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This Week in Black Television REVIEW- Giancarlo Esposito & Maria Howell in REVOLUTION

Television
by Curtis Caesar John
September 16, 2012 11:18 AM
9 Comments
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courtesy of NBC Giancarlo Esposito and Maria Howell in REVOLUTION

Since NBC blessed the viewing public with a sneak preview Revolution, the new JJ Abrams and Eric Kripke (Supernatural) speculative fiction drama (I kind of don’t feel it’s quite sci-fi, a la Abrams’ Fringe or post-apocalyptic) it think it only fair for it to be a special edition of this week’s column. SPOILERS APLENTY, so please read carefully if you don’t want to spoil the experience!

Picture it, Chicago, 2012. I suppose that’s the year since Rachel Matheson, played by Elizabeth Mitchell, best known as Juliet from Abrams’ claim-to-big-fame show LOST, is talking on what looks like an iPhone 4s cell phone to her mother while being chastised that her 4-year old daughter Charlie is watching too much of the tellie and in bursts her husband Ben telling her to fill-up the tubs and sinks with water, international TV code for the natural disaster time.  Ben, played by Tim Guinee, known for his character actor roles and as recurring character P.I. Stephen Wiley on The Good Wife, even tries calling his brother Miles Matheson – who is driving down a dark stretch of road while his friend Bass is texting a girl instead of calling, which hits you over the head to let you know its 2012’ish – but less than a minute later its too late as the call get’s cut off, Miles’ car skids while still on the road and then stops, and Ben’s baby Danny begins to crying as Ben paws an odd looking device and runs outside and sees electrical poles spark and a plane drop out of the sky, and that all electric powered technology has stopped across the United States!  

Next thing we know it is 15 years after the blackout. Major cities are totally abandoned and everywhere it looks like feudal times in dress and full agrarian lifestyles – the show itself has an amber hue to it - and Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos, Being Human, Majority Rules!) and little brother Danny (Graham Rogers) are all grown up.  Along with other survivors including computer nerd/ex-Google millionaire-turned teacher Aaron (Zak Orth, Romeo + Juliet, Spanking The Monkey) and medical doctor Maggie (Anna Lise Philips, Animal Kingdom) from the electrical fallout, they are living in an isolated suburb area surrounded by overgrown grass and trees apparently meant to hide them.  Despite Ben’s overprotected-ness,  Charlie and Danny are off on their own exploring outside of the village, wayward teenagers looking for adventure.  Ben catches a severe asthma attack after the two are rummaging through an abandoned RV, rushing them back to dear old Dad who chastises Charlie, reminding her how dangerous it is out there (lynching’s, kidnappings) which is why their Mom is dead.  Charlie despises mention of this and leaves the house in a huff, giving us the best geek part of the pilot as she reminisces about the past by taking out her Return of the Jedi lunchbox filled with old childhood drawings, an early model iPod, and her favorite items: postcards from different cities including the one found in the RV of Chicago, Wrigley Field to be exact.  It’s no wonder this pilot episode is directed by Iron Man director Jon Favreau. 

In her absence is when the militia comes to town, big dudes with big weapons, led on a big horse by Giancarlo Esposito’s Captain Tom Neville.  Neville is asking around for Ben who reveals himself to the militia only after giving Aaron the strange device we saw him with 15 years prior.  Also asking for Ben’s brother Miles and ready to take them both in, he is reluctant to leave until Neville tells him frankly not only how long he’s been searching for them through mud and filth for them, but how he will, in a line only a master thespian like Esposito could reveal and still come off completely believable while entirely intimidating, “conscript all of your children and reeducate them until they no longer remember your names.” 

The village though won’t let him go, led by young Danny. Ben attempts to calm everyone down, but in the melee gets shot, and his son Danny taken away by Captain Neville instead of the dying Ben.   Charlie hears the gunshots and races back to the village accompanied by LOST/Michael Giacchino sounding music courtesy of Christopher Lennertz but is too late.  Ben makes Charlie promise to go to Chicago and find Miles who will help her get back Danny from Monroe’s militia…and this is where the real action begins. Soon thereafter Charlie leaves the village to find Miles and along for the ride comes overweight winey Aaron and Maggie, who also was Ben’s lover after his wife died (though in watching this, and the fact that wife Rachel is played by Mitchell, she most likely isn’t dead, right?). 

I won’t reveal too much from here on in, but in their treacherous journey they’re met by murderous rapists as well as new friend (JD Pardo, The Burning Plain, TV’s Drive) before they eventually get to Chicago where they finally find Uncle Miles, who as far as Charlie knows his only good skill is killing people. Played by show headliner Billy Burke, unfortunately best known for playing police Chief Swan in the Twilight movie series but also a television mainstay playing recurring characters in various TV shows including 24 and Fringe, and most recently TNT’s The Closer and Rizzoli & Isles, he is a rouge in the style of Han Solo and reluctant to look out for anyone – family or otherwise.

