'Revolution': J.J. Abrams, Jon Favreau on why a future without power is 'wish-fulfillment,' not apocalypse now
Ask J.J. Abrams to describe his new television series Revolution and the super-producer behind Alias, Lost and Person of Interest will tell you that the epic drama is a prime time Lord of The Rings. “A quest story,” he says, “set in a world as medieval as it is modern.” He’ll tell you that the sci-fi tinged fantasy — created by Eric Kripke (Supernatural) and exec produced by Iron Man’s Jon Favreau (who directed the pilot) — is “Star Wars-ian” in nature, with reluctant heroes poured from the Luke Skywalker and Han Solo molds, struggling and scrapping toward the new hope of a better tomorrow. In fact, he’ll tell you that this high-concept drama – set 15 years after a mysterious planetary event caused all forms of electrical energy clicked off, perhaps permanently – has many things in common with many other memorable stories past and present, including Game of Thrones, yet aspires to be unique — “a hyper-real fantasy world you’ve never seen before.”
But there’s one allusion Abrams won’t make when describing Revolution, an of-the-moment idea that pervades so much of pop culture these days, from Adventure Time to The Walking Dead to the number one movie at the box office, Resident Evil: Retribution. “Everyone describes this show as ‘post-apocalyptic,’ but I don’t think that Revolution is ‘post-apocalyptic’ at all,” says Abrams. “It’s much more about the idea of rebirth.”
If you’re the kind of person who can’t live without an Android — or if you’re just an indoorsy soul who considers “the great outdoors” to be a not-so-great source of irritation — then you might find yourself sharply disagreeing with Abrams’ optimistic perspective on his newest high concept franchise, which premieres tonight at 10 PM on NBC. Even those who’ve been raised on apocalypse pop — everything from Planet of The Apes to I Am Legend — might find it easy to lump Revolution in with the lot. After all, the show presents an America transformed by calamity, a collapsed civilization living in the ruins and husks of mighty man-made environs reclaimed by nature, people who’ve been forced to take one giant technological leap backward because their empowering tools (or just power tools) won’t work for them anymore.
But Abrams and his collaborators speak of tone, not appearances, when they say Revolution doesn’t have the bleakness or dystopia of The Road Warrior or The Matrix. Revolution’s heroine, Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos), is a young woman who’s grown up in the age of dis-enlightenment. She hunts for her food with bow and arrow, forages for more by searching and ransacking old trailers and abandoned homes, and resides in an old suburb that’s become a tight, thriving rural enclave. Her father (Tim Guinee) is a bright man who knows more about The Blackout than he’s ever told his kids (or most anyone, for that matter). Charlie’s saga begins when thugs led by the charismatically menacing General Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) – the muscle for a warlord named Monroe (David Lyons), who has ties to Charlie’s kin – bring death and terror to her Eden-esque collective. “The older characters care about the mystery of the blackout, because they can remember the way things used to be when there was electricity,” says Jon Favreau. “But for the younger characters, the world is more bucolic. They’re used to things being so agrarian. They view electricity the way we view magic, as something of a myth. Sure, they might be curious about the old days. But for them, the new day isn’t so bad.”
In fact, Abrams believes Revolution’s vision of a functionally unplugged future might be appealing to those frazzled by our overly wired present. “Our reliance on technology permeates everything we do,” says the Super 8 writer/director, who confesses he loves Apples and apps as much as the next nerd, but also admits he’s begun to sweat the cost of living on the grid or in The Cloud. “I think we’re all actually desperate to get away from this crap – the electronic firestorm, our addiction to screens. My guess is that any family who owns a television or who has an abundance of handheld devices wrestles with this all the time. How much is too much? Strangely enough, I’ve found that when technology is not an option, oddly enough, it’s a wish-fulfillment. Turning off, shutting down — it just feels right.”
How long will Revolution’s rustic realm remain au natural? And might there be a counter argument to this romantic view of neo-luddite primitivism? The show will certainly explore those questions as Charlie and company – which includes Miles (Billy Burke), Charlie’s sword-wielding, heart-hardened uncle – travel a fractured, gone-to-seed country, encountering different communities who’ve responded to The Blackout in different ways, to varying degrees of success. They’ll also explore the mystery of The Blackout itself. Can the power be turned back on? Should it be turned back on? Who should control it? Who shouldn’t?
Abrams promises that while the subtext might sound heavy, the week-to-week adventure will be fun. “This is not supposed to be treatise on technology or soap box commentary on where we are as a culture,” he says. “It’s a story about a journey, with family at its core, that takes people out of their comfort zone and sends them into a world they’d never seen before.”
The most urgent question of all: Do you intend to take that journey with Charlie? We’d love to know your perception of Revolution – and we’d love to know what you think of the show once you’ve actually seen it. Look for more ongoing coverage of Revolution (including recaps) here at EW in the days and weeks to come.