Revolution: A New TV Series About Extreme Suburban Homesteading

This review is by Erik, but Kelly has a few comments of her own to make, in the form of end notes.

A few weeks ago I spotted an ad on the side of a bus that appeared to show a number of good looking people armed with crossbows and wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape. For you, our readers, I broke my ten-year TV show fast1 to find out what this was about. The show is called Revolution and you can view the pilot episode here.

Plot summary

The first scene begins in a flashback as a man frantically downloads the contents of his computer to a flash drive just before Mahmoud Imadinnerjacket causes a big electro-magnetic pulse.2 Said EMP knocks out all the power, iPhones, cars and jumbo jets in the entire world. Fifteen years pass, civilization reverts to an approximation of our first book The Urban Homestead, and we pick up the story with the now grown-up daughter of the dude with the flash drive.

One groovy HOA

The daughter lives in a suburban development. All the home owner’s association rules have been relaxed allowing for growing front yard corn fields, potatoes in tires, chicken coops and even keeping a couple of horses all in a suburban cul-de-sac.  In reality, HOAs would never cave in so quickly even in the face of starvation. But I digress.3

Did the screenwriters visit Farmlab?

Imadinnerjacket’s EMP killed all the normal-looking people, leaving behind only fashion models (with perhaps the exception of one Falstafian ex-Google employee). They have smashing wardrobes, too.4 And America’s long lost archery skills have apparently been miraculously revived.

Come to think of it, Hollywood seems to be having a love affair with archery of late. Is the javelin next? Put down those Xboxes kids and start practicing! In Revolution it’s also revealed that people suddenly know the names of plants and what to do with them even without access to Google.

But the tranquil suburban homesteading is not to last forever. An insurance adjuster turned warlord’s assistant comes to town to kidnap the heroine’s dad and get his hands on all the cool mp3s on that flash drive. A shootout ensues. Dad is killed and heroine’s brother is kidnapped by the militia. 

Our heroine must then make a pilgrimage to Chicago to find her uncle and rescue her brother. Her uncle turns out to be running an artisanal cocktail operation in a derelict hotel that has, as most post-apocalyptic films have, an endless supply of either beeswax or tallow with which to keep hundreds of torches lit 24 hours a day. 5 We find out that the uncle possesses secret ninja skills–having, apparently, spent the past fifteen years working on both artisanal cocktail recipes and kendo.

Meanwhile the brother is temporarily rescued by a lone woman living in a tidy plantation house who is able to calm the kid’s asthma attack with a 15 year old, fully functioning asthma inhaler. But then the evil insurance guy comes a knocking and hauls off the kid. The lone woman then heads up into her heavily locked attic, logs into a Unix terminal, and taps out a message warning about the militia’s visit. So now we know that some people still have access to power–and to the Internets!

The pilot ends with a visit to the handsomely appointed campaign tent of Madison, the head cheese warlord who, at the beginning of the show, it is revealed has something to do with the flash drive with all those cool mp3s on it.

What does it all mean? 

The “ring”, the talismanic object in this Lord of the Rings cycle is a flash drive, the contents of which, presumably, we’ll find out about in a later episode. I certainly hope it contains 100 of the funniest viral cat videos. Curiously, it’s also a flash drive that seems to generate its own power.

That the redemptive object in Revolution is a technological one is not surprising giving our culture’s biases. John Michael Greer. in what I think is the most important book on our current crisis, The Blood of the Earth, writes about how our culture is blind to the fact that our problems are political, social and spiritual and not solvable by technological/scientific means. No amount of corn ethanol or switchgrass will stave off the fact that the earth has a limited amount of resources. But, in the stories we tell ourselves, magical flash drives can still save the day and maybe even power the whole world.

It’s also telling that the voice over in the opening credits of Revolution reflects a fundamental confusion between an energy source and the means by which it’s delivered, “We used electricity for everything–even to grow food,” says the narrator. “Electricity” is not how we grow our food. Electricity is generated from finite sources, primarily coal and natural gas. And we use a lot of oil, of course, to grow our food.

Our technology, especially the internet and smart phones has radically externalized what used to be  collective and individual cultural memory. It’s notable that this story places so much value on a flash drive as a repository of knowledge that used to be inside our own skulls.

The delusional aspects of the pilot episode gives me great pause for the future of this country. But without seeing the rest of the series it’s too early to deliver a final judgement. It will be interesting to see if the flash drive has the same corrupting influence as the ring in both Tolkien and Wagner’s stories.

