By: Dorothy Rabinowitz for Wall St. Journal
The important thing to know before sitting down to watch "Revolution" is what it is not. It's not, despite the look of the publicity pictures, another end-of- the-world fantasy drenched in blood and darkness. Not that there isn't a fair amount of both in this series that introduces, in its first episode, a world suddenly and mysteriously deprived of electric power—a place imagined in detail so haunting in its evocation of the lost past, so romantic even in its bleak present, it's impossible to remain unmoved by it all. That all includes a steady flow of wrenching images, artfully deployed—great American cities empty, overrun with weeds; old picture postcards of New York skyscrapers and of Wrigley Field, ablaze with light, which young villagers in this darkened America pore over with wonder.
They were born into an America transformed just 15 years earlier, the event with which the series opens. A U.S. Marine named Miles Matheson (Billy Burke)—a central figure in the story—is in his car when he gets a frantic call from his brother, who informs him, "It's going to turn off, and it will never ever turn back on." It's a measure of the show's persuasiveness even at this early stage (it was created by Eric Kripke, co-produced with J.J. Abrams) that this flat line succeeds, entirely, in being chilling. The meaning of the "it" to be turned off is soon clear. The cars on the highway stop, a plane falls from the sky, lights go out everywhere. In one house where a child has been watching cartoons, the last visible sight is of Bugs Bunny wearing a look of pure terror.
Fifteen years later, America is a land of villages where people have to hunt for their food and grow their own unappetizing-looking crops—there are no messages here about the value of returning to a simpler time, it's a relief to note. This is a life fraught with dangers, a society devoid of protections, where militias rule. At the center of the drama is the Matheson family, headed by Ben (Tim Guinee), the caller who warned his brother of the blackout to come and one who has vital knowledge of its cause. His daughter Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos), who grew up in the new world without lights, is one of the villagers who treasures the picture postcards, which she keeps in a box. She hunts, along with her younger brother Danny (Graham Rogers), and proves a dab hand at sword fights, of which there are a fair number here.
One of these, involving the former Marine Miles Matheson—Uncle Miles as he's known to Charlie and Danny—is nothing less than spectacular, as he takes on an entire company of militia members determined to grab him. Miles is a wanted man, like his brother—wanted by a power-mad militia head for reasons that will be clear. This leader runs the state in which the Mathesons live (the "Monroe Republic"). He also employs an enforcer. That's Capt. Tom Neville, played by Giancarlo Esposito in a portrayal so captivating in its endless shades of menace you can't wait for him to show up again to drag somebody else away.
The plot's premise is clearly drawn and with any luck will remain so—this is a battle to conquer the militia, re-establish democracy and, possibly, get the lights back on. It's always a question, of course, whether the quality of an opening episode can be sustained. If the quality of this one, so irresistible in its vitality and suspense, does fail to hold up, its creators will have delivered, at the least, one remarkably fine hour.
Revolution premieres Monday, Sept. 17, at 10 p.m. on NBC