Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.
Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
(written by Mike Kelley; directed by Phillip Noyce; TRT: 43:12)
The network's description: "Wealth, beauty and status define the people in this town, but one woman is willing to destroy everyone for the sake of revenge. Emily Thorne (Emily Van Camp) is new to the Hamptons. She's met some of her wealthy neighbors, has made a few new friends and seemingly blends into the town. But something is a little odd about a young girl living in a wealthy town all on her own, and the truth is that Emily isn't exactly new to the neighborhood. In fact, this was once her old neighborhood, until something bad happened that ruined her family and their reputation. Now Emily is back, and she's returned to right some of those wrongs in the best way she knows how - with a vengeance.
"Revenge" stars Madeleine Stowe ("We Were Soldiers," "The Last of the Mohicans") as Victoria Grayson, Emily Van Camp ("Brothers & Sisters," "Everwood") as Emily Thorne, Gabriel Mann ("The Bourne Identity") as Nolan Ross, Henry Czerny ("Mission: Impossible," "Clear and Present Danger") as Conrad Grayson, Ashley Madekwe ("Secret Diary of a Call Girl") as Ashley Davenport, Nick Wechsler ("Roswell") as Jack Porter, Josh Bowman ("Prowl") as Daniel Grayson, Christa B. Allen ("13 Going on 30") as Charlotte Grayson and Connor Paolo ("Gossip Girl") as Declan Porter. "Revenge" is written and executive-produced by Mike Kelley ("Swingtown"), along with executive producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey ("Twilight"). The pilot is directed and executive-produced by Phillip Noyce ("Salt"). "Revenge" is produced by ABC Studios."
What did they leave out? It's billed as a modern day retelling of Alexandre Dumas's "The Count of Monte Cristo."
The plot in a nutshell: "When I was a little girl, my understanding of revenge was as simple as the Sunday school proverbs it hid behind," Amanda Clarke (Emily Van Camp) explains via the opening narration. "Neat little morality slogans like do unto others and two wrongs don't make a right. But two wrongs can never make a right, because two wrongs can never equal each other." And so the sound of a gunshots on a moonlit beach kick off our tour of her retribution. You see, as the ensuing sequence of nesting doll flashbacks explain, Amanda blames two of Southampton's social pillars - Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) and Conrad Grayson (Henry Czerny) - for the death of her father David Clarke (Marc Blucas) as a young girl. Once partners in a hedge fund, the Graysons framed her dear old dad for funneling money to terrorist groups (!), effectively ruining their lives. Now all grown up, Amanda - who renamed herself Emily Thorne - is back for vengeance.
Her base of operations: the very home she spent summers in with her dad, which just so happens to overlook the Grayson estate. Aiding Emily in her quest then are aspiring PR maven Ashley Davenport (Ashley Madekwe) and eccentric tech millionaire Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann), the latter being one of the few who knows who Emily actually is. They - unwittingly or otherwise - give Emily access to and intel about Victoria and Conrad as the mechanizations of her plan come to fruition, a gradual destruction of everything the Graysons - and their conspirators - hold dear. Along the way we meet the Graysons' two children - bored pretty boy Daniel (Joshua Bowman) and his sister Charlotte (Christa B. Allen) - as well as townies Jack Porter (Nick Wechsler), who was childhood friends with Amanda and still carries a torch for, and his brother Declan (Connor Paolo), who has eyes for the aforementioned Charlotte.
Emily gets her first taste of revenge but the price of doing so is about to get even larger.
What works: There's an unexpectedly clever, almost procedural aspect to the show that's particularly promising - each week, presumably, a different person will get their comeuppance. In the pilot's case it's her dad's former secretary, Lydia Davis (Amber Valletta), now a member of Victoria's inner circle of friends, with the Graysons themselves being the endgame. And so like a child pulling wings off a fly, Emily will gradually dissect the conspiracy that wronged her until there's nothing left. Said framework allows for a refreshing array of signposts on what's a heavily serialized show, the red Xs on a seemingly innocuous company retreat photo being her figurative gold stars for a job well done.
Van Camp brings an enjoyably methodical, shark-eyed edge to the proceedings as Amanda literally doesn't exist anymore, having been forged into Emily out of rage. Her performance and Kelley's script wisely sidestep any and all temptations to paint Emily as a mask: there are no hints of tears or smiles when nostalgia or fond remembrances strike, it's only about the mission at hand. While I'm sure there's fragments to be found somewhere, I like that they aren't so easy to unearth. Stowe likewise assumes the mantle of ice queen with ease as she holds delicious social executions in a way that a literal queen would hold actual ones. She however isn't a total monster as there's more to her betrayal of Emily's father than detailed above, while Emily's quest isn't completely clandestine as her father preached forgiveness.
What doesn't: It's definitely not without its rough patches as things like Emily's fortune cookie narration (a quote from Confucious even opens the show) and her relentless gazes into the ocean's abyss are a little too maudlin and on the nose for my tastes. Her Sydney Bristow-esque disguises and bad flashback wigs likewise prove to be distracting while the general idea that nobody besides Nolan recognizes her sometimes feels like a stretch, especially considering Emily literally lives right under her enemies' noses. I get that's what "The Count of Monte Cristo" is but considering how close of a relationship Amanda had with some of these people - Jack even adopted her dog! - it starts to strain credulity, even if she was nine at the time. I mean, call me crazy but I'm pretty sure the image of the girl who screamed bloody murder at me while her father was dragged away by the police after I framed him for treason - yes, treason - would be pretty indelible on my memory. That's not to say it can't paint itself out of said corner, it's just a concern.
The bottom line: All in all, it feels like it could be a solid, entertaining yarn.