_________

Kelly’s interjections on the show’s summary. She’s not touching Erik’s editorializing:

1Lest you think Erik is some virtuous, Thoreau-type character, I’ll just say that he may not watch series TV, he does watch movies and documentaries and youtube cat videos in plenty.

2They did not actually say why the power went out, or who was responsible.

3The opening scenes showing the subdivision “village” was the best thing about the whole pilot. There were lots of nice details, like stacks of rain barrels and tire planting and a hose running through a window into a sink.  I found myself wondering what sources of information the writers were using (other than our book, of course.). Certainly Kunstler, both his rants and his fiction (which is a form of rant, imho) but also it reminds me very much of a book called Dies the Fire by SM Stirling, where all the tech goes out in one day and the world is remade by SCA and pagan types.  I don’t think the SCA and pagans will get any play in this show, but the overnight tech-loss is completely Dies the Fire.

4These people look really good. The girl’s leathers are artfully patched and oh-so-Katniss. Others have unpatched, fresh looking clothes. I can almost buy this because if there was a fast, massive die-off, maybe there were lots of clothes left in the stores. Maybe even 15 years worth. (Maybe? I’m suspending my disbelief.) What I have a harder time believing is the hair. Both the men and women look like they’re all getting daily blowouts. No one is scarred or pocked or beset by unsightly skin growths. And I’ll say in his defense that the Google guy may not be fashion-model thin, but he’s not bad looking. 

5The overuse of candles by lighting designers in any post-apocalyptic setting is a major pet peeve of mine.  Erik is mentioning this here because he had to listen to me go on and on about it while we were watching the show. Those torches! What in the heck are they burning?

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35 Comments

  1. Great post – love your irony.
    Oh what fun – but I’d like to see that series, too when I habe some spare time from my garden and its wonderful harvest.

    cu

  2. Kathy has written about this today on her Blog http://justincasebook.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/welcome-fall/
    She commented on the hair and candles too…

    The bit about identifying plants without the internet made me laugh- I know very few people (in a rural village in the middles of the English countryside) who can identify more than 3 trees or wild plants, and then only if they have the flowers on. A colleague at the school I work at couldn’t identify dandelion without flowers and last week 3 (three!!) colleagues- a teacher, an assistant and the handyman- asked me to identify the berries a child had eaten. Elderberries.
    I took my Rainbow Guide unit (like junior Girl Scouts) out for a walk last Friday and pointed out 5 different trees to them- oak, lime, sycamore, sweet chestnut and horse chestnut, all common here. The adults (all professional and well-educated) helping could only confidently identify the oak and horse chestnut trees (as acorn and conker). These are not people who will be making their own soap from the conkers should there ever be an apocalypse…

    • So true. So sad. But I didn’t know you can make soap out of conkers. They’re saponifying? They don’t grow around here. I know of them mostly from Pride and Prejudice, of all things! Mr. Darcy had a favorite horse chestnut tree, down in the village by the smithy…

    • Yes, a bit like soapnuts but harder work! And there’s a chance it will send your laundry a funny colour from what I’ve read, but if it’s TEOTWAWKI, I guess that won’t be a priority concern.

      Love Pride and Prejudice, I’d forgotten about Mr D’s favourite tree!

  3. My husband and I have been watching the show and have definitely wondered about the hair and perfectly pink lips. Also, all these guys with shaved faces (husband says: I’d have a beard down to my knees). I’d really like them to spend a few minutes showing us how everyone grooms, and I’m sure they could figure out how to work some swords and crossbows in to make it interesting for everyone else.

  4. Your post made me laugh liquid.
    Someone mentioned that apparently everyone forgot about steam power and the ability to live and move around without electricity. The EMP also wiped out libraries with dead tree books that would tell you how to live in the Victorian age at least.

  5. I love reading your blog and this was just the tickle my funny bone needed this morning. My wife and I watched this program and commented on how great everybody looks and how well dressed they are. I for one would expect to see a lot more beards and dreadlocks. Look close at the manicure on the women. My son and I camped with the Boy-Scouts this weekend and I am still cleaning my fingernails. If you were intriqued by this show, try watching The Walking Dead. It is much more realistic of what a post apocalyptic scenario would be like. Of course you have to get past the zombies.

    • I’ve seen the first season of the Walking Dead, but Erik hasn’t. Maybe we can break down his “no tv” resolutions a little more for the sake of “research.”

      Totally with you on the nails!

    • I don’t know, the Walking Dead is always annoying me with how they don’t explain many things, like their continuing abundance of fuel siphoned from cars (at some point, when you’re staying in one place, you’re going to run out), or bullets, or food just because they’re living on a farm.

