Revolution: Lost creative spark in the dark

JJ Abrams' new series asks what happens when the grid goes down ... for good.

Tracy Spiridakos (left), Billy Burke, Daniella Alonso and Paras Partel inhabit a world in permanent blackout. Photo / AP
Tracy Spiridakos (left), Billy Burke, Daniella Alonso and Paras Partel inhabit a world in permanent blackout. Photo / AP

"There is an inherent evil to the wondrous technology that we embrace blindly," says JJ Abrams.

It's an observation that seems simultaneously quizzical, thrilled and circumspect. And it hints at the world view of Abrams, the writer-director-producer whose latest series, Revolution, hits our screens tonight.

Consider Abrams' anecdote about a fax machine that demanded his attention when it went on the blink.

"For several minutes I was a slave to the machine," he says, recalling how it displayed step-by-step directions for fixing it.

"If an alien had come down and peeked in the window, it would have concluded, 'Oh, this is a society in which little devices tell those bipedal creatures what to do."'

The notion amuses him as much as gives him pause.

"We are in that place right now," he says. "We are as much in response to what this thing is telling us to do as it is to us. This is a balancing act, and I'm not sure which side has more weight."

It helps explain why his new drama, Revolution, spoke to him as a series idea. It was created by Eric Kripke (Supernatural). But it bears the imprint of Abrams, one of filmdom's most inventive and recognised names, and his company, tellingly dubbed Bad Robot Productions.

Revolution tells of a world 15 years after the world inexplicably suffers a power outage. Every electronic gadget, light source, communications means and conveyance is the victim of a seemingly permanent blackout.

The upshot? For Abrams, it's "an epic romantic family quest".

That is, a rogue band of survivors is pitted against an oppressive militia that treats remaining loyalists to the United States as insurgents to be crushed. Meanwhile, modernity is in ruins and overrun by greenery as an agrarian lifestyle reasserts itself. Stars include Tracy Spiridakos, Billy Burke, Zak Orth, Elizabeth Mitchell and Giancarlo Esposito.

What intrigued Abrams wasn't so much the why of the power going out - though he promises the whys will be explained in due time - but rather the saga that results from its absence. Here is a raging new twist on the Swiss Family Robinson, people challenged by the dicey wish fulfilment of a world no longer in thrall to technology.

"When the power goes out, the structure of society would shift enormously," Abrams says.

"The people who are in control are more likely to fall by the wayside and not know how to handle anything. The have-nots will know how to live in that world and will become the most powerful."

What seems to engage Abrams most isn't whys but what-ifs, particularly when his characters face the encroachment of technology.

"I think the connection between flesh and the machine is fascinating and relevant," he says. "I don't know what's more relevant than that today. It's a big part of Revolution, as well as Fringe and Person of Interest."

While Fringe and Person of Interest are steeped in the technology they investigate, Revolution is giving Abrams a chance to address his favourite issues while catching his breath in its more primitive setting.

"Today, information is instantaneous," he says.

"People know too much too soon and the whole world witnesses every moment. The more this happens, the harder it is to tell stories. It really undermines the possibility of ... someone with taste and intellect being able to help you determine a point of view."

TV preview

Who: JJ Abrams, creator of TV's Lost, Person of Interest, Fringe.
What: His latest series Revolution.
When and where: Opening episode tonight, TV2, 9.30pm. Second episode tomorrow 9.30pm, which will be its usual time slot.

- AAP

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