Have you ever tuned in to a soap opera and started resenting the characters for wasting their vast wealth and whining incessantly about the woes of not keeping it in your pants? Have you ever considered how many jobs are lost every time one of these entitled egotists makes a corporate power play to spite a former lover or rival family and thought to yourself, “God, I wish someone would bitch slap those twerps into oblivion”? If so, ABC’s Revenge was tailor-made for you.
Inspired by Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel The Count of Monte Cristo, the cheeky drama stars Emily VanCamp as Emily Thorne, a mysterious young woman who comes to the Hamptons and inserts herself into the lives of pampered socialites with the intent of destroying their circle. As the pilot progresses, we learn that her real name is Amanda Clarke and that her primary targets, the Graysons, framed her father (James Tupper), linking him to a 9/11-like terrorist attack. If that last bit strikes you as utterly tasteless, congratulations, you have a soul.
Still, I’m going to defend creator Mike Kelley’s bemusing decision, albeit halfheartedly. First, it’s worth noting that the plot element relates to the real-life tragedy only in a tangential manner. It doesn’t capitalise on the lives lost that day but on the way a rich and powerful elite manipulated a climate of fear for financial gain. This provides an opportunity for pointed social satire, and, if that’s where the series is headed, all will be forgiven.
Second, for us to approve of Emily, the writers needed to provide her with a wrong that couldn’t be righted, something outrageously despicable that could be summed up every week in just a flashback or two. This fits the bill. It’s not just that Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) and Conrad (Henry Czerny) orphaned a ten-year-old girl and made her think her father was responsible for one of the most monstrous acts to reach American soil. One also has to assume David Clarke spent the rest of his days tortured in Guantanamo Bay, unable to get a fair trial. Again, we’ve got potential for political commentary.
For now, though, Revenge is more focused on setting up its high concept, playing like a twisted soap opera with the promise of unadulterated vindication. The ridiculously large cast feels straight out of Dynasty, what with the mannered speeches, forced smiles, and trashy motivations. There’s a clumsy attempt to legitimise the proceedings with dramatic voiceover, but the whole thing comes off like some goth kid trying a little too hard to impress the rebels in the back of the class. Let’s hope the writers tone down the cheeseball introspection next week.
The show also adopts a bit of an “eat the rich” mentality, which, coming from wealthy television producers, tends to grate on me. However, the characters hint at just enough depth to make us think Emily’s actions might come to haunt her over time. Consider the Graysons’ eldest, Daniel (Joshua Bowman), who, recovering from addiction, expresses regret for his past behaviour. We don’t know yet what he’s done to irk our anti-heroine, but he seems sincere in his desire to turn a new leaf.
Luckily for him, Emily is commensurate in her vengeance, nudging her prey in the right direction and letting their sinful natures take care of the rest. For example, Lydia (Amber Valletta), whose main offense was to gossip on the news, merely gets kicked out of town, a punishment decided by Victoria after finding out the woman slept with her husband. How Emily gets everyone to this point proves ingenious, and I look forward to further machinations as Revenge raises the stakes. After all, we know from the opening scene someone eventually gets shot. Juicy.