Meanwhile annoying Danny, tied up by the militia and slapped around by Neville after being insolent, finds a way to escape (those Matheson’s are resourceful!) but his asthma falls him and he is rescued by Grace, who gives him her (presumably dead) son’s inhaler.  Played by Maria Howell, who has a wealth of television and movie credits but is most recently seen in Single Ladies, Necessary Roughness and as Cameron Diaz's doctor in What to Expect When You're Expecting, is if you’re a Black movie fiend, or Black woman over the age of 30, is instantly recognizable as the young choir soloist from The Color Purple in the “God’s Trying To Tell You Something” church scene.  Grace has an intense scene soon thereafter with Esposito’s Captain Neville, who in it reveals his former life as former insurance adjuster who can instantly tell when people are lying to him. 

Grace survives the confrontation – after all, Neville, much like Esposito’s award-winning character Gus Fring from Breaking Bad, only resorts to violence when he has to or to prove a much-needed point – and despite all the action in the scenes with Miles and Charlie that you should expect, it’s Grace who has the show’s big reveal and will be a major player even as the main travelers set out to find out to both find Danny and unfurl the mystery behind the power outage.  Grace is portrayed much like her name’s meaning by Howell, with a quiet power seemingly coupled with some great smarts leaving us to expect a lot from her.

I can’t hide my adulation for Esposito in this text.  While I am not a fan of comparing actor’s characters from one film or TV series to another (Matthew Perry suffers even more from this in his new NBC sitcom GO ON as his new character easily compares to his Chandler Bing fromFriends), his aforementioned Gus Fring was so dynamic it makes it difficult to not do so.  And yes, as I revealed there are traces of Gus in Captain Neville, but in a huge way he is more like Breaking Bad’s main character Walter White  – a man who seems forced to resort to things he would rather not in order to help his family and simply survive, destroying who he was in the process. 

To some Revolution’s premise is implausible, but executive producer Kripke did consult professionals, including physicist and The Big Bang Theory consultant David Saltzberg, who according to articles from sources such as The New York Times and The Huffington Post said the concept of any circuit that carries an electrical charge or electrical spark totally failing in such a manner “is absolutely possible.” I should note that it hasn’t been revealed whether the phenomenon is worldwide or just in North America (cue eerie music!).  Then there are the salient comparisons to The Hunger Games because Spiridakos’ Charlie and other characters use crossbows and bows and arrows, but those comparisons are lazy.  The show is partly-feudal, and what better technology weapons are there to use than crossbows?  C’mon people, think a bit stronger than that. 

Revolution has a lot of potential. The pilot has great moments of excitement, good guys to root for and a bad guy you can’t help but kind of like.   If they can maintain both the relatable and mysterious aspects of their characters and plots it can succeed greatly. 

I know I promised an early Emmy Awards predictions list and it’s still coming!  Look for that in a few days.  I’ll also share my thoughts later this week on Nene Leakes role in The New Normal in addition to other Black TV fare.

Also, special thanks to regular reader and commentator Darnell for the kind words about my dedication to this column. It's greatly appreciated and helps me keep going!

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9 Comments

  • Akimbo | September 29, 2012 3:35 PMReply

    This show is a waste of Giancarlo. Terra Nova meets Flashforward meets another failed attempt at capturing Lost in a bottle. The kids are terrible, unsympathetic, and unlikable; the uncle makes no sense; and every development thus far has been either totally predictable or incredibly dumb. I gave it two episodes, not sure if I can do a third; I know I won't be watching regularly.

  • Tamara | September 19, 2012 4:34 PMReply

    I thought it was an okay episode. Giancarlo charms, as usual. Maria Howell, beautiful, intriguing, familiar... I definitely need to know who she's typing and how she has 'lectric in her attic! I'll stick with it for another episode or so.

  • aDawn | September 19, 2012 12:24 PMReply

    If you rewatch the very end of the cold open, the lights on the entire globe go out. I think this implies that it's not just North America.

    And while a circuit could "possibly" fail and cause a massive power outage, it certainly wouldn't affect cars and planes. The only thing I ever seen on tv that affected all electronic devices in this manner was the EM pulse of the nuclear bomb moments before detonation in "The Day After."

    But who cares! The thought of traveling between parallel universes and interacting with our doubles is implausible too (Fringe). I think it's too early to say this isn't a sci-fi show: it could have been some sort of intergalactic EM pulse (or Walternate) that took down the entire planet!

  • Curtis Caesar John | September 20, 2012 7:08 AM

    LOL @ Walternate! And props for mentioning "The Day After." I like you Adawn!

