September 29, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and production of episodes for the regular season:  a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover in the off-season) give plenty of notes, both helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads.  The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting and even story.  Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular episodes of this year’s new series as well.

Previously… on REVENGE:  15 years ago, when Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) was a little girl named Amanda Clarke, her father was ruined and sent to prison for treason, framed by his employer Conrad Grayson (Henry Czerny) and Conrad’s wife Victoria (Madeline Stowe)–who was also Amanda’s father’s lover.  Her dad somehow managed to assemble a fortune for her behind bars, and now with her new identity, she’s come to the Hamptons to destroy the Graysons and everyone else instrumental in her father’s fate.  Her plot involves romancing the Grayson’s son Daniel (Joshua Bowman), who we know from the opening flash-forward will be shot (but by whom?) at their engagement party.  In all of this, she has the slightly creepy help of Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann), an outcast tycoon who owes his fortune to Emily/Amanda’s dad. and who insists on being her Renfield  Meanwhile, luckily for Emily, Jack Porter (Nick Wechsler), the townie who was her closest pal as a child and who’s now a hunky bar- and boat-owner, is attracted to her but doesn’t remember who she really is–at least for now.

Episode 2:  In a recent interview, creator Mike Kelley explained a key point about Revenge, which is that the current storyline involving Emily’s plot against the Graysons will not be the entire series, but will take up the show’s first 13 episodes only.  After that, the series will shift into different interlocking arcs of revenge involving other characters from the central story.  This is probably smart, as it would have been pushing things to have Emily scheming for years against the same people, never discovered for who she actually is–but it also leaves open how the series will work when it essentially changes protagonists every few months.

For now, we’re firmly in the Emily/Amanda story, and the second series episode, written by Kelley and Joe Fazzio, and directed by pilot director Philip Noyce, smoothly continues the swanky, soapy tone of the pilot.  Last time around, Emily ruined her father’s former secretary; this time her target is his former colleague and friend, now a prominent investment adviser.  The weakest part of the episode is the plotting of her trap to bankrupt him, a ridiculously easy combination of a well-placed public hug to Nolan, the target’s instant investment of $2 billion based on that hug, and a top-secret security system with a password that can be read over someone’s shoulder.  Since it seems like the “procedural” part of Revenge will have her ruining one person per episode, those stories are likely to be the least convincing, since there won’t be any time to develop them.

More successful are the continuing stories, notably Victoria’s growing suspicion of Emily and Emily’s careful courting of Daniel.  It’s also interesting to try and figure out just what part Nolan is going to play in all this, since for now he seems like a cross between Jay Gatsby and American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman.  What really makes the show work, though, is the high style of the proceedings–the first regular episode, despite what must have been a considerably lower budget than the pilot, still looks great–and strong acting, especially by VanCamp and Stowe.  (It’s a limitation, though, that the strictures of the plot mean Emily has no one to confide in, meaning that VanCamp can only stare pensively past the camera for several scenes per episode.)

Revenge is, so far, a pleasantly dumb entertainment that takes itself just seriously enough, and moves too swiftly to leave time for many questions.   (Ringer could learn something from its pacing.)  It had a good start in the ratings last week, and so far it’s delivering on the luxurious suds it promised.

Original Verdict:  If Nothing Else Is On…
Pilot + 1:  The Pleasures Are Guilty, But They’re Still Pleasures

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."