Premiered September 17 at 10pm
There’s a problem that seems to plaguing science fiction series with futuristic premises lately. The initial idea – a world without electricity where society has reverted to medieval times and militias rule – is immensely intriguing, yet the grander notion is emphasized heavily, while decent storytelling and characters are not. I’m thinking specifically of two shows from last year, one which survived and the other which didn’t, “Falling Skies” and “Terra Nova,” that made invading aliens and resident dinosaurs infinitely uninteresting by focusing centrally on horribly written, one-note characters with pitiful dialogue. The five-minute swordfight and the emphasis on archery showcased in this particular pilot is indicative of the fact that the legend is more important than the actual events, meaning that we could be subject to regular such events rather than actual plot points or conversations. It’s worthwhile to learn, at the tail end of the episode, that dictatorial leader Monroe was actually the man in the car with Miles, but that also means that heavy flashbacks will be featured to explain how events turned out the way they did. The danger with that, of course, is that either the past or the present will be inherently more interesting, and the other will pale in comparison. Regarding the pilot itself, I would have liked to see much more poisoned whiskey and fewer grandstanding speeches and swordplay. It was awfully convenient that Miles was the first person that Charlie and crew happened upon in Chicago, and the fact that the woman who hid Danny is also the sole possessor of electricity feels just as contrived. Why exactly would Monroe be seeking the Matheson brothers so many years after the blackout? I am pleased to see Giancarlo Esposito back in a proper villainous role after “Breaking Bad,” but it’s hardly a perfectly-written part. From this pilot alone, this show seems to have been thought of merely as high-concept, with no regard paid to creating a decent show through which to tell the story.
How will it work as a series? Time is sure to be split between the moment the lights went out and the timing of the pilot’s events so that series regulars Tim Guinee and Elizabeth Mitchell, now both officially deceased, can continue to be featured on an episodic basis. The light bulb and computer in the episode’s closing moments suggest an unending mystery that should play out similarly to that of “Flash Forward.” Don’t forget about the archery and the swordfighting too!
How long will it last? Premiering in the same slot as “The Playboy Club” did last year and doing well doesn’t exactly constitute success, but airing after “The Voice” might. If buzz continues for this show, it could last a while, but I doubt that it has the stamina or creative ability to go on for too long. For now, it’s safe, but a second season is far from guaranteed. That said, NBC could use a hit right now, and this would definitely be their genre hit.
Pilot grade: C