'Revenge' Is A Soapy, If Shallow, Delight
Forgiveness may be the Christian thing to do, but it makes for way more boring viewing than the alternative.
"Revenge," a new melodrama on ABC, stars Emily VanCamp (of "Brothers and Sisters" and "Everwood") as Emily Thorne, a mysterious young woman with a very serious axe to grind.
The show opens with a tense engagement party, where the groom is murdered before we even meet him. From there, we flash back to the months leading up to the engagement, beginning with Emily's arrival in the Hamptons and her integration into its elite society circles.
But of course, Emily isn't really Emily. She's Amanda Clarke, and she's been here before, as a child who witnessed her father's life destroyed by the woman he loved -- Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe), queen of the Hamptons social scene, and wife of Conrad Grayson (Henry Czerny), the man who her father worked for many years ago. Victoria, Conrad, and most of the other wealthy, powerful people we see sent her father to jail on charges of treason to protect themselves. The rest of the Grayson family includes Daniel (Joshua Bowman), Victoria's playboy son, Emily's potential love interest/future dead man, and his sister Charlotte (Christa B. Allen), a spoiled little rich girl.
Jack Porter (Nick Wechsler) and his brother Declan (Connor Paolo) run the local tavern. And lurking around corridors is Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann, last seen as Betty's engaged equestrian suitor on "Mad Men"), an internet gazillionaire, who shares a taste for revenge with Emily.
If the thousand characters introduced in the pilot didn't tip you off, the dramatic one liners and shadowy sneaking-around shots make it obvious that this is a grade-A soap opera. And that's not a bad thing.
While the flashbacks to her father's arrest are a little much (the show would be better off if it dropped them completely after the pilot), most of the show plays like a cross between "The O.C." and "Pasadena" (the short-lived 2001 Fox soap starring Alison Lohman), but with less of a sense of humor.
The major burden of the show is Van Camp's to carry. Emily/Amanda is unexpectedly brutal, a calculating saboteur whose anger has crystallized into a single purpose: To rip apart these people's lives, damn the consequences. She keeps a photo in her desk with all the people who helped to condemn her dad and as she ruins them crosses out their faces one by one.
The result can be faintly ridiculous, as Emily shuffles around hacking into secure computers and donning disguises while snapping secret photos of illicit affairs. But Emily is also required to act the part of the perfect society princess, smiling with the corners of her mouth turned up and empty eyes, exchanging meaningless conversation about dressage and boarding school.
With clipped diction and an imperturbable, nearly cold demeanor, she fits right in. Enemy No. 1 Victoria is a capable match, steeped in the same icy viciousness as her opponent. Mann is great as the wacky, scary Nolan, while Paolo and Wechsler crucially lighten the mood when they appear.
There are heavy historical and political questions to be asked about why some people choose to pursue vengeance at all costs, but not in this show. "Revenge" is a pleasantly brain-blanking joyride into the imaginary lives of Hamptonites out to screw each other over. While it doesn't often rise above the level of soap, you don't really want it to do anything other than what it's doing.
Watch the trailer for "Revenge" below: