ABC’s latest hit, “Revenge,” stars Emily VanCamp as Amanda Clarke, the protagonist and titular revenge-seeker. Her foil is Madeleine Stowe’s Victoria Grayson, a scheming socialite. The show is an interesting mix of old-fashioned bloodthirsty revenge, digital techno-spy-drama, high society galas, and political intrigue. It’s a Kill Bill (Volumes 1 and 2) meets James Bond meets Gossip Girl. A review of the slick, high-budget action-drama-mystery:
The show is a slick production that pours on the opulence. Set primarily in the Hamptons, the show focuses heavily on the lifestyles of the uber-rich, making it a guilty pleasure to watch. In the midst of all the scheming and threats of murder, you get to see high fashion, huge mansions, sweet rides, and a lot of jet-setting. Big sums of money frequently change hands, which helps explain why everyone can focus on revenge and not worry about holding down a job.
Subplots blend well together and don’t fade away. Like in most shows, the main drama occurs around several interest-piquing smaller dramas. A credit to the writers is that they don’t drop the subplots and end up weaving them in well. Individual relationship dramas somehow wind their way into the show’s main conspiracy without seeming outlandish. Separate dramas, such as the rich protagonists dealing with a shady terrorist-type organization and the poor townies dealing with their financial woes, interweave successfully by the end of the second season. Kudos to the writers for pulling that off!
The suspension builds nicely. “Revenge” evenly keeps the heat going, nicely building the plots without doing so in improbable leaps and bounds or creating a multiple-episode lull in the action. Instead of simply delaying resolutions, the plot grows thicker. This keeps the show much more interesting than a serial that has a new plot every week.
The action is pretty good. For a show that’s part “Gossip Girl,” “Revenge” can bring the heat. There are shootings and fight scenes that kick it up a notch and occur regularly enough to keep a viewer happy.
The protagonist’s casting is not the best. Emily VanCamp lacks the emotional expression to play a woman distraught by the framing and death of her father. She seems wooden and expressionless most of the time, and when she does have moments of emotion they seem a bit hokey. The show would be better if VanCamp could portray more depth in Amanda Clarke’s character.
The main conspiracy gets ludicrous fast (SPOILER ALERT). At first, Amanda Clarke comes to the Hamptons pretending to be Emily Thorne, a casual young socialite. She is looking to bring down the Graysons, who framed her father for terrorism years ago. This task would be a one-season drama.
But then the conspiracy gets deeper. It turns out that the elder Graysons are, or were, part of a shady organization called “The Initiative.” Yep, like something out of “Lost.” The dialogue gets really bad once the writers introduce “The Initiative.” As in “are you really suggesting we take on The Initiative?” bad.
So we’re approaching Season 3 and “Emily Thorne” is still pretending to be a Hamptons socialite (though, to be fair, she has taken down plenty a henchman thus far) and the Graysons have not received their shattering comeuppance. Now there’s a mysterious mega-conspiracy that seems too big for the show. Instead of a bonus, the introduction of “The Initiative” has weakened the show.
Why do people keep cooperating with an ungrateful Amanda Clarke? Amanda Clarke is a mix of a hurt little girl and James Bond. She is imminently competent, smart as a whip, but seems annoyingly ungrateful to those who help her out. Her main partner-in-revenge, tech guru Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann), receives far more threats than thanks from his “friend.” I get that Amanda Clarke is supposed to be one tough cookie, but the show takes her lack of social graces a bit too far. She wants revenge against forces far more powerful than herself but doesn’t want anyone’s say-so along the way, even when her allies risk just as much as she.
The show highlights this repeated ill-mannerism but always drops the point, which smacks of poor writing.
There seems to be heavy borrowing from other works of media. “Revenge” has lots of similarities to Quintin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” movies: A tall, blonde protagonist is wronged, seeks an Asian master from which to learn the art of combat, and returns to seek revenge.
Like the CW’s “Gossip Girl” (2007-2012), the show features lots of fancy galas and dinners and behind-the-scenes financial finagling but, despite the characters’ understandable rage, comparatively little physical butt-kicking. Alliances switch and shift just before fists and bullets fly, all while the characters remain impeccably dressed and pretend to like each other in public. To the point that it’s unrealistic.
Finally, like virtually every superhero story, it turns out that everyone’s past connection goes back way further than anyone thinks. Amanda Clarke’s return to the Hamptons to seek revenge leads her quickly to her childhood quasi-boyfriend? And she still has feelings for him despite all the life-destroying trauma faced in the interim? Yes, as unlikely as it seems. And her allies all turn out to conveniently have their own reasons for helping her, going back years and years? Again, yes. The prologue to the show’s action is too lengthy and convenient, just like the backstory of virtually every superhero/supervillian dichotomy.
A good show. Even its bad parts have their good elements: You want to keep watching to see what will happen. Will we find out about “The Initiative” despite its hokiness? Will Amanda Clarke’s allies continue to tolerate her inability to be grateful? Just how long can the Graysons and Amanda Clarke not just drop the act and try to destroy each other? It’s a guilty pleasure that keeps you watching even as you raise a skeptical eyebrow.