Pilot rapid-fire review: Revenge

The next couple weeks are going to be insane. There are so many new series debuting and unfortunately, there is only so much time in the day for me to write about television while balancing my “real” life. You know, the one I spend on Twitter. ANYWAY, I’m going to try to touch on each new series once it airs a pilot, but these posts probably won’t be too long or too in-depth unless they really need to be. And if certain things debut together, I’ll probably talk about them together.

I’m very confident that I am not the target market for ABC’s new soap/mystery (somystery? mysteroap?) series Revenge.

I kind of love it anyway.

For whatever reason, I expected this pilot to be more convoluted and dumb than it actually was. This is a good thing. We understand very quickly that Emily VanCamp’s Emily Thorne is not really who she says she is and that she’s back in the Hamptons to, well, take revenge on people who ruined her and her father’s lives. In a very short time, Revenge gets down to brass tacks and identifies Emily’s first victim and sets up the ways that she will take her down. It’s a simple concept and although we start much later in the story and then zoom back five months, I think we are all smart enough to know that the death we saw in the opening moments probably didn’t happen for the reasons we think it did right now.

Series like this are predicated on swerves, shocks and ridiculous maneuvers and as long as Revenge doesn’t decide to get too wonky with its twists and turns, I’m very willing to go along for the ride. The basic premise allows for tons of plotting and scheming and that doesn’t even include the general cattiness and drama that can be wrenched from stories about rich people doing stupid stuff to one another. There’s also some class conflicts and financial commentaries floating around the fringes, but I can’t imagine that the series will be too interested in going down that route, especially if it’s a hit.

Plus, the photograph at the very end of the episode gives the series some obvious serialization that should provide a clear story engine through at least the first season. It’s almost like Revenge is a procedural series where every week, Emily VanCamp ruins someone’s life just like House saves them or Gibbs and his team protects them. I will be interested to see how the writing staff approaches this element of the story because while it is the most dominant and driving force of the pilot and the basic hook of the series, the production team might not want to blow through all of it within the first 13 episodes (this is all based on how successful the series is, obviously). I’m very curious to see what episodes seven, eight and nine look like.

The biggest problem I had with Revenge is that it does feel a bit bleak and serious. Granted, this is a story about a vindictive woman taking revenge on the people who ruined her family’s life, but the character types, setting and the network (more on that momentarily) are screaming for a slightly less dark atmosphere. I get it, all of these people did Emily/Amanda wrong and she’s here to mess them up in any way that she can, but that kind of weight can be cumbersome. I don’t want the series to be overly quirky like Happy Town or ridiculously campy like Desperate Housewives. However, it has to be careful to not get so depressing and cold and slow that it becomes Ringer because that would be dreadful.

Staying away from the overly dark also keeps the protagonist sympathetic. Emily/Amanda doesn’t seem to be interested in killing people in the “five months later” portion of the story and I’m not sure how the writers are going to spin things if she gets progressively more evil as time passes as (maybe as the power gets to her head?). Nevertheless, there is probably some danger in building a story around someone whose entire existence seems to be about making others miserable. That’s pretty dim. Really, the evil simmering below should contrast nicely with the beautiful facade of the Hamptons, which is an aesthetic the series is going for but doesn’t quite hit in the pilot.

But let me also say this: This doesn’t really feel like an ABC product, at least based on how the network has operated over the last half-dozen years. I know that Paul Lee is the new man in charge and things are bound to change, but I am curious to see how audiences do or do not take to Revenge. Like I mentioned, it’s not as whimsical, campy or quirky as so many of the one-hour series ABC has put on the era since 2005. A new approach is a good thing in the long run since ABC’s biggest hourlongs are old as hell. Revenge feels like something that women could love, I’m just not sure if they will be able to find it, Modern Family lead-in or not. We’ll see tomorrow I guess.

Anyway, I like Revenge. A good amount. It is definitely the best hourlong pilot I’ve seen thus far (which isn’t saying much, but still).

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