Review: “Blackout” Podcast

I went into “Blackout” with high hopes. Academy Award winner Rami Malek’s new podcast about a family struggling to survive a national grid-down in the middle of winter in New Hampshire seemed tailor made for me. I loved Malek in “Mr. Robot”, and threats to the electrical grid are one of the main beats I cover here at The Prepared, so how could this not be great?

Listen to the free “Blackout” podcast

The main problem I had with “Blackout” is the same problem I’ve had with many movies and TV shows in our present politically-divided moment: a story that looks great on paper turns out to be mainly just a platform for a writer’s “red tribe” or “blue tribe” politics; meanwhile, there are plenty of us on all sides who are weary of having everything be about politics all the time.

The verdict: The “Blackout” podcast is a slickly produced, well-acted effort marred by some implausible major and minor details, hokey accents, and way too many freely and repeatedly given opinions on the fractured politics of 2019 America. Sometimes you just want to enjoy a story and not be preached at. But I’m encouraged by the amount of effort that went into it, and I hope it’s another sign that collapse- and preparedness-related topics are moving from niche to mainstream.

Signs of trouble

“Blackout” starts off with plenty of promise. The voice acting is really good for the most part, though some of the actors’ hokey attempts at a New Hampshire accent do end up sounding like the actor is from Massachusetts and is recovering from a root canal. But Malek, his wife, and his kids are all stellar, and the dialogue really works.

But small signs of trouble crop up in the very first episode. Malek’s character comes across someone trying to take down the town’s cell tower with a rifle that he claims “definitely” does not sound like a “hunting rifle”, so I was assuming it was a .50-cal up until the point where the podcast told me it was .30-cal (many common hunting calibers are .30 caliber).

Later on we find that the show’s one real prepper has a magical “natural gas generator” that just pulls natural gas directly out of the ground and turns it into an infinite supply of off-grid electricity. (Natural gas generators are real, but they require a working natural gas delivery system to feed them, and a working natural gas delivery system requires a working electrical grid.)

Then there’s the F22 Raptor that mysteriously crashes into the side of a mountain right after the blackout hits. There’s a rescued pilot, and some “I Know What You Did Last Summer” drama around a lone weirdo and a cabin in the woods, but we never learn exactly why that jet crashed there or get a realistic answer for why it was flying low over this out-of-the-way area in the first place.

All of this stuff is more annoying than anything, but the biggest problem that I just couldn’t suspend disbelief over was the fact that some of the residents of this random New Hampshire small town are players in a massive conspiracy that takes down the nation’s entire power grid.

The conspiracy component of the show grows in importance over the course of the eight-episode run, but it never gets easier to swallow. In fact, it actually gets harder to suspend disbelief the more of it you see. Dark neo-Luddite doings of nation-ending importance afoot in this random podunk town? Really?

Politics. Again. Still.

The deeper problem with the grand conspiracy is that it’s a clunky plot device that, at least in the first season, is only there to support the show’s political agenda.

I am personally not a libertarian, nor will I ever be one, but right now I’m just not that interested in listening to the villains of yet another popular entertainment spend a bunch of time sneering about socialized medicine and “government handouts”, and going on about the need for a giant wall to keep out the “hungry mouths” from the cities who want to come into the town and steal its goodies.

Speaking of the wall, the heroes of the “resistance” — yes, the “R” word gets some use near the end — spend time lecturing each other about the evils of hiding behind walls and just looking out for number one. They end up freely giving away the one prepper’s entire stash to the angry, shop-window-breaking mob, and the prepper is cool with this because what is the point of surviving on your own, anyway?

All the politicking started to feel really heavy-handed toward the last half of the podcast, to the point that I wasn’t sure if I really cared enough to finish it.

But I did finish it, and I will probably go ahead and listen to Season 2 when it drops. I don’t want to spoil it, but after listening to the final episode it seemed clear that the writers could ditch a lot of the politics on the next go around if they wanted to, and go into more of a post-apocalyptic road trip direction. So I’m up for giving it one more try.