So why is the pilot for "Revolution," directed with little flair by Jon Favreau, such a drag? The series has a solid pedigree -- it's created by Eric Kripke, whose "Supernatural" has been going strong for seven seasons already, and it's executive produced by J. J. Abrams, whose record when it comes to TV can be hit or miss but whose shows always have a solid core. And yet a solid center is exactly what "Revolution" lacks in this first episode, which is filled with nice world's-end imagery -- the steampunky trappings, the spectacle of abandoned airplanes, suburban streets turned to agriculture and Wrigley Field gone to seed. In the end, there is little for an audience to invest in.
Despite its striking look, the basic setting of "Revolution" does seems very familiar. From the abandoned landscape to which Rick Grimes wakes up in "The Walking Dead" to the decimated, alien-invaded world of TNT's "Falling Skies" to History's speculative doc series "Life After People," the idea of a planet on which civilization has been largely or entirely wiped out is one on which popular culture has been fixated for a while now.
"Revolution" has got its scraggly band of survivors and its wrecked society struggling to hold on to any structure, but in practice there's little to distinguish it and set it apart from similar stories that have graced either the small or large sceen in recent years. And none of the characters stand out in this introductory episode as anything more than a stock type -- there's the reluctant badass hero Miles (Billy Burke), the unfortunately commonplace bratty teenager Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos), the aforementioned nerd Aaron and the bad lieutenant Tom (Giancarlo Esposito), serving the self-appointed militia leader Monroe (David Lyons), whose connection to Miles was revealed in a flashback.
Watching Burke swashbuckle his way around a crumbling staircase in what was once a fancy Chicago hotel is fun, but I longed only half-jokingly for a reveal that he was once a LARPer instead of a former military man (who else but them and fencers could get in so much practice with a sword?). The post-apocalyptic setting has become so filled with familiar tropes and so stripped of novelty that "Revolution" demands something to set it apart other than just an absence of technology -- some new twist on what life is like without the things on which we've become so dependent, something that could make you rethink what would happen were governments to fall. Crossbows are cool and all, but they can only take you so far.