  6. I was also excited at the premise of this show but found it lacking. The clothes bothered me A LOT!
    What I didn’t understand was why they some how lost the power of internal combustion…
    I can play along with some freaky machine muting the electromagnetic force (although you think that might bother…the whole ‘light’ thing we enjoy) but there would still be industrial, mechanical/steam power…let’s hope they work some of the finer points out :)

    • Yeah, this is the thing. In that Dies the Fire book that I mentioned, which I think the writers have read, they lose all post medieval tech–they can’t make steam engines or use fire arms or anything. It’s explained later as a mystical intervention, sort of like the Universe setting the reset button. Here, it’s just odd. The electricity went out so nuthin’ works.

  7. We watched the pilot on Hulu a few weeks ago, and I had a lot of the same thoughts. I love the idea that neighborhood developments became a sort of tribe of their own. But there are a lot of holes in their idea of life without electricity. The concept is interesting, though, even if it isn’t very realistic.

  8. I love this! Agree that the shots of the subdivision were the interesting part; I wish they hadn’t left so fast. The excessive candles and torches had me wondering the same thing -but maybe they’re burning 15 years worth of rancid Crisco? My complaint: I think they started it a little too far in the future. The creator said he wanted to skip the immediate aftermath of an apocalypse and focus on “the beginning” instead of “the end” but they overshot that mark by a long mile. What people like about end of the world scenarios is the *implied* beginning and it’s blank-slate-ness. By the time you have militias and dictator generals, you’re well settled into a new normal. I imagine the people walking in the background of scenes are waiting for a new disruption: “maybe that volcano under Yellow Stone will blow and we will all fend for ourselves…”

    • LOL. You’re totally right about that. And what people like us want to see is the initial struggle, the reinvention of basic systems &etc. By setting it 15 years out they’ve made it so this can be written as a basic adventure vehicle with an exotic setting. I think we saw all the “good stuff” (ie the subdivison) in the pilot and from now out it will be bad guys vs. good guys. Yawn.

    • Exactly. It might as well be Xena Warrior Princess or any other alternate universe. Slate also had an article griping about the hair: http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/09/14/revolution_the_post_apocalyptic_show_gets_the_hair_of_female_stars_tracy_spiridakos.html She says, “Any sci-fi film or TV show about technology inevitably raises the question, Is this realistic? Could we really travel through time? Could the power go out for good? Could robots take over the world? Part of the fun of post-apocalyptic tales is thinking about how a cataclysmic event would change our lives in ways large and small.” And I think that’s this show’s other big flaw: it’s just not terribly well thought out or compellingly imagined. There isn’t the attention to detail that you find, in say, Star Trek Next Generation or the Harry Potter books. It’s a very thin shadow of a world. I can overlook things like, “ok a plane wouldn’t go spinning through the air like a ninja star and why are its lights still on?” because they have to make it visually obvious that the plane is falling out of the sky. But the world had otherwise better be interesting and coherent. This idea that we’ll just go kind of Amish as if agriculture isn’t a technology in its own right, as if that lifestyle doesn’t rely on it’s own kind of grid and supply lines. With what aqueducts are they watering those crops? And you have no machinery, dictator generals, and scores of young males roaming the countryside causing all manner of problems -but slave labor hasn’t made a huge a Roman-style comeback? The military is communicating via parchment and horseback but has not been crushed already by a Resistance that has internet access? Where are the bikes and all the plastic (beyond two water bottles)? If fires are a problem, where are the separate buildings for cooking? The female lead asks her dad “there are other towns aren’t there? people like us?” as if they haven’t had contact with anyone; was she sitting in that broken ferris wheel *every* time the militia came to collect taxes? Pffff I say. I’ll stick with The Walking Dead, even if they insist on living as nomadic refugees that can’t seem to find a spot and just dig in already.

  9. “I certainly hope it contains 100 of the funniest viral cat videos.” I literally laughed out loud.

    I hadn’t heard of this show until this post, can’t say I’m inclined to watch it. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the show had instead centered around Nancy having tomatoes that won’t fruit! Oh, the nematoad! What now? Stay tuned….

    (And thanks for mentioning the Greer book, added to my goodreads account.)

  10. Wait, wait – “a hose running through a window into a sink” – draining into a sink, or being fed by a sink faucet? Municipal water systems still work? What’s running the pumps to pressurize the piping? Or are we talking rainwater collection gravity feeding into a sink?

    • I assumed the hose was hooked up to one of their rain barrels. It was just a glimpse that I caught during one of the interior shots. The sink itself was one of those rounded-end galvanized horse troughs that had apparently been wedged into the framework of the old kitchen counter. Maybe they needed more dishwashing space than the old sinks allowed? Maybe they climb up there and bathe? Maybe the horses come inside at night?

