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A Juicy Nighttime Soap Opera Proves Money Can't Buy Happiness, But It Can Buy Revenge
on February 17, 2012
After the almost instant success of "Modern Family," ABC has struggled for a couple of seasons to find a suitable companion that could hold onto the ratings of its Wednesday night comedy line-up. In 2011, they struck gold in the most unlikely of places and made "Revenge" into one of the year's biggest new hits. Pulpy and over-the-top, this soap opera is structured as a neo-noir mystery set in the upscale environs of an elite Hamptons community. It owes a lot to the classic tales of excess that populated the airwaves in the eighties (Dallas, Dynasty, and the like) but updates traditional conventions in a fun and modern way. And "Revenge," while not exactly perfect, is just that--FUN. It is the TV equivalent of a good page-turning beach read, an unapologetic potboiler designed to provide escapism and adventure. With an attractive cast, gorgeous locales, stunning costumes and lush melodrama--the show proves the old adage that money can't buy happiness. But in this case, it just might buy revenge!
The first season has been structured around a complicated plot that ties a long distant crime to a young, seemingly amiable socialite (Emily Van Camp). Seeking to avenge her father's unjust persecution in the aforementioned atrocity, Van Camp arrives in town with unlimited wealth, surprising cunning, and a big score to settle. One of her primary targets is the local nobility, the Grayson clan. As the episodes progress, we see Van Camp ingratiate herself with the family, get involved with the heir apparent, and start to wreak havoc to those who participated in her father's downfall. As the backstory unfolds through flashbacks, we start to understand how the deeds of the past have irrevocably affected the Van Camp character and why her pursuit is so single-minded.
Primary Cast: Emily Van Camp makes an intriguing heroine. She is so inherently likable that it makes her acts of treachery all the more powerful and surprising. Madeleine Stowe, as the Grayson matriarch, is a pleasantly understated villain (blending the realness of Knot's Landing's Abby with the excess of Dynasty's Alexis). These are two great characters. I also love Gabriel Mann (hysterical as Van Camp's closest ally), Joshua Bowman (as the love interest/potential pawn), and Henry Czerny (underrated as the head of the Grayson clan). In addition, the show boasts a number of fun guest roles from William Devane to Ashton Holmes to Amber Valletta.
Peripheral Cast: Several supporting players struggle for real identity or integration into the primary action. As a former flame and local barkeep, Nick Wechsler (though likable) oftentimes seems like an afterthought who hangs out with whichever character will give him the most screen time. Ditto for Stowe's assistant played by Ashley Madekwe who seems not to have found a solid place in the big picture (when she becomes the media representative for the family in a high profile situation, it is particularly preposterous).
Story Structure: "Revenge" starts (at the beginning of the season) with the notion that one character will get his/her comeuppance in each episode. Though fun, this premise wears thin fairly quickly. Fortunately, the writers soon addressed this element and focused more on the on-going story threads which make the show so juicy. So very quickly, a show with promise turns into one that is quite good.
Young Love: In grand soap tradition, "Revenge" wants to offer up a modern Romeo and Juliet tale by having the Grayson daughter (Christa B. Allen) get involved with a poor local boy (Wechler's brother played by Connor Paolo). I'm sorry, but when these two take center stage (Paolo is especially irritating), the show all but grinds to a halt. Maybe it is just because everything else is so good, this weak coupling sticks out like a sore thumb.
In summary, if you have been missing your nighttime soap operas, "Revenge" should easily fill that void. It's a well made show with one of the year's strongest ensemble casts. It doesn't aim for grittiness or realism, but excess and escapism. With the first season structured so specifically, though, one wonders how the creators will keep moving the plot lines forward as the central mystery comes to a close. What happens when "Revenge" has been enacted? We'll have to wait and see, but I'm certainly along for the ride. KGHarris, 2/12.
Bonus material: The 5 DVD, 22 episode set includes "Nolan's World: An Interview With The Infamous Nolan Ross"; "Lifestyles Of The Rich And Dangerous: The Making Of REVENGE"; "Hamptons Bound: Preparing For Life At The Shore"; Deleted Scenes, Bloopers, and more.