January 8, 2013



DECEPTION:  Monday 10PM on NBC – Change the Channel

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:  a beautiful young woman returns to the Long Island estate of the family she knew when she was growing up, becoming involved with their intrigues as she hides her true identity, unfinished business on her mind.  Now, there’s nothing at all wrong with a TV series being influenced by–or even frankly ripping off–a forebear; the sheer churn of material needed in a given television season almost guarantees that some shows will be produced because of their similarity to other hits, and where would The Shield have been without NYPD Blue, or Parks & Recreation without The Office, to name just two?  But the trick is to poach the right elements and add some inspiration of your own, and NBC’s new DECEPTION picks at Revenge with a misplaced earnestness that results in a very dreary soap.

The pilot, written by series creator Liz Heldens and directed by Peter Horton, introduces us to our heroine Joanna Locasto (Meagan Good).  Far from a Emily Thorn/Amanda Clarke vengeance-minded dynamo, Joanna is instead a dedicated NYPD detective whose heart is in the right place.  (She’s coping with a mom who has Alzheimer’s.)  Rather than enthusiastically pushing herself into the lives of the super-rich family she knew as a teen because her mother was their maid, Joanna has to be talked into going undercover by superior (and once and future boyfriend, naturally) Will Moreno (Laz Alonso), and it’s for an admirable, if far-fetched, purpose:  Joanna’s childhood friend Vivian Bowers (Bree Williamson), older daughter of the Bowers clan, has been found dead, apparently a victim of an overdose but with some indications of foul play, and Joanna is determined to solve her murder.  In order to ingratiate herself with the Bowers, she’ll pretend to be out of work and in need of a place to stay.

Revenge has been falling apart this season because it’s been pushing its tenuous premise beyond the nonsensical, but for a while it was great fun, a go-for-broke melodrama where everyone was strongly drawn and colorfully over the top.  Deception, in contrast, features characters who are aggressively cardboard:  family scion Robert (Victor Garber) and his second wife Sophia (Katharine LaNasa), his older son Edward (Tate Donovzn), who may or may not have a murder in his past, and Edward’s wife Samantha (Marin Hinkle), hunky bad boy brother Julian (Wes Brown), with whom Joanna has a past, and Mia (Ella Mae Peck), raised as Vivian’s young sister but whom Joanna discovers by the end of the pilot is actually Vivian’s child.  Everyone is bitchy and suspicious and hiding something (the Bowers are also suspected of stock manipulations, among other things), presumably to be uncovered by Joanna.

Paradoxically, by trying to tell a Revenge-ish story with less crazy exaggeration, Deception comes off as even more unbelievable.  (The secret of Revenge, when it works, is not acknowledging reality at all.)   On a very basic level, since Joanna, unlike Emily/Amanda, isn’t a billionairess with unlimited money to cover her tracks, the fact that no one checks into her background, even when Robert is offering to make her his assistant, strains credulity.  So does the fact that no one notices the panel truck parked perpetually on the estate grounds because Joanna is usually wearing a wire.  The more serious problem, though, is that there’s no one on the show as charismatic as Madeleine Stowe’s Victoria from Revenge, or on the other hand as believable as Connie Britton’s Rayna on Nashville.  Even such fine actors as Garber and Donovan seem barely interested in their dialogue, and since Joanna’s only internal conflict is whether she should fall back into bed with Julian, there’s not much Good can do with her.  (The show might have profitably dug into the racial aspect of the characters, since Joanna is African-American and the Bowers are very white, but that seems to be a subject that dare not speak its name so far.)

Even though plenty happens during the first hour of Deception, including another ridiculous murder, the pilot feels slack and repetitious because there’s no engine to keep it revved up other than the very familiar murder mystery, one whose solution we hardly care about since all the family members seem equally odious.  The show is going to have to come up with some involving complications during the remainder of its 11-episode run (it ends in time for Revolution to return in late March) if it’s to keep us engaged.

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."