Harvard Historian Returns PBS to Civil War; ‘Revolution’: TV

Giancarlo Esposito plays a militia leader Lt. Neville in "Revolution," on NBC. The show's pilot is directed by Jon Favreau and co-produced by J.J. Abrams. Photographer: Bob Mahoney/NBC via Bloomberg

A global blackout is a cakewalk compared to the real-life dangers (miscast actors, hand-me-down characters) facing “Revolution,” NBC’s new post-apocalyptic melodrama.

Set 15 years after a mysterious electrical failure has sent mankind scurrying for bows, arrows and, apparently, stashed-away skinny jeans, “Revolution” follows the heedless path of “Invasion,” “Terra Nova” and “FlashForward” seeking to become the next “Lost.”

“Revolution” would seem to have a better chance than most, if only for its pedigree. Created by Eric Kripke (“Supernatural”), the show is coproduced by “Lost” mastermind J.J. Abrams.

But the pilot -- directed by Jon Favreau, and the only episode available for review -- consigns “Revolution” closer to the heap of short-lived wannabes.

The power outage that provides the high concept of “Revolution” raises questions both intentional (was it an accident? who’s responsible?) and not (what, besides “The Hunger Games,” could account for humanity’s rediscovered passion for bows and arrows? And who let the gym-bodied cool kids grab all the snug henley shirts while the extras seem dressed for “Little House on the Prairie?”)

Hunky Brother

Tracy Spiridakos plays teenage heroine Charlie leading a small band of anti-Militia rebels through ruined America in search of her kidnapped, asthmatic but hunky brother Danny (Graham Rogers).

Joining the hunt is the siblings’ estranged, cynical Uncle Miles (a miscast Billy Burke, from the “Twilight” films). Miles is meant to be this show’s answer to Sawyer, of “Lost,” with a dash of Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine from “Casablanca.” But no amount of choreographed swashbuckling can toughen Burke’s Sears-model vibe.

Miles apparently has some backstory with Militia baddies Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) and General Monroe (David Lyons), and flashbacks might spark some intrigue.

But “Revolution” gets off to a slow start. Kripke brings the hard-bodied teenage angst of “Supernatural” but forgets that show’s wit.

Abandoned, too, are the mystical meanderings of “Lost,” a defendable choice that nonetheless leaves “Revolution” looking like bottom-drawer outlines for further tales of “The Others.” If a change is gonna come, it better come soon.

“The Revolution” airs Sept. 17 on NBC at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: **

‘Civil War’

If we’ve learned anything from PBS Civil War documentaries, it’s that soldiers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon could write a darn fine letter.

“My grave will be marked so that you may visit it if you desire to do so,” penned a dying boy whose battlefield wounds don’t seem to have interfered with his eloquence.

From those letters home to the elegiac fiddles and famous-actor voiceovers, much seems familiar in documentarian Ric Burns’s “Death and the Civil War,” a de facto addendum to “The Civil War,” the seminal 1990 series that Burns coproduced with director/brother Ken Burns.

But if the entrenched style flirts with self-parody, the film remains, in the end, vital and moving.

Based on historian and Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust’s book “This Republic of Suffering,” “Death and the Civil War” narrows its focus to examine the war’s impact -- including tens of thousands of corpses left where they fell -- on our national understanding of service, sacrifice and death itself.

“Death and the Civil War” airs Sept. 18 on PBS’s American Experience at 8 p.m. New York time. Rating: ****

What the Stars Mean:

*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Very Good
**     Good
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include John Mariani and Jeremy Gerard.

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