Saturday, 9 June 2012

Review: REVENGE (E4)

Saturday, 9 June 2012

I saw Revenge's pilot last summer, but wasn't impressed enough to even bother writing a negative review. It just washed over me and I felt no compulsion to watch the season when it began on ABC. But, as I've mentioned before, I believe scheduling is more important for television than it is for movies. Revenge just feels like a summer show to me; the TV equivalent of an undemanding novel you take away with you on holiday for a fortnight. Having re-watched the pilot a few weeks ago, when it made its overdue debut in the UK, the whole thing suddenly clicked. Perhaps I'm just in the mood for a ridiculous soap opera full of beautiful people, laced with poison...

What do you mean "general exception error"?
Svelte rich girl Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) arrives in the Hamptons to spend her summer vacation, renting a luxury beach house next to the community's influential Grayson family, where matriarch Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) exists as the "queen bee" of this exclusive coastal region. Then, through the course of the pilot it becomes clear Emily's an alias for "Amanda Clarke", who lived in the Hamptons with her father as a little girl before he was framed for murder and sent to prison. Now, following the collapse of her family and the recent death of her disgraced father (after doing time in jail herself as a teenage delinquent), Amanda/Emily is back in the Hamptons—out for vengeance against the fat cats who let her dad take the fall.

Every fictional story concerning revenge owes a debt to novels like The Man In The Iron Mask and The Count Of Monte Cristo, and that's certainly true here. The decision to merge that kind of storytelling with the sun-kissed glamour of the seaside Hamptons, with its expensive residences for America's wealthiest citizens, is almost a no-brainer. While British soaps have almost exclusively concerned working class people living and working in very ordinary backgrounds, American soaps have always gone for glamour and silliness. Revenge is exactly that; a rather preposterous, glitzy, light and enjoyable romp. A page-turner in live-action form, with each episode giving us clues about exactly why Emily's targeting specific people on a photograph, revealing what they did to deserve her wrath, and explaining the complexities of the situation that destroyed her patsy father's life.

There are many flashbacks (as the show's "present day" is itself a flashback from a murder at a beach party twelve-weeks hence, and then we sometimes skip back further to see Amanda's childhood memories), but these aren't too difficult to handle. It's perhaps a little off-putting in the Philip Noyce-directed pilot, when you're simultaneously trying to parse all the new faces, names, locations, and relationships... but by episode 2 it was already just a plot-device of the show you've accepted.

I thought I told you: wearing magenta is forbidden!
The performances are fine, if intentionally rather "daytime soap" in their tone and delivery. It's mainly a parade of attractive people who won't be giving Emmy judges sleepless nights in the years to come; but that's not to devalue VanCamp herself, who's something of a cipher at this nascent stage in the season, but she at least presents the possibility of layers to be revealed. Madeleine Stowe is perhaps the only person giving a more developed performance. She's the biggest name on the show, and "Queen Vic" gives her plenty of opportunities to have fun playing the rich bitch who's No1 on Emily's hit-list.

I don't have much more to say about Revenge, which is definitely the kind of show you can imagine getting progressively worse or better very quickly. I had some of my usual concerns about how long this concept can last (a 22-episode season feels like it would be a struggle), but some trusted sources who've seen the entire first season tell me it sets up a second season with aplomb. And the show gets more gripping and serialised in its latter stages, to its great benefit. So, as a light, glossy, and entertaining summer show here in the UK, I'm on board with Emily Thorne's machinations—particularly in these frugal "credit crunch" times, when punishing the extravagantly rich is exactly the kind of wish-fulfilment fantasy I can get behind.

written by Mike Kelley / directed by Philip Noyce / 28 May & 4 June 2012 / E4