Good pulpy fun. That’s the best way to describe Revenge, ABC’s newest hit nighttime drama. Filled with conniving, filthy rich people living in the Hamptons, on the surface this series sounds like a worthy successor to Dynasty and Dallas. But I contend that it’s a little more artistic than those 80’s soaps. The acting on Revenge is above par, and the plot twists remind me more of a Hitchcock thriller rather than a cheesy TV show.
Emily VanCamp, an actress who mastered the girl-next-door image with roles on Everwood and Brothers and Sisters, gets her first starring role and ably carries the weight of the series on her shoulders. Playing against type as a woman out to bring down the wealthiest family in New York, VanCamp actually uses her good girl image to her advantage. In scenes where she has to appear the most lovable and good-natured person on the planet, she plays them with ease. Thus, when she turns and becomes a martial arts, axe wielding, pissed off daughter of a man falsely accused of being a terrorist, the transition is startling, but well done.
VanCamp’s character, Emily Thorne, is a wealthy socialite who’s come to the Hamptons seemingly out of nowhere. In actuality, her real name is Amanda Clarke, the daughter of David Clarke, a man convicted for being behind a terrorist group’s sabotaging of a commercial airliner. His imprisonment was a conspiracy, though, brought into play by Victoria and Conrad Grayson, his former business partners. The Graysons represent one of the elite families in New York. Their small contingent of socialites, lawyers, doctors and reporters are so powerful that not only did they set up Amanda’s father, but they had her locked in juvenile detention until she was 18. Upon her release, Amanda discovers that before he went to prison, David had left her a secret bank account with millions of dollars. He also spent his time in jail writing journals and detailing information on the people who tore the family apart (mom is dead, by the way). Amanda receives all of this news the day she walks free. Immediately, Amanda puts her money to good use by assuming her new identity and researching all of those responsible for the downfall and eventual death of her father. At the top of her list are
Besides VanCamp, the show’s ace is Madeleine Stowe, convinced to come out of semi-retirement to play Victoria. Stowe has plenty of opportunities to play a real bitch, but it’s the quiet moments, especially when tormenting herself over the welfare of her children, that makes the viewer start care for this character. Victoria has many gray areas in her life (she was David’s lover, her relationship with her daughter is strained, her husband is sleeping with her best friend) and Stowe does a nice job of showing us those different shades and brings humanity to the role. Another highlight to the cast is Gabriel Mann’s Nolan Ross, a high tech billionaire whose allegiance to Emily’s father makes him her one true ally in the series. Watching the relationship between Emily, who wants to be a loner, and Nolan, a man so desperate for friendship that he buys a man’s boat just so the guy will hang out with him, develop into a sibling relationship is one of the nice storylines that Revenge followed throughout season one.
The series pilot opens with a cliffhanger: A man is shot while an engagement party goes on in the distance. We don’t learn that man’s identity until midway through the first season, which was a nice way to hook viewers. By doing this, it gave the writers and producers a chance to hone in their central plots and strengthen up the show. Usually by the fourth or fifth episode, if a drama hasn’t found its bearings it sinks. Fortunately, the kinks in Revenge’s first season were worked out by episode four and it became compelling and addictive television by episode five. Sure, there are some preposterous moments, but because the characters remain interesting and because I actually started to care for even the most despicable ones, I kept watching. When the first season ended with an awesome cliffhanger, I laughed out loud and thought to myself, “I can’t wait for season two.” Sometimes it’s just fun to escape from life for an hour a week, to get caught up in intrigue. Like the best of Hitchcock’s films, Revenge provides sexiness, suspense, romance, some blondes, a romantic setting and bad people getting what’s coming to them. Good pulpy fun.