Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pilot Inspektor Tim: Revenge

The show: Revenge, Wednesdays on ABC

The premise in ten words or less? Woman plots revenge against the people who framed her father.

Any good? Revenge has absolutely no legitimate artistic merit of any kind, but I will say that it achieves a delirious "so bad it's good" trashiness that arguably exceeds any other prime time soap of recent years. This is the lurid garbage Ringer wishes it could be; part wealth fantasy, part pulpy revenge thriller, and populated by the prettiest of mannequins. This show is pure fucking cheese, and not some tepid Cheddar cheese; I'm talking the smelly French stuff. I laughed harder, louder, and more frequently at this pilot than I did at any of this month's new sitcoms.

The show is an incredibly loose adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo centering on Amanda Clarke, who was torn away from her beloved father at a young age when some rich Hamptonites framed him for funding terrorism (like, honest-to-god, blowing shit up, Al-Qaeda terrorism). He died in prison, convicted of treason, but unbeknownst to Amanda he had invested in a computer startup years earlier, and upon Amanda's eighteenth birthday she receives both word of her father's innocence and a 49% share in the now multi-billion dollar computer conglomerate. So Amanda changes her name to Emily Thorne and returns to the Hamptons, rich and enraged, to engineer the social, political, and / or financial downfall of the people who set her father up, one at a time.

Although the show seems to have a revenge-of-the-week structure (the pilot involves Emily exposing the affair of a woman who testified against her father and having her exiled from the Hamptons), there is a big bad in the form of Madeleine Stowe's Victoria Grayson, whom the pilot refers to multiple times as "Queen of the Hamptons." It remains to be seen whether Victoria's ultimate downfall will take place at the end of the season or the end of the series, but Stowe's presence is a relief, with her giving the show's only performance that isn't glassy-eyed, frigid, and lifeless.

A huge aspect of the show is the wealth fantasy – oh hey, look at Emily buying an expensive house on a whim, look at Emily buying a ticket to a $10,000-a-plate fundraiser like it was a candy bar, look at Emily's expensive clothes, etc., etc. – which I generally despise, but I'd say it's a bit less obnoxious here than on Entourage. The idle millionaire lifestyle is portrayed mostly as something decadent and villainous, a mask Emily has to wear out of necessity, as opposed to Entourage or Sex and the City where it's like "oh man, isn't being a rich piece of shit awesome?"

Really, the worst moments of the pilot are whenever it tries to achieve any sort of emotional poignancy – the flashbacks with young Amanda and her father, filled with dialogue like "I love you infinity times infinity," are so overwritten and agonizing – while moments where Emily does shit like dress up as a housekeeper and slip poison into Victoria's husband's soup achieve a zen-like stupidity nirvana that makes it all almost worthwhile. If you're going to be trash, be trash, don't playact at artistic ambition.

Will I watch again? Probably not on any weekly basis, but I could imagine myself one day skimming through it on Netflix Watch Instant if I hear the season maintains the same fever pitch goofy absurdism and has some sort of satisfying structure to it. The show premiered to a not-quite-mind-blowing but definitely rock-solid 10 million viewers, so I'm willing to bet there's a second season on the horizon as well.

Premise: B

Execution: C+

Performances: C

Potential: B-


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