I am performing Dramaturgery on NBC’s pilot Revolution. In order to make this show interesting to me, I’ve made some kind of small but important changes to the backstory (detailed in this post here). That post is pretty extensive (and, to be fair, maybe misleading in terms of a criticism of Revolution — my backstory looks like it’s got a lot of stuff in it, but it could very well be that the current writers have just as much stuff in their story bible, obviously we just haven’t seen it yet), but you can probably skip if for now unless you’re really interested.
Holland doesn’t like me to do this stuff because he thinks it’s pointless, but I don’t think it’s pointless — I think if I get really good at this sort of thing, maybe one day someone will hire me to do Dramaturgery BEFORE they film the pilot, and then we’ll avoid this whole mess. Now. To work!
So, as per usual, this is the TV show that we got (bear with me, I am trying to reconstruct from a memory a show that I had a hard time paying attention to in the first place):
1. Charlie and her brother (I don’t remember his name so I am going to call him T-Bone) are children at the Matheson house, they aren’t paying attention to things because of TECHNOLOGY, when papa Matheson comes home and announces it’s going to all go off. He tries to call his brother on the phone.
2. Miles Matheson and his buddy are driving a car on a highway where everyone maintains a safe following distance. His buddy is trying to look at pictures of a naked lady on his phone. Miles talks to his brother briefly, the lights go out — cars stall, planes hurtle directly downward from the sky, &c.
3. Cut to: the FUTURE. The fat guy who is afraid of bees — I don’t know his name, either, it is probably Google Pete — is giving the exposition to some eight-year-olds instead of teaching them valuable skills that they will need in their weird farming-suburban hamlet.
4. Elsewhere, Charlie and T-Bone are wandering through the woods when they find a bus. They go to loot the bus, where T-Bone is exposed to dust, which aggravates his asthma.
5. Back at the house, Dad’s New Girlfriend makes medicine out of herbs and things and gives it to T-Bone to make his asthma better. Papa Matheson yells at Charlie about going out into the woods, due to it being dangerous (and probably also because he blames himself for the death of Charlie’s mother, which we will learn about in a flashback later on). Charlie runs off into the woods, where she has a lunchbox filled with junk, including a Rubik’s Cube that she doesn’t even play with.
6. Giancarlo Esposito arrives at the weird farming hamlet where the Mathesons live. He wants to take Papa Matheson away, for some reason that we do not know at this time (but we suspect it has something to do with the flash drive that he has given to Google Pete for safekeeping). T-Bone tries to stop him, and precipitates a gunfight that kills Papa Matheson and also some extras, before Giancarlo Esposito pulls out his Desert Eagle and just caps suckers with it. Giancarlo Esposito takes T-Bone away with the militia, what with Papa Matheson being too dead.
7. Charlie returns from the woods and is sad to discover her father is dead and brother kidnapped. She decides to go find her uncle, Miles Matheson, who she presumes will help her retrieve her brother and/or return her father to life. With her travel Dad’s New Girlfriend (though Dad is dead, so I guess she is just a regular Doctor now) and Google Pete, even though that is a terrible idea since he has no useful skills and his deathly allergic to bees in a world in which epinephrine is not readily available.
8. Meanwhile, Giancarlo Esposito yells at T-Bone, who shortly thereafter discovers that there is a screw loose on the wagon to which he is chained.
[I’m not completely sure about the order of the next part, but I don’t think it really matters]
9. Charlie and company meet a handsome man with a bow; Doctor Quinn advises Charlie not to trust him, because teenaged girls are notoriously unreliable when it comes to correctly evaluating whether or not handsome men are trustworthy. Later, Charlie and company discover the ruins of O’Hare International Airport, which has some planes on it, but presumably those planes no longer work.
10. At night, T-Bone escapes from the militia by hitting a man in the face with a pipe. T-Bone is later defeated by pollen in a field.
