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'Revenge' on ABC Is Sweet: Let Us Count the Ways

Date November 09, 2011
'Revenge' on ABC Is Sweet: Let Us Count the Ways The first thing you need to know about 'Revenge' is that it's a verb.

Emily Thorne is in the Hamptons, stirring up trouble by REVENGING all over the place. She is REVENGING her dead father, who died after taking the fall for a bunch of venal rich people who committed a crime. Such infamy must be REVENGED. (Oh, that's another thing -- when you

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'Revenge' on ABC Is Sweet: Let Us Count the Ways The first thing you need to know about 'Revenge' is that it's a verb.

Emily Thorne is in the Hamptons, stirring up trouble by REVENGING all over the place. She is REVENGING her dead father, who died after taking the fall for a bunch of venal rich people who committed a crime. Such infamy must be REVENGED. (Oh, that's another thing -- when you speak of the ABC drama, your tone of voice should indicate that you're speaking in ALL CAPS.)

What else do you need to know about 'Revenge'? Well, I found it a bit stiff and forced when it began -- as I said in my original review -- but I've grown increasingly addicted to it, and last week's episode was the most satisfying and entertaining festival of REVENGING yet. By fine-tuning its tone and its cheeky, brisk approach to the prime-time soap genre, it's become the guilty pleasure I always wanted it to be.

But if you're not up to speed on the show, the following guide should fill you in on what you need to know about Emily's busy schedule of REVENGING.

The basics: Emily Thorne, naturally, is not our heroine's real name. The former Amanda Clarke swapped identities with a dicey young woman who turned up at the end of last week's episode after murdering someone on Emily's behalf. Emily (and we'll call the show's lead character by that name to avoid confusion) met this other young woman (who's played by Margarita Levieva) in juvie years ago, and in the Nov. 16 episode of the show, we'll see flashbacks that shed light on their complicated bond.

'Revenge' on ABC Is Sweet: Let Us Count the Ways In the present day, ever since Emily bought a lovely little cottage in the Hamptons, she's begun to fall for Daniel, the scion of the wealthy Grayson clan, who own the mega-mansion next door. The affair began as a ploy to get closer to matriarch Victoria Grayson, but now Emily has real feelings for the guy, but she also cares for non-rich bar owner Jack, with whom (unbeknownst to him) she shares a childhood bond.

But is love the main thing on Emily's mind? No! REVENGE is, of course! She's done her utmost to make Victoria and Conrad Grayson, who ensured that Emily's dad went to the slammer for a crime they committed, pay for what they've done (and their lackeys, retainers and gardeners will probably all end up paying as well). Nobody except Emily's good friend Nolan knows who Emily really is and what her plan is, but could her constantly evolving plans for vengeance have unintended consequences for her? Frequently! That's the whole point!

After all, the opening scene of the show's first episode (which was set five months after Emily's arrival) appeared to show Daniel Grayson* lying on the beach near at Emily and Daniel's engagement party, after being shot three times. Dun-DUN-dun! Shall Daniel be REVENGED? We'll have to keep tuning in to see.

Note: It's worth acknowledging that, although several characters in that crucial scene assume that it's Daniel who has been shot and left for dead on the beach, the face of the shooting victim is never shown to the audience. Hmmmm.... I'll ask my fellow 'Revenge' fans to weigh in on whether they think hunky Daniel really is the guy who was shot (or if you think he was, chime in if you think he'll make a miraculous recovery).

By the way, you should have plenty of time to catch up on the show, should this piece pique your interest. 'Revenge' isn't on this week (grr, the Country Music Awards replaces ABC's strong Wednesday lineup, which is great if you're a fan of Carrie Underwood but not so great if you're a fan of backstabbing rich people and 'Happy Endings'). But never fear, it returns next week and before then, you can watch the first seven episodes on Hulu.

If you don't have time for that much REVENGING, here are some of the Hamptons high points, and a few low points. By the way, if you're already a fan of the show, feel free to jump into the discussion in comments and add your thoughts about what's working (or not working) about the show.

The bottom line is, if you were wavering about the show at the start (as I was), now's the time to jump in. It's not rocket science, but it's been a while since an old-fashioned prime-time soap was this much juicy fun.

All right, without further ado, here are...

The Five Most Awesome Things about 'Revenge'

Emily VanCamp as Emily Thorne: VanCamp has been consistently terrific in the lead role, easily transitioning from steely social climber to confused young woman to secretive, self-possessed plotter. By not straying too far into either camp or earnestness, VanCamp has made Ms. Thorne's quest not only the rock-solid center of what could have been a silly morass, and she's made Emily more interesting than the character almost has a right to be.

