Where were you when the lights went out?
That scenario, which has been played for comedy in the past, is the stuff of escapist fantasy-adventure in the more appealing and promising of two new network dramas premiering tonight. NBC's heavily hyped Revolution (10/9c) follows a long line of high-concept quick fades including The Event (same network, same night), Terra Nova (same night, different network), FlashForward, V, Alcatraz and so on. Will this make the grade where so many others failed? Or will Revolution, like the world it imagines, go dark before you know it? (I'm already hearing from many-times-burned skeptics unwilling to trust the network to keep the lights on long enough to let the story play out.)
To its credit, this collaboration of the erstwhile and prolific J.J. Abrams and cult fave Eric Kripke (Supernatural) isn't nearly as convoluted as many of the duds that came before. There's a Stephen King-like uncanniness to the premise, which is simple, stark and effective, as the entire world goes off the electrical grid in one startling moment. Cars, planes, (gasp) TVs and (horrors) cell phones all useless, all at once. Flash forward (sorry) 15 years later into a world that looks familiar yet is undeniably other, evolved into an agrarian, feudal society. Cities are dead and obsolete, the husks of automobiles have become terrariums, and people toil in their gardens, more or less peacefully — until the Big Bad Militia (personified by Breaking Bad Emmy nominee Giancarlo Esposito) comes along to stir up trouble and break up a loving family.
This is not a show you want to overthink — as in, why aren't they harnessing solar or wind power? Or, given the handsomeness of the young cast and their wardrobes, how did L.L. Bean stay in business during the blackout?
Best to just go along for the ride, which becomes a quest through a wrecked civilization by spunky, restless, newly orphaned Young Adult heroine Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos, channeling Katniss with her cross-bow prowess), who aims to reunite what remains of her family, which includes Danny (Graham Rogers), an asthmatic brother kidnapped by the Militia, and a distant ex-military Uncle Miles (Billy Burke, last seen as Brenda's smarmy nemesis on The Closer) who sullenly tends bar in a hotel (after 15 years?) like he's Rick from Casablanca until Charlie lights a fire under him. Instant Ninja! You may cry "uncle" — or possibly, shenanigans — as Uncle Miles lays waste to a horde of better-armed soldiers in the sort of over-the-top action scene they used to parody in the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies. (For the record, firearms are outlawed for civilians in this dystopia.) Vive la revolution?
There are worse ideas. And far worse shows this fall.
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Take, for example (and by all means, please take it far away), Fox's laughably hokey The Mob Doctor (9/8c), an aggressively preposterous mash-up of medical and mob clichés that results in the sort of hack-work melodrama that would defeat even the most brilliant script doctor. Jordana Spiro (the appealing star of cable's My Boys) bristles with abrasive attitude as the title character, outspoken Chicago medical resident Grace Devlin, but she's defeated by a premise where credibility flatlines from the moment she voice-overs, "I'm not your typical doctor."
No, lady, you're a TV doctor, and one of the silliest I've seen in a while — though she's nothing compared to the irritatingly cutesy Emily Owens, M.D., who we'll meet next month over on the CW. (Cuing Celebrity Deathmatch fantasies in my head.) When she's not mouthing off to her incompetent superiors at the hospital and steamrolling her peers (including a sadly wasted Zach Gilford as her admiring boyfriend), the seemingly infallible and self-righteous Grace is busy doing off-the-books triage for gangsters. Because she's a mob doctor, get it? Not by choice, mind you. She's paying off her brother's debt to a schnook of a crook played with comical swagger by Michael Rapaport, while also tending to the needs of a more sympathetic (to Grace, anyway) paroled kingpin, played with atypical-for-this-show understatement by William Forsythe (who — SPOILER ALERT — was just rubbed out most violently from Boardwalk Empire last night). By the time she engages her adversary in a car chase under the Chicago El that rips off The French Connection, my "really?" meter had gone off the charts.
Can't someone turn this show's lights off? I leave that to you, the viewer.
COMINGS AND GOINGS: Returning for its eighth season, Fox's Bones (8/7c) spends its first hour extricating its heroes from the mess of last season's cliffhanger, which took on the eye-rolling task of setting up Bones (Emily Deschanel) to be framed for murder by the diabolical tech wizard Christopher Pelant (Andrew Leeds, the show's new Big Bad). Now a fugitive (in a hideous blonde wig) with Baby Christine by her side, having left Booth (David Boreanaz) twisting in the wind for three months, Bones makes her move to draw Pelant out by surreptitiously unearthing another of his past victims. The best part of the episode is watching the Squints she left behind rally to her cause. They miss her and would do anything — even in one memorable scene threatening murder — to clear her name.
As it wraps its first season, TNT's insanely gimmicky procedural Perception (10/9c) concludes a two-parter whose first half was revealed (to no one's surprise) to be almost entirely a figment of its hero's paranoid schizophrenic delusions. And yet, there is a case to be solved and a wacky conspiracy theory to be cracked, and eventually, the mad professor Daniel Pierce (Eric McCormack, keeping it as real as possible) is back on the job, talking his way out of the psychiatric hospital after forging an interesting new relationship with the literal "girl of his dreams" (Kelly Rowan, whose role as his hallucinatory sounding board takes on a welcome new dimension). Perception is one nutty show, all right.
WHAT ELSE IS ON? Syfy's Alphas (10/9c) goes deeper than usual, as Dr. Rosen (the great David Strathairn) is forced to deal with the fact that his empathic daughter Dani (Kathleen Munroe) has been leaking secrets to the enemy. Meanwhile, Dani's relationship with fellow Alpha Hicks (Warren Christie) is complicated by the arrival of his young, insecure son. When these characters make a connection, Alphas is unusually affecting. ... Meanwhile, on Syfy's Warehouse 13 (9/8c) Laura Innes (The Event) guests as Jinks' estranged mom. ... Are there sparks flying in the kitchen between Daphne (Katie Leclerc) and her hot boss Chef Jeff (Ringer's Justin Bruening) on ABC Family's Switched at Birth (8/7c)? ... The essential Nick News With Linda Ellerbee (8/7c) presents the first of two "Kids Pick the President" specials, this one focusing on the issues. ... One of the greatest miniseries ever, 1980's gorgeously produced Shogun, airs all week through Saturday (8/7c) on Encore, with a daylong marathon next Sunday, as part of the channel's "Big Miniseries Showcase." This culture-clash epic stars Richard Chamberlain in his prime as a shipwrecked British sea captain captivated by the ways of 17th-century Japan. ... Filmed earlier this summer, CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock (8/7c, ABC) is a three-hour roundup of country's top talent, hosted by Luke Bryan and Kimberly Perry of The Band Perry. What are the odds ABC will slip in a few promos of Nashville during the night? ... Today's big daytime "get:" Katie (syndicated; check tvguide.com listings) sits down with 50 Shades of Grey author E L James to talk about the publishing phenom of her notorious "literary" trilogy.
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