Last night NBC debuted a new show entitled "Revolution." Set in a post-apocalyptic future fifteen years after an unexplained event destroys all electronic devices and most technology, the show follows four heroes in their quest to save the world. Dystopia is becoming a common theme in television and for years has been a common scenario in cinema. Scenes of modern society abandoned and decaying parallel that of Urban Exploration, a common subject of my photographic work - hence why I was interested in this show and the portrayal of abandonment in the history of media.
|- Cincinnati's abandoned "Glencoe" neighborhood photographed in 2011.|
Urban Exploration photography has been a common theme of my work. Vegetation growing through sidewalks of abandoned streets conflict with our normal view of maintained homes and manicured lawns. There's something oddly beautiful and intriguing about the abandonment of a place after human society has forgotten it. As people like myself document these places, film and television have provided their own take on what happens to the world when society disappears.
Take the Mad Max movies for example. Three cheesy 80's action flicks followed the decay of society in the wasteland of Australia after a nuclear war. While campy, they're visually startling and have a great story.
|- Believe it or not, Mel Gibson used to be cool.|
1997's The Postman starring Kevin Costner shows a primitive society living in the ruins of modern suburbia after the United States collapses following a nuclear war. If you're awake at 3 am and not writing television reviews on your blog, you may be unlucky enough to catch The Postman airing on TBS. Kevin Costner tries to act his way out of a bag while his character masquerades as a government employee finally getting around to delivering mail and trying to restore hope with a pet donkey in tow. He has to outrun the evil General Bethlehem and his horse mounted army of thugs and eventually finds Tom Petty. Yeah, the singer portrays himself as a futuristic savior. This box office flop was directed by you guessed it... Kevin Costner.
|- This promotional poster for The Postman is about as lame as the actual film itself.|
However, The Postman is certainly the exception and not the norm when it comes to making an exciting story about dystopia. From Romero's zombie flicks to The Terminator series, it's possible to make a great film about a future where our normal view of society is challenged.
2006's Children of Men is one of my favorite movies of all time. Set in a dystopian Britain after humans lose the ability to reproduce, the film delivers challenging social commentary as the environment of modern society collapses around the characters.
|- Unlike The Postman, Children of Men is actually good and thankfully does not feature Kevin Costner..|
2009's The Road is another great example. Based off the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, the story follows a father and son as they trudge across the wastelands of American society in the wake of an unexplained catastrophe. The characters struggle to carry on amongst the ruins and other few survivors.
|- The Road is both an excellent novel and film.|
Before I can touch on Revolution though, you need to understand my taste in television. I like a variety of programming. From the gritty cop drama of NYPD Blue to hilarious shows like Family Matters, Roseanne and Seinfeld - I like a variety of programming. I'm also not ashamed to admit that I'm a sucker for science fiction. Star Trek: The Next Generation was the mad note! However, all these shows came "before my time." I've watched them as late night reruns or caught them on Netflix. Humans are creatures of habit and routine. In the monotony of work and school schedules, I enjoy having one hour where I can sit in front of my television and be entertained. Even though that show will air at the same time every week and be part of "the routine," it's constantly changing and adding some excitement. It gives you something to look forward to.
For me, the first type of these shows was ABC's Lost.
Every season for nearly six years, from high school to college, I'd tune into every new episode of Lost. I'd spend the hour after the episodes on the telephone trying to explain the plot to my grandmother. So many questions, so much mystery - how was it going to come together in the end!?
Simply put - the show is six seasons of bullshit that never gets answered and results in an episode where you're supposed to "draw your own conclusions." Screw that, I wanted some kind of resolution and all I got was sappy music and even more questions. Looking back, the entire run of the show was a joke.
All hope was not lost though (ha, get it?), because around the same time I had found another show I liked: Jericho.
CBS's Jericho was a story of America in the wake of a terrorist attack that wiped out 23 American cities with nuclear bombs. The story was griping, the characters were relatable and all had some sort of back story related to the plot. Each episode left you wanting more and the remnants of society reflected a lot of the places I was photographing at the time.
Then it was cancelled.
However, there were many devoted fans like me who petitioned CBS to renew the show. CBS listened and produced a second season.
Then cancelled it again.
In the wake of Jericho's disappointing cancellations and Lost's shitty ending, I did find some other shows I liked.
There was Flash Forward, a show about people seeing the future and trying to change the outcome.
Cancelled after one season.
The Event, a series about aliens living amongst humans while the government scrambles to cover up the conspiracy.
Cancelled after one season.
Alcatraz featured Jurassic Park's Sam Neil as a badass FBI agent who hunted down time travelling inmates that were once incarcerated in the historic San Francisco prison.
Cancelled after one season.