'Revenge' on ABC Is Sweet: Let Us Count the WaysGabriel Mann as Nolan Ross: Emily's pal Nolan has really come into his own in recent weeks; he's the friskiest character on the show and Mann plays him with a perfect blend of petulance, neediness, wit and intelligence. Having made a tech fortune, Nolan has the downtime to help Emily with her quest, though recently, his successful attempt to spy on one of Victoria's ex-pals made him privy to a disturbing scene of violence that left the unfortunate woman in a coma. Even he got a little spooked. But perhaps the best thing about the Nolan story line is that last week, his solo REVENGING helped turn one of the show's most annoying characters -- Daniel's Harvard pal Tyler (Ashton Holmes) -- into one of the most interesting. Nolan figured out that the scheming Tyler is your basic bisexual Hamptons gigolo, a crafty one with a restraining order in his past. The sexy scene in which Nolan confronted Tyler was a treat: Let's have more quality time with those two connivers, please!

'Revenge' on ABC Is Sweet: Let Us Count the WaysMadeleine Stowe as "Queen Victoria": Some have wildly praised Stowe's performance from the start, but I'm not in that super-fan camp, though I've found her performance perfectly acceptable and strangely enjoyable at times. Still, Stowe never fails to make the head of the Hamptons socialite brigade icily interesting, mainly by having Miss Thing appear to be almost constantly on the verge of a diva meltdown. There've been a few attempts to imply that Victoria was secretly in love with Amanda's ill-fated father, but I'm more interested in seeing Queen Vic throw shade at her alleged "friends" at fancy cocktail parties. Let's face it, if Victoria's stony smile doesn't fill you with pleasurable fear, this may not be the show for you.

The show's solid guest stars: Max Martini, late of 'The Unit,' has been a welcome addition as a spurned security consultant who did dirty work for Conrad (until the real Emily Thorne offed him last week), and C.C.H. Pounder has a recurring (if too small) role as the head of the juvenile institution where Emily and Amanda did some time. And even if I thought Tyler was written to be too smarmy and scheming in his early appearances, I still have enjoyed Ashton Holmes' slippery take on the role, especially as we've gotten to know Tyler's devious side even better.

The show's move away from the REVENGING-of-the-week: I was a bit put off by 'Revenge' at first because it appeared, in the early going, to have a predictable format -- Emily finds a target and quickly and efficiently REVENGES that person (i.e., ruins their life, makes them pay, yada yada). That didn't seem all that promising to me, but the show has wisely realized that it needs to mix it up when it comes to REVENGING -- and it's also fruitful to have plans backfire and have unexpected complications emerge. REVENGE may be sweet but it rarely goes as planned, and the show is better for acknowledging that and weaving together various stories of vengeance and aspiration.

And a Few Things That Could Be Improved

Those terrible green-screens: Like the alien-invasion drama 'V,' 'Revenge' is another ABC drama that has fake backgrounds that look laughable in some scenes. What's shot on location looks fine, but there are a number of scenes that are clearly shot on soundstages -- and look it. Come on, ABC. This is a show set among the mega-wealthy. Spend the dough to make the outdoor settings look real, not like something from a Syfy Saturday night movie.

The not-great guest stars: It's nice that Amber Valletta wants to transition from modeling to acting, but she has no range, she's stiff and her scenes as Victoria's friend Lydia are usually painfully lacking in nuance.

The voiceovers: Do we really need Emily musing philosophically on the soundtrack about her REVENGING adventures? Not really. Those bits of narration generally feel overwritten and extraneous.

The male supporting characters: So far, Daniel (Joshua Bowman) and Jack (Nick Wechsler), the two guys that Emily is torn between*, come across as likable, good-looking guys, but if I'm being honest, the characters are a bit bland. I know this is never going to be a show that focuses on character depth, but I'd love it if a bit more complexity was added to their personalities. Same goes for Victoria's husband, Conrad (Henry Czerny), and Jack's younger brother, live-wire Declan (Connor Paolo). They all get the occasional moment to shine, but so far Nolan and Tyler's machinations are leaving the rest of the dudes in the dust.

Note: An unscientific Twitter poll had Team Jack pulling ahead of Team Daniel in the "Who should romance Emily" sweepstakes, though both guys had their strong advocates. And I don't think these Twitter respondents were advocating romance, but there were also several votes for Team Victoria and -- one of my favorite responses -- Team Immortal Dog. (What is the age of Jack's dog, Sammy, who appears to remember young Amanda Clarke? That may be the biggest question of 'Revenge,' come to think of it).

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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