11. Also at night, some bandits appear and attempt to rape Charlie (sidenote: because of COURSE they do, how else can we know the situation is DIRE and SERIOUS if it doesn’t casually toss around sexual assault as a plot device?). Doctor Quinn poisons the bandits with poisoned whiskey, except for the actual one trying to do the raping — he is shot by an arrow from Kid Handsome, whom we met earlier.
12. T-Bone wakes up in a house with a woman who fortunately happens to have asthma medicine (also a shotgun). She tries to protect T-Bone from Giancarlo Esposito by lying about T-Bone’s presence, but Giancarlo Esposito points out that his background as an insurance adjuster gives him the power to notice obvious and easily decipherable clues to determine if someone is lying to him.
The militia storms the house and gets T-Bone back.
13. Charlie and company (now featuring Kid Handsome) arrive in Chicago, where it turns out that the one building that Google Pete recognizes is also the bar where Miles Matheson, murder-machine, works as a bartender. Charlie tries to convince Miles Matheson to “help them” (I guess to get T-Bone back, though she doesn’t actually seem that worried about him?), he doesn’t want to, though. Kid Handsome acts like a dick, Miles Matheson exposes him as a spy, he runs away to get the militia.
14. Miles Matheson explains that he doesn’t want to tell Sebastian Monroe about what happened to the power due to FASCISM, and also that he’s going to drink all this Scotch since the militia is going to come back and kill him, anyway.
15. The militia returns, twenty men strong, but unversed in “get ‘im” tactics, they first attack in groups of three, allowing Miles Matheson to kill many of them. After he kills six or so, the two guys with guns try and shoot him, but they miss. He kills them, too. Then he kills the last guy, who takes slightly longer, I am assuming due to some variation on the inverse-ninja-law.
During the fight, Charlie shoots one of the militia men with her bow, two chase after her. Google Pete hits one in the head with a pipe (they fight then, I actually don’t remember how that fight ends); the other hacks ineffectually for several seconds on Charlie’s crossbow, before Kid Handsome appears, knocks the militia man out and runs away. Clearly, he is meant to be a secret hero that Charlie will fall in love with.
16. The hermit who tried to help T-Bone reveals that she has a flash drive that turns the electricity on, and is part of a Secret Conspiracy of People Who (Presumably) Can Also Do That, though their goals are unclear (even to them; the person on the other end of her steampunk computer thingie’s only line is “So…now what?)
17. A flashback shows Miles Matheson and his buddy going to the army base. The buddy reveals by arm-tattoo (in lieu of the photo idea that the army guy was demanding) that he is Monroe, of Sebastian Monroe fame, leader of the Republic of Monroe, for who Giancarlo Esposito works.
18. There is a scene with Monroe and his army, they all have automatic weapons, Monroe receives a note indicating that T-Bone has been caught.
So. I guess it is possible that this show is going to try to tell both the story of the collapse of civilization (how Miles Matheson escaped, how Sebastian Monroe became a militia leader, &c) while simultaneously telling the story of Charlie trying to get her brother back, and Monroe trying to turn the lights back on. I find it hard to believe that this will be compelling, both because costs are likely to make the two completely different settings unmanageable, and because with our attention constantly divided, both halves of the story will be less interesting.
If you did skip the backstory that I did, like I said, I think you can probably do fine without it. Long story short: my pilot takes place a HUNDRED years after the blackout (which was also concomitant with some huge military disasters, plagues, civil wars, &c.), there are some weird monks (I love all stories with weird monks) and churches, and a guy who’s set up as the de facto emperor of a collection of small states full of tenant farmers surrounding the city of Chicago which is — for all intents and purposes — the center of the known world.
