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I really didn't want to like Revenge, ABC's new sudsy drama about a young woman trying to right the wrongs done to her family. I mean, there were all those awful ads (including some on this site) with Emily VanCamp standing in a pile of thorns. It just looked so schlocky! Was I ever wrong.
For years, TV execs have been trying to find something that would capture the spirit of Dallas or Dynasty, but they always did it wrong. There was some success with Desperate Housewives, but that was so much more down-home and played for laughs. The campiness was the entire sport. The same thing is true for Gossip Girl, which gave the "rich people behaving badly" genre a teenage twist and veered off into banality. Finally for all of us who love a good soap, Revenge is doing it just right.
It's almost a procedural, where each week VanCamp's Emily Thorn crosses off one person from the list of people that wronged her father, a wealthy finance man who was framed for involvement with terrorists. Emily is taking everyone down one at a time with the vast wealth left to her by her father (thanks to his early investment in some unnamed Internet property) and the devious skills she's learned growing up in state-run institutions. But each week she gets a little bit closer to her big fish, Victoria Greyson (Madeline Stowe) the woman her father was having an affair with who helped put him away. She's doing this by romancing her astronomically dreamy son, Daniel, who, we say in the opening moments of the pilot, gets shot on the beach by the end of the summer. We know how this ends, but we don't know why it started or how it gets there.
This is the Hamptons drama that I've always wanted. It's rich people behaving badly, yet again, with lavish parties, great outfits, catfights, and plot twists that are totally outrageous but just plausible enough that you go along with them. You might think that during the time of the recession and Occupy Wall Street that we wouldn't be so concerned with how rich people are living, but it's just the opposite. Watching Emily use some insider trading and some shrewd investments to bankrupt and humiliate a hedge funder who used to be her dad's best friend was especially fun to watch. It's like she is the 99%'s avenging angel, doing us all a favor by going for the jugulars of so many slimy rich people.
With that in mind, the show is not really campy either, which is surprisingly a good thing. It's tense, well-paced, and though you see some of the conflict coming from a mile away (Emily is totally going to fall for the poor barman even though she's romancing rich Daniel for her scheme) it's still fun to watch. Part of the reason is because Madeline Stowe (where have you been, lady?) is brilliantly icy and the scenes between her and Emily where they both pretend to be sweet while sizing the other up are remarkable.
Still, my least favorite thing about the show is VanCamp. How I wish Sarah Michelle Gellar were in her role instead of the ludicrous and dragging Ringer. VanCamp does sweet well, but I just don't buy her when she gets nasty. But there are some great supporting characters on the show like the wacky internet millionaire who wants to help Emily, the bitchy other woman that Emily ran out of town, and Victoria's Gossip Girl wannabe daughter. The only person I really hate is Eric van der Woodsen, putting on a lousy accent and trying to pretend like he's not gay while running around the Hamptons.
What seemed like an annoying attempt at drama is now the show I look forward to the most every week. There are so many mysteries just waiting to be unraveled and each week we get some answers. There's no withholding, like on Lost and it give you the impression that everything will be solved soon enough. Each week it just gets better and more sinister (did Emily really kidnap someone and lock her in a storage container? Yup!) and I just can't wait to see things get really nasty between Emily and Victoria. Yes, Revenge's ad campaign might have been horrible, but it sure did the trick.