This fall, NBC will unveil J.J. Abrams' latest show, "Revolution," a sci-fi series that hopes to be as spectacular and meaningful as the director's feature films. But that could be part of the problem. While Abrams was off developing the next "Star Trek" movie and "Super 8," "Fringe" came close to getting the axe, "Alcatraz" failed, and last fall's "Undercovers" didn't do so well in the ratings (both shows were cancelled).
Undoubtedly, Abrams has found the Hollywood magic and has created one successful project after the other - that used to be said of his television shows; but these days, he doesn't have time to run them. To really be successful, "Revolution" will need the very best of Abrams.
Here are some key J.J. Abrams' storytelling tricks that should be utilized in "Revolution."
It's good to develop complex story lines, but lighter moments are just as important to establish balance. As early as the WB's "Felicity," Abrams was striking the balance between humor and drama. This found a better match in "Alias," where Abrams was able to unleash his love of action flicks, espionage, and oblique puzzles. Even "Lost" (in its first season) was successfully straddling that line. Based on the promos, the future world that "Revolution" seems to depict is very gritty indeed. As such, Abrams and his team are going to need to balance it out. With Jon Favreau ("Iron Man") and "Supernatural's" Eric Kripke co-producing the show, that should be relatively easy (both are known for bringing a lighter touch to sci-fi/fantasy fare).
That 'Serlingesque' Wonder
It's no secret that Abrams is a huge fan of Rod Serling and "The Twilight Zone." "Lost," in its way, was "the Zone" writ large in six seasons. "Twilight Zone" presented an undercurrent of realism in many of its shows with something very strange lurking round the edges; a mystery waiting to be unraveled. It's a good bet that "Revolution" will have a central mystery all its own.
Obviously, a TV budget has its limitations, but what made "Alias," "Lost," and "Fringe" so thrilling was its penchant for pushing the boundaries of network television. Scan the catalog of any of those series and you'll find experimental episodes, which inverted narrative storytelling in some way. The "Lost" flashback was essential to understanding the story of the castaways. "Alcatraz" did its share of flashbacks. We've had flashbacks, flash-forwards, and even sideways flashes (see "Lost's" final season). If there is another method, Abrams will surely find it.
Make Television Fun Again
You can give audiences all the dark, broody post-apocalyptic musings that you want, but TV should be fun, it's designed for entertainment. J.J. Abrams' shows have always had a sense of play. Let's hope "Revolution" gives us plenty.