September 21, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Disclaimer:  Network pilots now in circulation are not necessarily in the form that will air in the Fall.  Pilots are often reedited and rescored, and in some cases even recast or reshot.  So these critiques shouldn’t be taken as full reviews, but rather as a guide to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.
REVENGE –  Wednesday 10PM on ABC:  If Nothing Else Is On…

Soap operas are a staple of primetime TV, and in recent years especially on ABC.  More often than not, though, they tend to come either encrusted with silliness and self-mockery (Desperate Housewives, Dirty Sexy Money, Big Shots) or mixed with other genres (the Shonda Rhimes medical shows, The Gates, Rookie Blue).  There haven’t been all that many all-out, unapologetic examples of the genre lately; but the network’s new series REVENGE wears its suds proudly and with some potential.  


ABC probably won’t be mentioning “The Count of Monte Cristo” much in its Revenge promos, but that’s the acknowledged inspiration.  Emily (Emily VanCamp) is a mysterious, wealthy, beautiful young woman who’s arrived in the Hamptons to win the heart of the local prince (Daniel, played by Josh Bowman), son of the town’s matriarch Victoria (Madeline Stowe).  Through the course of the pilot, we learn that Emily was once Amanda, daughter of a trusted employee of Victoria and her husband Conrad (Henry Czerny) who was framed by them, his life ruined to keep Victoria and Conrad out of jail.  Emily/Amanda’s real mission is to destroy them all.  Naturally, there are other complications, like the one person in town who knows who Emily really is (Gabriel Mann), and the boy young Amanda loved, now a man Emily should avoid (Nick Wechsler). 
A show like this is trickier than it looks, treading a fine line between twisty drama and arch self-parody (when Victoria herself wants revenge on someone, she has them buy a Van Gogh rather than a Monet).  Writer Mike Kelley has an uneven record, with the underrated (and virtually unseen) Swingtown to his credit, but also the almost unwatchable The Beautiful Life.  He keeps his narrative balls in the air smoothly enough in the Revenge pilot, establishing a lot of basic relationships and conflicts, although a flash-forward prologue is awkward–it provides a big bang for the pre-title sequence, but probably won’t be picked up again for many episodes, if not the entire season. 
The polished look and style are in part attributable to pilot director Philip Noyce, whose films include Salt and Clear and Present Danger, as well as the excellent Showtime series Brotherhood.  Noyce and Kelley have also cast the leads well.  VanCamp was one of the most engaging presences on ABC’s Brothers & Sisters, and she handily conveys Emily/Amanda’s mix of steel and vulnerability, while Stowe, who hasn’t been seen often enough in recent years, makes a formidable adversary.  (The men in the show seem more interchangeable, although Czerny is a strong actor who’ll no doubt get the best out of what the material gives him.)  At least in the pilot–beware of series episodes with lower budgets–the production values are suitably top-notch for the swank millieu.
Revenge has an interesting spot on ABC’s fall schedule.  Mitch Metcalf’s Wednesday projection has it in 3rd place in its timeslot, but if it catches on, there’s potential for more.  It follows the network’s Modern Family/Happy Endings hour, and its competition consists of the original CSI and the last remaining Law & Order, two geriatric shows that have both just lost their leading men; Revenge should at least nab a chunk of the women.  (It’s not what you’d call a “guy’s show,” although Emily VanCamp isn’t exactly hard on the eyes.)  If the series can manage to tell compelling stories without lurching into cliche–well, the TV version of that old adage is that winning your timeslot is the best… you know.  

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."