TNT was looking out for me though. They tried to combine the science-fiction and post apocalyptic genres with Falling Skies. Set in the ruins of Boston, the show is about the human resistance fighting a guerrilla war against invading aliens. Unfortunately, the terrible computer graphics and boring subplots about raising children as a single parent in the apocalypse makes it unwatchable.
|- It's apparently really tough being a Dad during the end of the world.|
Gold was nearly struck though. AMC delivered The Walking Dead, a zombie drama based off the graphic novel of the same name. Gritty, realistic and visually striking - the show got rave reviews and was quickly renewed. I fell in love with it. The scenes of an abandoned Atlanta metropolis are some of the best designed sets in any movie or tv show I've seen. As I continued photographing abandoned places, I would often think about how they'd make great locations for filming what was becoming my favorite tv show.
Season 2 got weird though. It was an entire season of everyone hanging out on Old MacDonald's farm and complaining. Season 3 looks a little more promising.
So hopefully you can understand my frustration. Since most new shows I watch on television end up sucking or the good ones get cancelled, I rarely watch tv.
Now over the past weekend, I was house-sitting for some friends and looking after their pets. With nothing to do, I actually tuned in to watch Saturday Night Live. A commercial caught my eye that showed a group of people walking through the ruins of Chicago, right by a decaying Wrigley Field.
I couldn't believe it - a dystopian show that actually looked interesting. Maybe finally I'd have a television show to enjoy? The scene previews looked great and reflected my interests in photography. When I got back to my place, I set the DVR and then watched the premiere of NBC's newest show Revolution after it aired.
|- Promotional poster for Revolution.|
Fast forward fifteen years and we see the ruins of New York City, Washington D.C. and Chicago overgrown with vegetation in a society that has collapsed in the absence of technology, now relying on primitive methods of farming and cultivation.
|- The ruins of New York City as portrayed in Revolution.|
A narrator explains that governments have crumbled and people are ruled by iron-fisted roaming militias. We find out that mom is now dead, dad is still alive and the son and daughter have grown up to be rebellious teenagers all while the interesting visuals continue.
While I'm not sure if it's intentional or not, one of the opening scenes includes an abandoned ferris wheel:
After the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor diaster of 1986, the Ukranian town of Prypiat was abandoned. Everything was left behind and the city's ferris wheel has become a symbol of the location's abandonment in the years since when photographers have trekked in to explore the ruins.
|- The Prypiat ferris wheel near the abandoned Chernobyl site.|
For me personally, the icon of the the Prypiat ferris wheel inspired this image from my visit to the abandoned Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom:
|- The ruins of Six Flag's Kentucky Kingdom as photographed in 2011.|
The beautifully executed scenes of Revolution don't stop there though. They continue as we see the characters living in suburban "Mcmansions"that have become primitive farms and we see even more when the characters trek into Chicago.
Please note that in the still from the show below, the iconic sign in front of Wrigley Field states that the hometown team eventually became World Series Champions. As of the writing, The Chicago Cubs are in second to last place and are already mathematically eliminated from 2012 World Series playoff contention. This is a sign foreshadowing of how this show is about to take a turn into stupid.
|- Baseball's Iconic Wrigley Field portrayed as abandoned.|
Overall the show looks cool. It's a stark contrast to how we think of the future, a question of our notion of reality. Visually, things look great.
That's where any good in this mess stops. The characters of this series are awful, just awful.
The show is an action show centered around family drama. In the pilot episode, the dad is struggling to be a single parent in the apocalypse. No offense to single parents, but in a show about the end of the world - I want to know about the end of the world and the mystery surrounding it, not how Dad is going to teach billy how to shave and suzy how to talk to boys.
This show could be good, but whoever the hell wrote it thinks American families are gonna sit down together and see a character that mom, dad and their teenagers can each have someone to relate to. It makes for cheesy, stupid drama.
|- "Please don't shoot. I'm teaching my Justin Bieber look alike son about crossbows."|
As more characters are introduced, we find that they suck too. The problem in the future isn't that technology is gone, it's that everyone who survived is a genuinely uninteresting moron.
We meet the evil general who commands an army on horseback, just like the in the lackluster film The Postman mentioned earlier. There's the mysterious teenage boy who the main character has a crush on and they look like the kids from that Twilight movie. Can't forget about the mysterious uncle who kills an entire room of bad guys with a sword before joining his niece on the quest for the truth (more family bonding). They'll be bringing along the stereotypical nerd with thick glasses who speaks computer lingo.
And in the future, even though technology is gone - all the push up bra's and toothpaste were saved. Not that I'm complaining about the bra thing, but they show more clevage than dialogue in this show and everyone's teeth are as white as snow. After the world collapsed you'd think people wouldn't look so good, right?
Also, the main character is a hormone ridden teenage girl who misses her mom and develops a crush on an enemy boy. It's not a bad thing that the lead role is a female, but at least make her interesting.
|- The catchphrase should read: "In a world gone dark, everyone is boring as shit."|
Revolution airs on NBC, Mondays at 10 PM. You can also watch it for free online at Hulu.