So, to start: let’s keep the cold open relatively intact, but we’re going to change it up a little. Instead of having the kid watching cartoons and ignoring whoever is on the phone, let’s have the mom watching TV in which the news is talking about a potential escalation of military conflict, while the kids ignore it and play Angry Birds on their phones or something. When the dad gets home, there’s a heated, quiet (so as not to disturb the kids) conversation about what’s going to happen. The newscaster says that he’s gotten confirmation of deployment of nuclear weapons; the dad says that he has to do it — something to the effect of, this is going to be bad, but if he doesn’t it’ll be worse. He uses his silver flash drive to do something. The power turns off.
Cut to: THE FUTURE. Like I said, a hundred years ahead in time. Google Pete (who, in this version, has obviously never worked for Google) is instructing children in their religious history, in a style reminiscent of the Return of the Jedi play in Reign of Fire, or those kids in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. He ends with a story explaining how God, to preserve mankind, reached his hand down and turned off our machines, and though there were plagues and famines and wars (and all the many horsemen of the Apocalypse) the hundred years of tribulations are coming to an end, and soon Jesus will return, &c., &c.
This way the kids can be paying attention, too, that’d be nice. We get some exposition, some inkling about the religious aspect of the future, ad-hoc culture, that guy seems like he might actually have some value in society.
Cut to: Charlie and T-Bone, only they are not looting an old bus they found. They are, instead, masked and armed and robbing someone who is clearly some kind of monk (female monk, so technically a nun, but actually a Bookkeeper), who is driving an old pickup truck pulled by a horse through the woods. (This is a good time to briefly mention that Charlie and T-Bone have succumbed to a life of criminality since the quotas on crops seem to get higher every year.) (Also, remember how this was swashbuckling, and already I made it kind of look like Robin Hood? That was a swasbuckling story.)
Charlie and T-Bone rifle through the monk’s cart. They find boxes of old, yellowed papers (the monk explains that the Commander had been paying for them, but the kids say that he isn’t anymore, and it’s all kindling). They find a box of bullets (worth a literal fortune, this is important), and a locked case. The monk is happy to part with the bullets, but when they ask what’s in the case, she says books, and tells them that once the case is locked, only the abbot has the key to open it. They decide to break into it, the monk uses KUNG FU to fight them, there is a tense scene where they try to use their bows and arrows to shoot her, but it’s a bit of a stalemate.
There is a sound like maybe the militia is coming, so the kids flee. T-Bone says they shouldn’t leave the monk alive because she’ll go for the militia; Charlie is unwilling to kill, shoots an arrow into the truck tire.
Back at the ranch, Charlie shows her dad the bullets and tells him they can now afford to buy out their farm, but the dad is too mad that she has been jeopardizing everyone’s life by being a bandit. He was scared for her, she is mad that he doesn’t appreciate what she did.
Then the militia shows up. This plays out pretty much the same, except for two key differences: 1) Charlie is there, with T-Bone, and they talk about what’s going on. 2) Giancarlo Esposito talks to Papa Matheson inside where we don’t know what they’re saying. Charlie and T-Bone get increasingly paranoid that the militia is there for them — when Giancarlo Esposito and Papa Matheson come back out, T-Bone loses it and tries to chase Giancarlo off. This precipitates the gun fight, Papa Matheson gets shot, Giancarlo Esposito caps suckers — Charlie has to flee to avoid the militia.
Later, the woods, Google Pete is tromping around through the woods with a backpack. Charlie asks him what happened: Google Pete doesn’t know much. They took the kids, they killed a lot of people, they burned the village and the farm to the ground. Charlie flips out believing that this is all her fault. She vows revenge on Giancarlo Esposito, and tells Google Pete that she’s going to go to Chicago to get him.
So, we can do the part with T-Bone, his escape, his hanging out with the Mysterious Hermit, and his recapture by the militia pretty much the same way, only let’s ditch the bit with the asthma (it was a cute idea, but it’s going to be a hassle dealing with it for the whole series; maybe instead he’s injured, and the Mysterious Hermit gives him amoxycilin that she’s been saving for a hundred years).
