There are few programs on network television right now as deeply involving and intricate as ABC's rookie drama Revenge. Actually, it doesn't do it justice to call it a drama. Certainly doesn't do it justice to call it a primetime soap opera. It's a chilling, thrilling series full of twists, turns and bottomless pits. Just when you figure out the answers, they change the questions. There isn't another show like it on network television, maybe not even pay cable.
Here's the story in a nutshell (it doesn't deserve a nutshell summary, but I'll do my best): Amanda Clarke's father was taken from her when she was only a young girl, incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. As she grows older, after spending time in juvenile detention, she finds out her father is dead, his innocence never to be proven, his life never to be avenged. Until she assumes the role of Emily Thorne, moves to the Hamptons and vows to destroy The Graysons, namely Victoria Grayson, and those responsible for her father's wrongful imprisonment.
To say that fully describes the show would be wrong. There are layers upon layers upon layers to the show, constantly peeled back and revealed in each episode. I've never seen a series progress at such a breakneck speed. Looking at the latest episode of the series from late February and remembering back to the pilot episode, and seeing how different the show is in such a small timespan is staggering. Other shows would take years to move that far, but Revenge is different. Revenge doesn't concern itself with tomorrow. It's all about now.
Of course, we all know it'll come back to haunt itself later on in the series' run, when they start running out of fresh ideas. It's unfortunate, but you know it's true. If it can keep up this level of excitement and intensity for a few seasons would be a miracle. But that's why it's important to enjoy it now.
Before the series started, Madeleine Stowe received all the pilot buzz for playing the ice-cold queen of the Hamptons, Victoria Grayson. There is such a distance in her portrayal as victoria, you can actually feel the daggers going deep into the skin with each barb she fires, either subtly or bluntly. She is terrific in her role, shifting between the conniving wife and the emotionally damaged former flame of David Clarke (Amanda/Emily's wrongfully imprisoned father, adding another layer to the already complicated story).
But enough cannot be said for Emily VanCamp's portrayal of Emily/Amanda. With one look, she can come across as equally sweet and steely-eyed. You're never certain if she's working for or against the person she's with at the time. Perhaps she doesn't even know. Emily's closest allies (Nolan Ross, in particular) could be every bit an enemy to her as a friend, even if she doesn't know it yet. But VanCamp is perfection as Emily Thorne/Amanda Clarke. She deserves every bit of praise as Stowe, if not more.
And of course, despite the obvious tensions between Emily and Victoria (heck, the basis of the show revolves around them), the supporting characters are equally as fun to watch, full of various dimensions and layers. The men in particular are much more well-written than the average show targetted to a young audience. Over on Gossip Girl (a show that was at one time as guilty as a pleasure can get), Chace Crawford plays Nate Archibald with so little conviction, you can almost see the reflection of cue cards in his eyes. Here, Emily's beau Daniel (Victoria's son, and presumed dead man in the pilot) is more than just the pretty boy heir to the Grayson empire. He's smart, he knows he must choose what's best for everyone and not just for himself (unlike his father, played by Henry Czerny, who is more concerned with doing what's best for himself).
Then there's Amanda's childhood love, Jack Porter, a young boy she met lifetimes ago and reunites with years later. Except this time, she's Emily and can't tell him the truth just yet. He's the resident tough guy on the show, taking care of little brother Declan (played by Connor Paolo, a far cry from his role as Eric on Gossip Girl), and even being taken care of by his bro. But unlike the tough guys from other stories, he's not really brooding and mysterious. He looks and feels like a real person, not some television caricature.
And of course there's Nolan Ross, the millionaire that is the only true confidante to Emily Thorne, knowing all her secrets and lies and helping her as best as he can, even when his morals, limited as they are, tell him otherwise.
On the flip side of things, there's Victoria's daughter, Charlotte, love interest to Declan Porter. She might be the typical teenage character, but she's flawed and in need of a real parent in her life, true of many teens. She occasionally sees Emily as a big sister, which is ironic considering it was revealed episodes ago that her true father is David Clarke, Emily/Amanda's wrongfully imprisoned dad.
Also in the picture is the real Emily Thorne (Margarita Levieva), a girl Amanda met in juvi that allows her the name Emily Thorne, which has forced her to become the long-lost Amanda Clarke in the lives of Jack Porter and The Graysons. She's got a sweet, sexy side that ends up seducing Jack, while also playing an extremely volatile and often-times troublesome character, causing trouble for Emily as she tries to keep the real Emily in check. Her whereabouts are unknown after being taken by Satoshi Takeda, the man who trained Amanda Clarke in her quest for revenge.
It's hard to even say that properly describes the key characters of the show. There's also Warden Sharon Stiles (CCH Pounder), Emily's former juvi warden who still keeps in touch with her. There's scheming Tyler, the first true villain of the series that met his end after a run-in with Daniel on the beach during Daniel's engagement party (filling in the blanks opened by the pilot episode). There's Lydia (Amber Valletta), Victoria's best friend, David Clarke's former secretary, Conrad's (Henry Czerny) mistress and Emily's first target for revenge.
The show could have kept those pilot episode secrets hidden until at least the end of the season, bringing everything full circle. Instead, the 14th episode took us back to that fateful night when we thought Daniel bit the dust on the beach. Instead, Tyler took three bullets (the first from Daniel, the killers from Satoshi Takeda), while Daniel is jailed for Tyler's murder. Unlikely alliances have been forged in the wake of these events.
The center of the show remains Amanda/Emily against Victoria Grayson. Even when it seemed like the tenuous relationship may become more friendly, Victoria revealed her true nature as a woman with a conflicted past who wants to protect herself and her children by lying about David Clarke to Daniel, concocting a story that Amanda's father had raped her, rather than reveal their love affairs. That only served to reignite the flame of vengeance in Amanda/Emily's soul.
Enough cannot be said for how addicting Revenge can be. It's smart, sexy, juicy television. For every twist, there's a turn. For every obvious answer, there's a new question. For every moment to catch your breath, there's another moment that leaves you breathless. Have I overhyped Revenge? Judge for yourself. The first of six all new episodes airs tonight on ABC.
-Mindy Kaling is stepping out from The Office and is taking a few friends with her. An untitled FOX comedy about a young doctor navigating her personal and professional lives will find Kaling joined by Office co-star Ed Helms, as well as SNL's Bill Hader and Richard Schiff. If anyone is worthy of their own creation, it's Kaling.
-NBC hopes to shed its horrid ratings with Bad Girls, a drama following a group of unlikely women at a federal correctional institute. The pilot stars Amy Smart and Jaime Pressly, and is created by former South Park scribe Nancy Pimental.
-ABC's plans to expand on its blue collar comedy of Last Man Standing with new series Counter Culture about the Wagon Wheel Diner in Waverly, Texas (haha, get the name now?) . I can smell the Republican agenda a mile away! The series stars Delta Burke, Doris Roberts, Margo Martindale and Luis Guzman, a literal Who's Who of Where Are They Nows? It sounds like a throwback to the 80s in television, but the difference will likely be a lack of laughs.
That's all for this Revenge-centric edition. I plan to return this week with a new column on the pilots for a bunch of girl-centric shows, including Don't Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23, The Client List and Girls. I also plan to pay tribute to an icon in television, Dick Clark. RIP Dick, you will be missed.
Until then, stay tuned.