Like all fall TV seasons, this year’s crop contains the basic ingredients: the show that the Parents Television Council hates, the show with a massive budget and the show with a movie star deigning to cross into television world.
Then there’s That Show. You know That Show — the one that threatens to slip under the radar while we’re distracted by Playboy bunnies and dueling reality-show judges. The unassuming, low-key show that, if we give it the attention it deserves, could wind up being a delightful viewing experience.
This season, That Show is “Revenge.”
The ABC drama is essentially “The Count of Monte Cristo: Impossibly Hot People Edition,” a modern retelling of Alexandre Dumas’s famed story of vengeance. Set in the Hamptons, “Revenge” doesn’t come with controversy or complicated mythology. It’s a prime-time soap opera, a guilty-pleasure show at its finest. Though the show looks like all fluff on the surface, the excellent cast and riveting plot combine powers for a seriously entertaining series.
Our heroine is Emily Thorne (chillingly played by Emily VanCamp), though she isn’t really Emily Thorne. She’s Amanda Clarke, and she goes by the alias because Amanda Clarke’s life was shattered when she was a child. Young Amanda’s father (James Tupper) was accused of a heinous act he didn’t commit and went down in the most humiliating way possible: framed by his loved ones and colleagues, sentenced to a lifetime and eventual death in prison.
Years have passed, and Amanda is now 20-something Emily, with a new identity and a return to the sleek and sunny Hamptons, where all the deception and betrayal took place. Reaping the benefit of a nice trust fund set up by her father, she snags a nifty house on the beach and sets out to methodically destroy the lives of those who did the same to her family.
Beautifully shot with an ocean view and just the right touch of spooky music, the briskly paced “Revenge” pilot hooks you right away. One of the first scenes reveals a brutal crime on a gorgeous beach and then flashes back in time, intending to show us how things went so wrong.
Or, really, so right, because Emily is determined to make these people pay. “This is not a story about forgiveness,” her voice-over intones. The voice-over is thankfully dropped throughout most of the pilot, allowing VanCamp’s icy stare to do all the work, even as she smiles sweetly to embed herself with her new neighbors, none of whom recognize her.
Hamptons queen bee Victoria Grayson (the fantastic Madeleine Stowe) is the only one with her antenna up when Emily strolls into her first extravagant party. Victoria, the ringleader of the wealthy community, instantly becomes suspicious of the new girl in town — mainly because Emily has her sights set on Victoria’s son, Daniel (Joshua Bowman).
Affairs, secrets, drugs, billion-dollar stock acquisitions — nothing is off-limits as Emily starts carrying out her vengeance, reluctantly accepting the help of town tech nerd and gazillionaire Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann). In the first two episodes, Emily coolly takes down her enemies, one by one, though hopefully the series will slow the plot and focus on character development. And get rid of the clunky dialogue, such as in the scene on the ocean shore when Emily meets Lydia Davis (Amber Valletta), another Hamptons diva. (Lydia: “That water’s ice cold.” Emily: “Only at first. After a while, you can’t feel anything.” Lydia: “Sounds like my marriage.”)
ABC seems to be worried about viewership for “Revenge,” judging by the number of ads inundating viewers over the summer. The network even offered the pilot script for free weeks before the show’s premiere. But here’s hoping that with all the chatter around the buzzier new shows, the sweet “Revenge” will find its place.
(one hour) debuts Wednesday at 10 p.m. on ABC.