  • Darnell | September 18, 2012 9:31 PMReply

    Hey man, I must be getting weak in my old(er) age. I mean, since some folks were saying I talk too much, I was hesitant about replying to your post. Then I said F that, you can't teach an old dog new tricks, so here I am... late.... but I'm here with much on my mind. First, when I read your reference to Maria Howell singing in The Color Purple, I was shocked. I was like, who knows and remembers stuff like that? But check this, my lady and I was watching a film America's Dream (1996) starring Danny Glover, Wesley Snipes and Lorraine Toussaint. It's actually 3 shorts by African American writers Maya Angelou, John Henrik Clarke and Richard Wright. In one segment "The Boy Who Painted Christ Black" there was a little black girl about the age of 9. As she was talking my lady stood up and yelled "That's the girl who played little Tina Turner in "What's Love Got To Do With It (1993)". I was like, damn, who notices stuff like that? Well... duh... Curtis and my lady, that's who *lol*. But it gets more interesting. As I was writing this comment I told my lady about you and the subject of this post - Revolution. She said, "oh, I just watched that last night". WHAT? She said, "yeah, and it was good." Now see, "Revolution" is not my kind of thing. When I see a desolate city with guys walking around with bow and arrows, I'm out. I mean, I can do Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest, but Robin Hood at Wrigley Field just doesn't hit me in my sweet spot. But I read your post and I read it twice. Actually, I had to keep scrolling up and down to get all these characters my mind. Btw, you killed this. Yep, you put your heart and soul in this puppy. Now I know everything I need to know about Revolution AND the actor's resumes. Let's see what I got :-). But first, as you mentioned, Revolution's premise can seem implausible. However, I once was a lineman for a power company. That's right, I put up electrical power lines and worked in transformer "substations". That's the places where large voltages (360,000 volts) are reduced before they come to your home. Anyway, large outages are possible. So I laid down my disbelief. Now, here's what I got from your post. Two people had 2 kids. Something happened. 15 years later the U.S. is a dangerous place and there's no food stamps or lottery. The daddy gets hurt, so the kids have to find his brother, their uncle (don't ask me why). Momma is dead, but we're not sure about that. Giancarlo Esposito is no longer jackin' with Half-Pint nor head of the Gammas at a historically black college, he's running sh*t in this new world. Now we don't know why him and his boys use crossbows and bows and arrows ( at least I don't know) but we know Esposito will hurt somebody, if he has to. Anyway, Dorothy, The Tin Man and The cowardly lion are off to find the wizard and this place called OZ. Check that, overweight winey Aaron, Charlie and Maggie are off to find somebody, somewhere and for some reason? And by-in-by, Grace, played by Maria Howell, stops Neville to wink at him and whispers in his ear "God's trying to tell you something boy ". So they hookup, which is going to lead to a lot of babies mammas drama in upcoming episodes. Yep, I think I just about got, but I could have mixed up a few things? But I am hooked now, so I will be staying tuned in. Btw, why can't they get the lights back on? And why are the bad guys, the bad guys?

  • Darnell | September 20, 2012 9:08 PM

    I am with you Curtis, I didn't know how to respond either :-). See, I am not a big TV kind of guy. Sports, news (a wee bit) and movies... that's about it. But I am glad you played along ( I liked your Tisha Campbell comeback). But I had to stop in because as I said before, I admire your skills and the effort you put in this column. There's a saying "What leaves the heart will find anothers'. Well, I can "feel" that you put your heart and soul in this (you love doing this and you enjoy watching television). So when nobody commented (after 2 days) I had to give you a nod. In short, keep doing what you're doing my brotha b/c you're doing a damn good job. Btw, my lady did like the show (I didn't watch it), so after reading your post we had something to talk about. Now she's watching Rupaul's Drag Race (on Netflix). Can you help me out *lol*

  • Curtis Caesar John | September 20, 2012 7:19 AM

    LOL...I barely know how to respond Darnell! I will say that Esposito/Capt. Neville isn't in charge of things, but just wants to do his job and go back home and be with his wife every night...so basically he's a working stiff, just a hardcore one. So in essence, yeah he doesn't want to 'ef with Half-Pint, he wants to go home an be with Tisha Campbell. And Howell's character Grace ain't hooking up with Neville, but I do think he'll be back by her neck in the woods (um, pun not intended but it remains). I hope she doesn't get all matronly and eschews "God's trying to tell you something," cause we don't need her to be 'Black Earth/Tech Mama' but she is a significant voice in the show, no doubt. I agree with everyone else that the episode wasn't the hotness (I know I can be corny) but it was good enough to make me tune back and use the 3-4 episode rule to determine whether I wanna waste my time or not. I didn't love the first few episodes of Fringe, but it had a spark (I've very pun-tastic today) that made me stick with it and I hope Revolution gets the same thing.

  • slb | September 18, 2012 8:52 PMReply

    The first episode was "meh" for me. I love Giancarlo, but I'm afraid he's being typecast in this villain role after Breaking Bad. So far none of the characters are remotely interesting. For a show that keeps touting "family" in its marketing, it's odd that it's a 10pm drama. Shows with that kind of marketing push are usually 8pm shows. You know, so families can watch together. But that's neither here nor there. This show is on a week to week basis for me. I'll watch each episode and there must be something each week that encourages me to watch next week.

  • CreoleYaya | September 18, 2012 8:46 PMReply

    I liked the pilot episode and the ending when the sistah does her thing will definitely have me tuning in. And who doesn't love Giancarlo? He's a great actor who should have several major awards under his belt. But question? Did he undergo some skin lightening treatment? He looked almost pale in the ep especially compared to his role in Once Upon A Time and other roles I've seen him in. Maybe he was forced to put on darker makeup in his other roles because he is part Italian or maybe he put on lighter makeup for this role??? Things that make you go hmmm!!

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