Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pilot Review: Revenge

Revenge (Wednesdays at 10:00 on ABC)

The more I think about the pilot for ABC's Revenge, the more I like it. In a season of lackluster dramas, Revenge stands out among the pack as something undeniably fun and gleefully entertaining.

Revenge opens with the murder of a wealthy socialite in the Hamptons right around Labor Day, at his own engagement party no less. Five months earlier we meet Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp), the single-at-the-time bride-to-be, as she rents a house next door to Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe), the queen of the Hamptons social scene. We are gradually introduced to Emily through flashbacks of her as a child staying in this very house with her father (James Tupper). Her father was framed for a hideous crime he did not commit, and the entire thing was set into motion by his employer, Victoria's husband Conrad (Henry Czerny), and the other employees who were trying to cover their own asses. Now Emily is back in the Hamptons, following her father's death while imprisoned, to exact her revenge on those who took her from her father nearly two decades ago.

If you aren't a fan of soaps, then you won't be attracted to Revenge. It's definitely got a hint of camp beneath it all, but it's done in such a way that it doesn't feel cheesy. Seeing all of these insanely wealthy people (including Emily, after she receives an inheritance from her father) acting like their lives have meaning is pathetic, so seeing them get their comeuppance gives the viewer a guilty pleasure feeling of satisfaction. The characters and plot are already very well structured, creating a web of connections and memories and relationships.

At the center of this complicated web is Emily Thorne, formerly Amanda Clarke. She's a total mystery, one intriguing enough to get viewers tuning in repeatedly. We learn a lot about her past and her motives in the pilot, but there are subtle clues throughout the hour hinting at some deeper and darker secrets yet to be revealed. She is played perfectly by Emily VanCamp with just the right balance of innocence and iciness. Right alongside Emily is queen bee Victoria Grayson, played deliciously by Madeleine Stowe. She's haughty and stereotypically bitchy, but there are moments when she becomes downright frightening and others when she's surprisingly vulnerable. Both women have an impressive balance of conflicting emotions to play, and they both handle them wonderfully. The remainder of the large ensemble cast is universally good, not a weak performance among the bunch.

Whereas the type of show Revenge is can easily come across as shlocky and campy, it's actually one of the smarter and more intriguing pilots of the season (and of the past few seasons). I'm definitely rooting for its success and hoping it will continue to be as intelligent and fun as this first episode was.

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