Born in the U.S.A.' Despite the Gang Scattered Throughout the World

NBC's Revolution - Episode 2.01 Born in the U.S.A

Miles, Aaron and Rachel have found themselves in Willoughby, Texas where Rachel unexpectedly encounters an important figure from her past; Charlie finds herself on a mission in the Plains Nation; Neville and Jason search a refugee camp for Julia; and Monroe has discovered a gritty role in his new environment.

Revolution's first season was a mess. It frequently shied away from the small, insular stories that it did so well in order to do the biggest and broadest stuff it could do to elongate the end result. By the end, it was a question of why stuff happened that really didn't have to happen at all. It was intrigued by the big questions like those of power and greed and what made the lights turned off in the first place. By answering those questions, it lost sight of its human center. Granted, the humans never fully came across as anything over than thinly veined plot points and characterizations. But there is something inherently interesting about watching a band of people adjust to a radical changed environment.

The season two premiere is very course-corrective. The show took the time to hit the pause button and reflect on the stories they want to tell and the simplest of ways to tell them. It is still far from a perfect show - one storyline in particular I extremely hate - but its progress intrigues me to see if they ever can reach that sweet spot.

The second season sets itself up well by buckling down on the small stakes and the small details. But despite that refocus, the core group of characters are scattered throughout this world - Miles, Rachel and Aaron are in Texas, Charlie and Monroe are in the Plains Nation and Neville and Jason are in Savannah, Georgia. None of the stories are reaching too far and trying to be all big, flashy and mysterious. Additionally, many of the characters that were whiny and annoying last season went through a bit of character rehab. So now, they initially seem more interesting. Charlie is no longer annoyingly naive and by letting Rachel simply be crazy but in a restrained way it's a much better use of Elizabeth Mitchell. It's simple storytelling and that works.

The big exception to everything I've said is the story with Aaron. Aaron is the one character the show wants to keep around even though he serves no larger purpose. He still feels like the same character on a show that changed nearly everything else. His story is very much in the vein of the first season. A huge problem is that so much of it is rooted in the nanites. Those little bugs have always been a clumsy plot device that the show would basically use to explain away anything they wanted. The story is going to set itself up as one of faith vs. science between Aaron and his new girlfriend - the one new addition at the start of the season I simply don't care for. That dichotomy is something that feels off from the rest of the hour and not something the show should be trying to juggle right now.

Some more thoughts:
  • Expectations for the ratings have to be low, right? Season one shaved off viewers each week. The show may have burned too many bridges for enough people to give the reworked second season a chance at all.
  • But a much earlier time slot didn't lessen any of the violence. And swords are back instead of the crazy energy bazookas.
  • So was Neville's shaving a trick of CGI or did Giancarlo Esposito actually do that with that knife?
  • Stephen Collins is definitely the best new addition but that could change later on.
  • Apparently David Schwimmer is the last surviving friend.
  • But how does absolutely no one recognize Monroe in his new occupation?
  • And the flashbacks simply aren't necessary anyone. But the show is still going to use them every week.
  • I have a screener for next week's episode as well so I'll cover the show for another week. In that hour, it makes things very clear on how all the plots are coming together. Thusly, I'm still intrigued by the show but aren't sure if that means I should cover it every week. Maybe I'll just pop in around midseason to see if it really sticks the landing.