NBC, Brownie Harris, Associated Press
NEW YORK — "There is an inherent evil to the wondrous technology that we embrace blindly," says J.J. Abrams.
It's a loaded observation that seems simultaneously quizzical, thrilled and circumspect. And it hints at the world view of Abrams, the alliteratively initialed writer-director-producer whose latest series, "Revolution," airs Mondays at 10 p.m. EDT on NBC.
Consider Abrams' anecdote about a fax machine that demanded his attention when it went on the blink.
"For several minutes I was a slave to the machine," he says, recalling how it displayed step-by-step directions for fixing it. "If an alien had come down and peeked in the window, it would have concluded, 'Oh, this is a society in which little devices tell those bipedal creatures what to do.'"
The notion amuses him as much as gives him pause.
"We are in that place right now," he declares. "We are as much in response to what this thing is telling us to do as it is to us. This is a balancing act, and I'm not sure which side has more weight."
Such a tale helps explain why his new drama, "Revolution," spoke to him as a series idea.
It was created by Eric Kripke ("Supernatural"). But it bears the imprint of Abrams, one of filmdom's most inventive and recognized names, and his company, tellingly dubbed Bad Robot Productions.
"Revolution" tells of a world 15 years after the world inexplicably suffers a power outage. Every electronic gadget, light source, communications means and conveyance is the victim of a seemingly permanent blackout.
The upshot? For Abrams, it's "an epic romantic family quest."
That is, a rogue band of survivors is pitted against an oppressive militia that treats remaining loyalists to the United States as insurgents to be crushed. Meanwhile, modernity is in ruins and overrun by greenery as an agrarian lifestyle reasserts itself. Stars include Tracy Spiridakos, Billy Burke, Zak Orth, Elizabeth Mitchell and Giancarlo Esposito.
What intrigued Abrams wasn't so much the why of the power going out — though he promises the whys will be explained in due time — but rather the saga that results from its absence. Here is a raging new twist on the Swiss Family Robinson, people challenged by the dicey wish fulfillment of a world no longer in thrall to technology.
"When the power goes out, the structure of society would shift enormously," Abrams reasons. "The people who are in control are more likely to fall by the wayside and not know how to handle anything. The have-nots will know how to live in that world and will become the most powerful."
Meeting a reporter in the sort of office high-rise that's utterly dependent on power (down to the restrooms? electric towel dispensers), Jeffrey Jacob Abrams, 46, is bespectacled and boyish, an affable thinker excited by ideas and conversation.
What seems to engage him most isn't whys but what-ifs, particularly when his characters face the encroachment of technology.
"I think the connection between the flesh and the machine is fascinating and relevant," he says. "I don't know what's more relevant than that today. It's a big part of 'Revolution,' as well as 'Fringe' and 'Person of Interest.'"
Abrams' CBS high-tech drama "Person of Interest," now starting its second season, harnesses state-of-the-art surveillance gadgetry in New York City and then applies pattern recognition to identify people who will soon be involved in violent crimes — and hopefully prevent them.
His Fox sci-fi series "Fringe," beginning its fifth and final season, is a mind-expanding exploration of "fringe" science, parallel universes and alternate timelines.
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