Monday, October 17, 2011


I have a confession to make. Up until just recently, I have been hiding something from my friends and readers. I had a habit I've been rather ashamed of. As I imagine a drug addiction would feel, I found both enjoyment and shame in my habit. You see, I'd been watching certain videos, late at night in my darkened living room, after my roommate had gone to sleep...

No! Not that kind! Get your minds out of the gutter. I'm talking about ABC's new drama, Revenge.

And no, that's not a typo in the network name. The show, at first glance, looks like it belongs on ABC Family, Disney's soapy, cable network bastard child, or the CW, both known for shows about pretty people with the pettiest of problems. They are the tabloids of television shows. A complete lack of substance is made up for with flash and gossipy stories. For the most part, I find myself too much of a television snob to appreciate these kinds of shows, and so I shun them, as do many of the more serious professional television critics. So I almost didn't watch Revenge when its pilot aired this fall, because I felt like it was another CW creation, despite its broadcast network sire. The reason I didn't though, was a commitment I made to myself during premiere week last fall. I decided then that I would watch every new pilot on the four major broadcast networks, and decide for myself which shows I would continue to follow. And so I watched the pilot of Revenge.

I was instantly sucked in. Despite my arrogant claims of superiority, I succumb to a good bit of gossip as readily as any other human being, and this show felt like the best kind. It had love and lust, murder and betrayal, secrets on top of secrets, and a beautiful leading lady. At least if I was going to fall victim to a soapy show, I had picked one that was going to go all out. And so, reluctantly, I gave into myself and put on the second episode. By the end of episode two, I was still cringing as I watched, cursing myself for so deeply enjoying what I still believed to be a travesty of a television show.

The lead actress, while gorgeous, seemed talent-less, playing every scene she was in without emotion, her eyes completely dead of any connection to life, let alone to those around her. Both episodes had ended with flashback reveals to what I could only assume were supposed to be secret "surprise twist" moments in the episodes' plots, but were so integrally crucial to the basic concept of the show - that Amanda  was manipulating the lives of the Hamptonites to ruin them - that their absence seemed like a forgetful omission that I then glossed over. I assumed that somehow Amanda had caused Conrad Greyson's faux heart attack, and that it was an element of the plot that the writers just hadn't bothered to flush out. The entire take down was so well tied together that the end of episode reveal, that she had slipped in as a maid and drugged his soup, couldn't possibly have been a surprise to anyone.

And there were plenty of other little details that didn't seem right with the show, but for some reason, like the worst of highway side collisions, I found I just couldn't look away. Worse though, was that I was smiling as I watched. I couldn't figure out what it was about the show that kept me so enthralled, and so I assumed it was my baser mind coming to the fore, and overcoming my education and refined viewing palette. A possibility I had not considered was that my subconscious mind had recognized something that my conscious mind could not fathom. That this show had quite a bit of potential.

But when I put on the third episode, it started to dawn on me. Maybe this actress wasn't so terrible after all. It's possible that her dead, lifeless eyes are a character choice. After all, Amanda Clarke is dead inside. Psychotically so. It makes sense that this girl, while smiling, or looking embarrassed, or crying over her dead father, would never let the emotion touch her eyes, because all emotion is put on, and for show. The Hamptonites, so focused on appearances, don't notice what's lying in wait beneath the surface of Emily Thorne, but we do. It's actually the central point of the show, that the viewers can see what the people in the world can not, the inner workings of Amanda Clarke's mind. Maybe we're not just seeing it in her duplicitous actions and manipulative schemes. Maybe we're seeing it in her eyes.

As the third episode drew to a close, I noticed something else: a conspicuous lack of the poorly executed Leverage-esque end of episode reveal. This time, it seemed, the audience had been allowed to see all of Amanda's tactics in the order that they happened without the pitiful attempt at trickery displayed in the last two episodes. Thinking back, I realized that there had been a marked rise in the continuity of the plot in this episode as well. Whether or not it was simply because there didn't seem to be a chunk missing from the middle, I can't say for certain, but that's my opinion.

Apparently the head writer on Revenge, a man named Mike Kelley, recognized the problems with the show's format and made the appropriate changes. Kudos to Mr. Kelley, for doing what so few executive producers are willing to do with their shows. Change them.

After watching the fourth episode with my new, more positive outlook, I am becoming fully addicted, and loving it. I am no longer ashamed to like the show because, despite it's soapier surface tendencies, there is a high quality foundation at its base.

Now it seems that new rules have been established. Before now, Emily's take downs had been limited to people in the company picture in her locked chest. Now, apparently, anyone from Amanda's past associated with the dissolution of her childhood, whether directly involved in framing her father or not, are fair game. The playing field for Amanda's revenge has broadened, and the story is expanding with it. I'm curious to see if she ever makes a mistake, and takes down someone innocent of wrongdoing. Heck, I'm just curious to see what happens at all.

I had been worried that the show would have trouble reaching past its first season, both because of the limited number of people available to be taken down, and because of the already established ending which was provided for us in the opening minutes of the pilot episode. Now I'm content to just sit back and enjoy the ride, knowing that the story can sustain itself as long as the show can sustain its viewership.


  1. Did you ever watch Everwood? It seems to me like Emily Vancamp has made her dead-inside eyes her trademark. I agree that it fits the character, but I'd love for her to show a little more range on the show.
    That said, I'm glad I know one other Revenge-watcher. Nobody else seems to know that it's on.

  2. Everwood fits into that category of show that I always believed myself too good to watch. Until now. I might have to go back and start watching things like the OC, Everwood and Gossip Girl. Now there's a scary thought.


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