Here's the challenge for Eric Kripke, the producer in charge of “Revolution,” an NBC series set on a future Earth without electricity: Take a horror story and make it a fantasy.
Make his characters — and thus the viewers at home — want to keep the lights off and the phones uncharged and the hospitals unequipped.
Mr. Kripke succeeds, in the premiere episode on Sept. 17, by suggesting what can be done with power when it lands in dictatorial hands. An unexpected subtext for a drama seen Mondays at 10 on NBC — but then, the network needs a jolt. It’s betting on “Revolution” to deliver one.
“We wanted not to tell a typical apocalypse story about the end of things, but to tell a story about the beginning of things,” Mr. Kripke said in a telephone interview. That’s the reason he and his producing partners set the series 15 years after the blackout, on a North American continent being reclaimed by nature and divided into warring republics.
“Instead of decimation,” he said, “the show is about heroes on this great epic quest.” To turn the lights back on, maybe, or to keep them off.
Mr. Kripke, best known for the CW series “Supernatural,” “pitched a show about heroes and villains and the journey that these characters are on,” said J. J. Abrams, one of his producing partners. (Jon Favreau is another.) “What fascinated me,” Mr. Abrams said in a separate interview, “is the idea that when the power goes off, the power shifts. What does that look like?”
Mr. Abrams is best known for “Lost,” the serialized ABC show about characters on a tropical island. In effect the blackout in “Revolution” turns the whole planet into an analogous island. But more than “Lost,” the new show calls to mind the entertainment media’s current cycle of fascination with postapocalyptic survival stories. The zombie infestation of AMC’s “Walking Dead“ and the alien invasion of TNT’s “Falling Skies“ have resonated with viewers, as have films like “The Hunger Games” and “The Book of Eli.” Reality show makers have responded with series like “Doomsday Preppers” on the National Geographic Channel and “Doomsday Bunkers“ on Discovery.
“People always wonder if the end of the world is right around the corner,” Mr. Kripke said.
With “Revolution” he’s tying that thought to another that has taken root in the culture: overdependence on technology.
“People have this feeling now that we only know we have money because we get e-mails from the bank telling us so,” he said. “Most of us spend the majority of our time communicating with other human beings through these devices that we’re holding in our hands.” He compared the feeling to being “plugged into the Matrix.”
“Everyone kind of feels, in their animal instincts, that we’re a little bit overextended,” he continued. “That everything our society is based on is so, so fragile.” So take away anything that carries an electrical charge, as “Revolution” does. “What about our world is worth holding on to, and what parts are worth discarding?”
That, he said, is how the show can potentially play out as a fantasy — an excuse to unplug, writ large.
Mr. Abrams put it this way: “The story is a reminder that we are very precariously relying on zeros and ones.”
Of course, this being prime time on NBC, the producers care as much as about swashbuckling sword fights as about 21st-century technological reliance. Their sources of inspiration include “The Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars.”
Mr. Abrams said he sensed some pressure from the network, which has been struggling for years to get out of fourth place. (Last season the Super Bowl boosted NBC to a third-place finish.) “They’ve been great to us and incredibly supportive,” he said. “I want to make up for ‘Undercovers,’ which I feel completely responsible for, and which did not go well.” (He was referring to the series he produced for the network in 2010; it was canceled within six weeks.)
Jennifer Salke, the president of NBC Entertainment, said Mr. Kripke “has a very clear vision for the show.” She added, “We hope viewers will grow to love the show as we have.”
In the first episode of “Revolution” a band of characters ventures to Chicago, camp inside a crumbling plane at O’Hare International Airport and walk past a decaying Wrigley Field. Sword fights do ensue.
But the episode begins on the day of the blackout as one of the main characters, Miles Matheson (played by Billy Burke), receives a warning from his brother. “It’s going to turn off,” Miles is told, “and it will never ever turn back on.”
Then Miles Matheson’s car stops. Planes fall out of the sky. Governments topple. Militias rise up. Giancarlo Esposito, who is up for an Emmy this month for his portrayal of Gus on AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” plays a militia captain hunting the Matheson family. “Firearms are a hanging offense,” he says when the family fights back, a reference to gun control that may stand out given a recent streak of high-profile shootings across the United States.
Some of the show’s invocations of a powerless world are a little on the nose (one character worked at an odd company called Google before the blackout), but others are more subtle. The former Google employee tries to explain that “physics went insane” to children who know nothing of cellphones or HDTVs.
“ ‘Why did it happen’ is not the raison d’être for the story,” Mr. Abrams said. But he appreciated that Mr. Kripke, early on in the development of the series, “had an answer to why this all happened, as opposed to the ‘We’ll figure out it later’ mode, which I’m also very familiar with.”
“Lost” was widely criticized for figuring “it” out later, and other serialized shows have been canceled without satisfactorily answering the questions raised by their plots. So when the producers of “Revolution” met with television critics to promote the show this summer, they expected to be asked about the prospect of “unsolved mysteries.”
Mr. Kripke responded by saying he is not a fan of “endless mystery in storytelling.” He added, “I never get too precious with the questions because you can answer questions and then ask new ones.”
(The “Revolution” writers did call on the physicist David Saltzberg, a consultant on the CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” scientifically to assess their secret rationale for the blackout. According to Mr. Kripke, Mr. Saltzberg told them the plot “is absolutely possible” and called it “amazing.” Mr. Saltzberg declined an interview request.)
The first episode, with a suburban cul-de-sac that’s been overgrown, was filmed in Atlanta. When NBC liked what it saw and picked up the show for a season, the production company, Warner Brothers, shifted future episodes to Wilmington, N.C., where there are an abundance of abandoned, overgrown locations for filming. The visual splendor is part of the fantasy that the producers hope to present.
“The interesting thing about this series,” Mr. Abrams said, “is that it’s such a vast world. If it works, there are so many cool places we can go.”
Source: NY Times