Monday, October 01, 2012

The Two Big Mistakes 'Revolution' Made

(Caveat and Disclaimer: I haven't really watched the series. Everything I've seen and heard about it has made it look like it was pretty aggressively mismanaged, and frankly I'm three to five seasons behind on the shows I actually like. (One of the few upsides of the impending closure of 'City of Heroes' is that I will finally catch up on leisure activities that don't involve Paragon City, RI, or the islands just three miles off the coast thereof in international waters.) Frankly, if a series looks lousy and sounds lousy and everyone says it's lousy, I'm not about to go watch it just so that I can verify it's lousy. So if you want to complain that I hate a show I haven't even seen yet, you're absolutely right. By the same token, I'm pretty sure that stove is cool. Go put your hand on it to be sure, though.)

So what are the two mistakes that 'Revolution' made? Well, everyone's agreed on what seems to be the big one, which actually isn't the big one relative to the truly huge mistake they made but is, on an empirical level, a pretty big mistake. They didn't define how the "no technology works" rule works. Not the rationale for it--let's face it, most science fiction relies on a fairy-chess style, "Well, what if someone could invent a faster-than-light drive?" or "What if you made a drug that stopped the aging process?" type of question. The actual physics of "What if electricity stopped powering electrical devices?" is never going to make sense.

But they needed to create an internally consistent set of rules for it. As it is, everyone's running around with crossbows except for the people who have black-powder guns and things have reverted to a medieval level of technology despite the fact that the 19th century worked pretty well electricity-free and and and...there needed to be a, "This is what the effect is and what it does, and that rules out A, B, and C but not D, E, and F." Because human beings are tremendously freaking inventive rules lawyers, and one of the first things we do when we find out something doesn't do what we want it to is we start engineering ways around it. Fifteen years of "no electricity" would lead to some pretty ingenious solutions, but we don't see those. Everyone's just given up and started using swords and bows instead of steam and clockwork.

And that's the second, much bigger sin. They jumped ahead fifteen years. The most important event to happen to the human race in a century at minimum, and they said, "Nah, let's just skip past that so everything can look all overgrown and people can run around with swords in the ruins, looking for the Lost Secret that will bring back The World That Was." Which is the plot of every goddamn post-apocalypse story out there ever. The loss of electricity has been reduced from "a fascinating change in human society" to "this story's MacGuffin to explain why humanity is reduced to a pre-industrial dystopia where heroes fight evil tyrants while looking for the lost secret that will restore the old order." This is the freaking plot of 'Warrior of the Lost World', 'Robot Holocaust', and 'Teenage Caveman'. It should not be the plot of your big-budget prime-time TV series.

The story should start the night the power went out...and stay there. It should follow characters who are trying to restore communications between cities in the absence of telegraphs and telephones, characters who are trying to keep food safe to store without refridgerators. It should follow the government's attempts to keep order without any way of broadcasting to the nation, and people who are re-learning how to light with gas and heat with steam. It should be about the tension of not knowing who will succeed, those who are trying to rebuild the world or those who are taking advantage of its collapse. It should be something we've never seen before, not 'The Postman' with the serial numbers filed off.

Ultimately, I think this explains the tepid response to the series better than the absurdity of its premise alone. It's bad enough that it has an absurd premise, but making a show with a premise that absurd only to utterly ignore it in favor of the pseudo-Hunger Games aesthetic you're more interested in writing is criminally annoying.


Tony Laplume said...

Except people are incredibly complacent. It's the reason we've developed models that replace the combustible engine and gasoline but still rely on those. It takes an incredible amount of will to embrace something new. (Smart phones are small computers. And although computers have been around for decades, the older generations still consider them alien objects.)

So it's not surprising but rather completely appropriate to imagine a world where people have been told electrical devices no longer function to accept that as fact and not development something new. There's wariness on top of a a lack wanting to embrace something new.

Bael said...

I'm with you on the first point. To me, the interesting thing about this concept is seeing how people dealt with a world without electricity and the workarounds they come up with. On the other hand, I actually approve of the time skip. The first few years after such an event is going to be massive fatalities and a truly appalling amount of violent chaos, which I'd just as soon skip. That kind of thing gets old fast, and a little goes a long way. There is a reason that we have had disaster movies, but no disaster TV series in the past (well, 24, but that's a special case).

Gareth said...

Yeah, actually dealing with the immediate effects of a loss of electricity might be interesting, but it would be far too grim for network TV. Have you read Dies the Fire by SM Stirling? It's the same kind of situation.

Anonymous said...

Jack monkey, watch it, they explain why electricity is out (happened to be a bigger story plot so didn't flash all their goodies immediately). They have steam powered buses and different things. Honestly, we are a pretty lazy society so if electricity all the sudden stopped working. It would take us a while to figure things out differently, as we are dealing with diseases (no medicine, hot water, ...), panic, and militias. It would be something like that.