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

Shadow and Act By Curtis Caesar John | Shadow and Act September 16, 2012 at 11:18AM

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!
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Giancarlo Esposito and Maria Howell in REVOLUTION
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.” 

REVOLUTION - militia screenshot
REVOLUTION - Esposito 1
REVOLUTION - Guinee

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?). 

REVOLUTION - Charlie, Aaron, Maggie screenshot

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. 

REVOLUTION - Howell screenshot (corr.)
REVOLUTION - Esposito screenshot 2

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!

This article is related to: Revolution, Giancarlo Esposito, Maria Howell


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