Can Revolution Break the Mystery Show Curse?
Many shows have fallen victim to the three most cursed words in recent TV history: "the next Lost." Ever since the island drama debuted in 2005, networks have been scrambling to re-create the series' irresistible combination of poignant drama and the bizarre supernatural. Unfortunately, most shows that try to fill those shoes — FlashForward, The Event and Alcatraz, to name three — have floundered within just a season. Does NBC's latest foray into sci-fi mystery genre, Revolution, have what it takes to break the curse?
The brainchild of Supernatural's Eric Kripke and produced by Lost's very own J.J. Abrams, Revolution is a show about power, both literal and figurative. The series follows a group of survivors 15 years after all forms of energy mysteriously ceased working in 2012. In the wake of the blackout, our heroes struggle to restore the world and rebuild a peaceful, agrarian society under the watchful eye of a semi-corrupt militia, all the while trying to learn how to turn the lights back on — if that's what they even want.
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So can Revolution light up TV audiences? Possibly, but first it needs to learn from its predecessors and avoid these four common pitfalls:
1. The Pitfall: Multiple Timelines Flashbacks, flash-forwards, flash-who-gives-a-frak. Time-jumps on TV have been all the rage since Lost first flashed back in the pilot to Oceanic Flight 815 and introduced game-changing flash-forwards three seasons later. Now it seems every show, and not just supernatural ones, is jumping around like they're Doctor Who -- often unnecessarily.
How Not to Do It: NBC's The Event didn't wait for viewers to get situated in the present before jumping headfirst into a pilot told almost entirely in flashbacks. As a complicated conspiracy theory unfolded, various timelines (within a staggering 66-year time frame) only added to our growing mystery-induced migraine. By the time the flashbacks were cut in the second half of the season, it was already too late; the majority of the audience had abandoned the hard-to-follow series.
How to Do It: For Revolution, the big mystery will be what happened after the blackout and during the subsequent 15 years. How did our society go from planes falling from the sky to the quaint agricultural enclaves on display in the pilot? Its rich narrative territory, showing how the characters rebounded in the face of utter chaos, can provide a heart-felt grounding to the Matheson family's current struggles. Just don't overdo it. The real story should reside in the show's present.
Revolution's epic, mystery-filled journey will actually be paid off quickly
2. The Pitfall: Overly Complex Narrative Mystery shows are puzzles, but networks need to allow each piece time to find its place in the larger story. Many fans of Lost felt betrayed when the series ended without answering what they deemed to be the "big questions" of the show. To keep viewers tuning in, a mystery show needs to prove that all the clues are important.
How Not to Do It: FlashForward got a lot of viewers excited by its shocking premise (the entire world loses consciousness simultaneously), but its triple-paced storytelling and confusing secondary (and tertiary) story lines, the driving mystery of the global blackout was almost forgotten. If the producers didn't feel the main mystery was important enough to spend time on, why should the audience?
How to Do It: The premise of Revolution is intriguing and fairly simple: How and why did the lights go off and how can we turn them back on? The pilot indicates that whatever caused the blackout might just be the tip of a proverbial iceberg. We kind of hope it isn't. What if the explanation turns out to be completely... natural? A massive solar flare or an electromagnetic pulse from a galaxy far, far away? There can be red herrings along the way, but we're warning you, we've kind of had our fill of shadowy global conspiracies.
Exclusive Video: Meet the hero of NBC's Revolution
3. The Pitfall: Striking a Balance To be the next great mystery series, you need to have mass appeal while still remaining buzzworthy. The problem is, not everyone participates in appointment TV and might, say, skip an episode now and then — an often fatal move for a more convoluted show. To avoid this issue, many showrunners have compromised on complexity to increase accessibility for those not-so-faithful viewers.
How Not to Do It: Alcatraz had everything we loved: weird science, a magical island, strange crimes and Jorge Garcia! Unfortunately, in its attempt to avoid alienating viewers, Alcatraz became the one thing a mystery show can never be: predictable. Each episode featured the same basic structure, more appropriate for a crime procedural than a high-concept hit. Bo-ring!
How to Do It: True investment in a series doesn't rely on mysteries or twists; it relies on great writing, great characters and great actors, which Revolution appears to have. Make sure that quality continues and even the less-than-faithful viewers will keep returning to the show, not because they need to know the answers to the clues, but because they need to know what happened to Charlie, Miles and the rest of the gang.
Grey's Kim Raver jumps aboard NBC's Revolution
4. The Pitfall: Poorly Timed Reveals Timing can make or break a show, especially when it comes to how quickly a show's central mystery is resolved. Networks and viewers don't have an eternity to wait around for the answers, but the suspense is also what keeps us tuning in each week.
How Not to Do It: Thanks to a well-implemented ad campaign, The Killing had people asking, "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" before it even premiered. Yet when the Season 1 finale came and went with no murderer revealed, viewers were outraged and the series never quite recovered. On the other hand, cult hit Twin Peaks suffered from solving its mystery too soon. After ABC forced David Lynch to out Laura Palmer's killer earlier than planned, the series struggled to find a replacement mystery as compelling, leading to a less-than-lackluster sophomore season.
How to Do It: The best mystery show reveals answers that raise additional questions. So let's put in on the record now: Kripke & Co. need to tell us how and why the blackout occurred before Season 1 ends. It sounds scary, but if done right, it'll build a level of trust with the audience that'll keep them tuning in for Season 2's twists and turns.
Add all that to an all-star cast, which includes Rizzoli & Isles' Billy Burke, Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell and Breaking Bad's Giancarlo Esposito, and Revolution already has us hooked (if prematurely).
Do you think Revolution has what it takes to break the mystery show curse?
Revolution premieres Monday, Sept. 17 at 10/9c.