Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Is J.J. Abrams new show a revolution in storytelling?

One of the other shows that I got a chance to see this past weekend at FanExpo was the new J.J. Abrams show called Revolution. Anyone who knows anything about J.J. Abrams career knows that he has something of a strange reputation when it comes to his body of work. From Lost to Alias to Fringe and Alias, his TV work has been something to gawk at in terms of their popularity and the frustrations of its fans. Chief among the ideas that has frustrated fans is Lost, which seems to have lead many to believe that while he comes up with great ideas, the execution of those ideas leaves something to be desired and his involvement is often more of a detriment to the storytelling process.
Perhaps that is true, we certainly don’t know enough about what goes on behind the scenes to really make a determination of J.J. Abrams involvement and how much he has or hasn’t affected the storytelling process. What isn’t in question is that when people hear his name attached to a project, they tend to perk up and pay attention. He is a very high concept creator and people seem to appreciate his work for that, if nothing else. The new show Revolution is no exception in the list of TV shows that he has created. It’s very high concept and world building in its function as a TV show, but is that revolutionary in today’s TV landscape? A lot of shows have come to our screens in recent years with a high concept and a story worth telling.
Shows like Flash Forward and Terra Nova are quick to establish the world that their characters live in, but some of their lesser competition misses the mark in terms of the characters that ultimately drive the show. Unfortunately, I feel like this is the case for Revolution. The world is very clearly established and has a lot of potential to tell some interesting stories, but falls well short of establishing the characters that end up being the focus of the show. Without creating any serious spoilers, many of the characters which appear to be driving the show’s story forward are background characters in the opening scenes. It’s not until even half way through the first episode that it becomes clear who the main characters are, and in order to do that they have to dispense with numerous more interesting characters that could have just as easily been interesting in their own right and been the focus of the show. Why not do that instead?
A while back I watched a lecture that J.J. Abrams did in which he talked about his interest, or perhaps obsession, with mystery. He talked a lot about how he and so many other people are intrigued by mystery and that the unknown is such an interesting aspect of life and storytelling in general. But what wasn’t touched on was the importance of characters. They should never be a mystery. And by that I don’t mean that they aren’t allowed to have secrets or mislead people. I mean that we should always understand exactly who it is that they are. We should always know why they do the things they do or we should at least find out at some point. As the audience, we should never be uncertain why we care about the characters we are watching. In order to do that in television, your main character or characters need to take center stage. In Revolution, the event takes center stage. The reason why the world is the way it is drives the story and in many ways the main characters take a backseat even more so then they do in the first 10 minutes of the pilot.
Is J.J. Abrams new show a revolution in storytelling? Not really, but at least people will watch it.

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