Out in the woods, instead of running into Kid Handsome, Charlie and Google Pete run into the Monk; Charlie is paranoid that she’ll be recognized, but if the Monk does recognize her, she doesn’t say anything. This is pretty tense, as they get kind of chummy and ride on the Monk’s cart, with Google Pete and the Monk talking about things, and Charlie keeping her face hidden. Bandits show up (to ROB them, guys, come on); there is a pretty good fight in which Charlie slips away and ambushes some of the bandits, shooting them with arrows — between the kung fu and the arrows, they beat all the bandits. Google Pete mostly just prays. (“I don’t believe in violence”.) That can be interspersed with the Mysterious Hermit events, fine.
The three of them get to Chicago. The Monk leaves Google Pete and Charlie at the bar and says she has to go drop off her books. Charlie goes into the bar, and starts asking around about Miles Matheson. Some dirty old drunk asks her why, she says it’s because she needs his help to kill Giancarlo Esposito, the drunk flips out and tells her to shut up (in my version, Miles Matheson is very good at killing, because he is a former Bookkeeper, like the Monk, but he is ALSO a drunk, and a drunk in a pretty debilitating way).
But it’s too late. The bar has cleared out, except for a confused-looking Google Pete. Miles Matheson (who has still not revealed his identity) explains that someone in the Secret Service probably heard them, and is on their way to get to the militia right now. (Charlie: “What do we do?” Matheson, while looting the bar: “We? They don’t want anything from me. You should probably run, though.”)
Too late, the militia show up, Miles Matheson tells them to run and digs out his sword to fight them (“Why are you helping me?” “You look like your mother”) &c.
The big fight again, only this time it’s better, because Miles Matheson is drunk, Charlie actually helps in the fight, the Monk shows up again at the last minute (“Changed my mind; decided to get a drink.”) Charlie kills the Secret Service man, who ALSO had a semiautomatic pistol (like Giancarlo Esposito), which Charlie keeps.
It ends with Sebastian Monroe, Mayor of Chicago, Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of Free America, Executive of the Senate and People of the American States in his geneology room, with all the pictures of his ancestors taped to the walls, surrounded by files and papers and things that he’s clearly been researching, to a weird machine that is like a film projector, only made with candles. He watches a filmstrip from the 1970s, where there is no sound, but the scientists are demonstrating a technology that turns off electrical devices.
In a lot of ways, I know this doesn’t look different — but there are some important distinctions. Google Pete clearly has a kind of job as the moral center of the story; the Monk can serve as a surrogate mother figure for Charlie, instead of the cliched “I hate my stepmom”. We know a million things about Charlie right away — that she’s reckless, ambitious, that she cares about her family, that she’ll kill when she has to but not when she doesn’t. She’s got a clear, strong motivation from the beginning — to fight and kill Giancarlo Esposito — that enables her to both be part of and adversarial to whatever other political factions are around, and, importantly, she and her brother both don’t know that the other is alive (and have every reason to think the other is dead). She has a huge amount of guilt (that will turn out to be incorrect; the militia in her town had nothing to do with her), imagining herself to be responsible for the death of her father and brother, and the destruction of her village. She’s also killed a Secret Service agent, and has his gun as proof — both a powerful weapon, and a death sentence if she ever uses it (I also like the idea that she’s only got nine bullets, and has to use them very carefully).
Equally interesting is that T-Bone doesn’t have a particular motivation — he wants to find his sister, he probably wants to kill Giancarlo Esposito, but he could do this in any number of ways: joining a rival militia, escaping and becoming a bandit, even switching sides when Sebastian Monroe explains the situation to him.
Miles Matheson now has an interestingly mysterious backstory — instead of just “being good at killing”, he was part of the army and left (why?) used to be a Bookkeeper (why?) and left (why?) and is now a drunk (WHY!?!??).
Plus, there’s all the thematic stuff I put into my backmatter.