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What's New on TV: Revenge

Written By: Les Talma

October 4th, 2011

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“Revenge”

Format: 1 Hour Drama

Airdate: ABC at 10:00pm Wednesday

Premieres: 9/21/2011

Starring: Emily VanCamp as "Emily Thorne / Amanda" - Medeleine Stowe as "Victoria Grayson"

The Premise: Amanda creates herself a new identity, called Emily, when she returns to the Hamptons to get revenge on those responsible for destroying her father.

The Hook: Pretty girl, cold heart and the promise of absolute vengeance in the posh Hamptons. (With occasional beach scenes)

Basic Reaction: Seemed cliché and slow at first, but really picked up with the introduction of Madeleine Stowe’s shrewd villainess, Victoria.

Once Emily meets Victoria, the show finds its emotional momentum. It feels like everything clicks into place to build toward an epic showdown between "angry princess" Emily and Victoria, the “Evil Queen of the Hamptons”. They’ll likely be the last ones standing after all others have been eliminated from the game board.

The Break-Down: Amanda was just a little girl when her father was set up by his friends and business partners for a crime of treason. She returns to the Hamptons as a young woman, and with the new identity of ‘Emily Thorne”. No one recognizes her, except for an eccentric software entrepreneur that was loyal to her Dad and the dog of her best friend from childhood.  

Each episode shows Emily taking her revenge by eliminating one person that was responsible for betraying her father. She doesn’t kill them; instead she destroys their financial and social standing. She takes away what they gained from sacrificing her father. She’s very good at observing her targets, noting their weaknesses, and finding ways to trap them into causing their own downfalls. The trick is to not let anyone know that she was responsible. She has to be invisible with her vengeance. It’s like a chess game where she must be able to plan many steps ahead, and a poker game where she must keep up the perfect fake-smile mask while figuring out everyone else’s “tells”.

But while Emily carries out her plan, her Amanda persona has to be suppressed. Amanda is Emily’s compassion, which in turn becomes her weakness. But, it’s Amanda’s heartbreak and rage over what happened to her Dad that gives Emily her unflinching determination. It’s an interesting interplay.

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The Approach: The structure of “Revenge” reminds me of two shows: “Wiseguy” and “Profit”.

 In “Wiseguy”, FBI agent, Vinnie Terranova, created a fake identity so he could go undercover and destroy mob families from within. Each episode had him getting in good and close with the boss, while he gained enough intel to take down the organization. The suspense came from the threat of his cover being blown, while tension arose from wondering how far he was willing to go to protect his secret and complete his mission.  He had to become the enemy in order to destroy it. But he was torn by how attached he got to some of the targets that he knew would either be killed or imprisoned as a result of what he did. But he soldiered on because he had a “Donnie Brasco” sense of duty.

But with Emily, it’s not a job, it’s an obsession. And she has no guilt in taking down her targets, only grim satisfaction. Which brings us to “Profit”…

“Profit” was about a corporate-ladder climbing, sociopath named Jim Profit who didn’t care about money.  Each episode showed him eliminating a human obstacle so that he could achieve higher positions of prestige in the company he worked for. At the end of each episode, he would mull over how he defeated that week’s target, in much the same way that Emily closes out “Revenge” episodes by x’ing out the picture of whatever target she just eliminated. She’s not crazy like Profit, but she definitely has the same single-minded, cold, dedication to achieving her goal.

Most of the people around her are just pawns to be played against each other.

Intriguing Bits:

- Apparently “Revenge” is supposed to be a reworking of Dumas’ revenge classic “The Count of Monte Cristo”. This was mentioned in some articles but not really included in the main promotion of the show. Still, it’s a very impressive source to base a primetime network show on. And so far, they seem to have done quite well with presenting the patient intricacy of the revenge plot.  

-The first episode starts with a flash-forward that shows a major character getting stabbed 5 months into the future. That approach always worked well in the show “Damages” where the unsettling glimpses into violent, future episodes made more sense as the season progressed. But here the future-reveal seemed to border on giving away major plot points instead of creating a sense of dread. Yet, all might not be as it appears. And, it certainly establishes how high the stakes will get.

-What really intrigues me is how the show has two villains. Emily is intentionally planning to destroy people’s lives by turning those responsible for her father’s destruction against each other. And Victoria will do anything to keep her domineering hold on the posh exclusive area of the Hamptons. It’ll be interesting to see these two unyielding and manipulative forces clash.

Cool Parts:

-How Victoria casually exiles someone from the entire Hamptons area during a fundraiser party.

-How Emily smoothly switches back and forth from perfect Hamptons girl-next- door, sunny politeness to stone-faced, covert, manipulator.

-How the last few moments of the episode reveal the secret way Emily was able to facilitate the destruction of that week’s target.

-How Jack, Amanda’s childhood sweetheart/best friend, is Emily’s kryptonite.

-How Jack doesn’t recognize Amanda, but his dog does.

Not So Cool Parts:

-How everything involving Jack and his family’s financial troubles with the tavern they own, just seems to stop the action dead.

-Sometimes the show seems to verge on night-time, soap-opera territory.

Trivia: Guess what? This is not the first revenge gig for Madeleine Stowe. She also starred in the 1990 film “Revenge” with Kevin Costner. But this time, she won’t allow herself to be the victim…

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Summing Up: It’s worth checking out for a few more episodes. Sure, it could turn into frothy, CW style melodrama. But it could also turn into something rather intriguing that replicates the covert, slow-building intensity of “Wiseguy” and the coldly-calculating, character subtraction of “Profit”.

Hard to say which way it’ll go. ABC usually has the best luck with dramas that involve police officers, doctors and desperate housewives. When they deviate from that formula and try something different like “Happy Town” or “Invasion”, it doesn’t usually work out quite as well. But then again, they once did really well with a show called “Twin Peaks” years and years ago.  So we’ll see…

What It’s Up Against: Well, it’s up against “Law and Order: SVU” and the original CSI. Starting on Oct. 5, it’ll be opposite “American Horror Story” on FX, which has a lot of buzz around it. All are pretty dark shows so it’ll be quite the battle to get the viewers that like intense dramas. SVU has quite the following, but major cast changes have occurred since its lead actor, Chris Meloni left the show. That may cause a loss in lots of viewers. CSI also has cast changes, but the addition of Ted Danson as the lead examiner has certainly got the attention of “Cheers” and “Damages” fans.

Bottom Line: “Revenge” has the potential to be something deliciously dark and dangerous. But stretching out the vengeance angle week after week can get a bit boring if the character interaction isn’t riveting. It’s still too hard to tell if it’ll lean towards soap opera melodrama or towards cold and calculating “Profit” mechanics. Right now it feels like the melding of a CW glossy drama with a twisted Fox anti-hero drama. Maybe that’s the intention. But it still hasn’t truly shined. I’m curious to see how far it’s willing to go. But I’m even more curious about FX’s “American Horror Story.”