    • There were some guns, to be fair. It’s all pretty unclear. The main bad guy had a semi-automatic pistol, but some of the henchmen had…muskets, I guess–eg rifles that had to be primed with a rod. Meaning I guess that they’ve lost the ability to make ammo and have reverted to colonial-style lead balls and powder? Would that even work in a modern rifle? Or did they raid a museum?

      All in all it’s a real random buffet of weaponry. There’s cross bows, compound bows and recurves and swords and shields and the weird gun situation..

    • Maybe the militia that managed to take power confiscated and hoarded most of the guns in the area they control. There was that line in the pilot about gun ownership being a “hangin’ offense.” And of course, there’d be no way to mass-produce modern firearms in the world of this show, so I guess it’s safe to say that they’d be a little more scarce.

      The musket situation was definitely confusing, though. Like you said, maybe they raided museums and antique stores. And people made gunpowder for thousands of years before there was electricity, so it can’t be that complicated.

      And while I’m no gun expert, I’m pretty sure that there’s no way you could get a modern rifle to work reliably (if at all) if you tried to load and fire it in the style of a musket.

  11. I haven’t watched this show, but it sounds as if Hollywood is ignoring the rich history of post-apocalyptic novels by science fiction writers. You know, those people who typed words on paper and had them published in books? Davy by Edgar Pangborn. The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson (which features the ruins of UC San Diego). The Postman by David Brin (the movie version sucked). A Canticle for Leibowitz (in which a modern day man’s shopping list is considered a major archeaological find in the future). Don’t get your hopes up for Hollywood to produce an intelligent science fiction series.

    • And the granddaddy of post-apocalyptic fiction as we know it, George Stewart’s “Earth Abides”, which spends a great deal more time on the actual “beginning” than it sounds like this TV program bothers with. It’s a good read, very thoughtful, and something over 60 years old by now. Fascinating just for the contrasts and similarities between 1949 and today.

      “Earth Abides” at Wikipedia

  12. I had to comment on this because I was so thoroughly disappointed. I watched the pilot and was bored as soon as they left the village. I was hoping that with all the pains they took in recreating the community that they would use the opportunity to teach a bit but all we got is “this is mint, smell.” Not “if you have a stomach or head ache this will soothe you.” The opportunity was there people! Shows like this have such power (if they are actually good, which this one isn’t) to show people what their dependence on technology is causing them to miss out on but, like you said, the emphasis is on the redemptive power of technology as if electricity is the God of the future world.

    I liked the recent novel “World made by hand” which nobody has commented on.

  13. Well, I think this show has a certain utility. For example, I am going to be stockpiling a hundred gallons of hair conditioner and some leather jackets to help me survive TEOTWAWKI. Oh, and perhaps a solar-powered blow dryer?

  14. Hmm, maybe I wasn’t paying attention in the beginning of the pilot, but I didn’t hear anything about an EMP. All I know is that physics was turned on its ear and electricity doesn’t work like it did, except when one of those silver chachkies is on and all of a sudden with no real power source electronics seem to function, a computer boots, attaches to some mysterious network and a conversation ensues. Oh well. At least stills still work.

  15. After pres Truman’s 1949 inauguration speech America decided that the rest of world should follow the great “American Dream” – seems now those ‘rest of the world’ is ‘condemned’ to follow the next great “American Dream” 2.0 Revolution Special Edition[...hmmmm nyah..nyah..nyah..]

  16. Just a quick word about the “15 year old asthma inhaler”, do not think that this is not possible, because i am a severe asthmatic and for the last 2 months i have been using old discarded inhalers from 2001-2004 and they obviously have been working. Why you may ask am i using old out of date medicine? Because i have no insurance and i need 3-4 of them a month and they do not have generics for a few more years. This was a move by the corrupt US govt the FDA said our inhalers are damaging to the atmosphere, so they came up with a new propellant that can’t be made in generic form for several years due to patent law. Total bullshit like 3/4ths of our government. Doesnt matter if you vote either way, you are still the looser.

  17. don’t know if you’ve seen this movie Americathon from the 70′s. It’s premise is that America runs out of energy and goes bankrupt, but it’s surprisingly accurate in many other areas: Chinese superpower, Nike everywhere, people living in their cars, rise of bikes, the list could go on…
    It’s narrated by G Carlin, and almost everyone in it is well known. It strikes me as a kind of precursor to Idiocracy. Def good for a chuckle if you like good B-movies.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFyVs_766S4&feature=bf_prev&list=PLE7339093D6D67B0D

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