Revenge – Pilot Review

The concept:

  • Emily Thorne is young, beautiful and rich, she rents out a beach house in the Hamptons.
  • The Grayson family live next door and are extremely rich, powerful and fairly obnoxious.
  • Emily Thorne is also Amanda Clarke whose father worked for the Graysons and lived in the beach house until he was arrested and their lives were destroyed.
  • The Porter family run the financially troubled bar in town, Jack Porter and Amanda Clarke were childhood friends but he doesn’t recognise her.
  • Emily/Amanda is seeking revenge on the Grayson’s and their friends whom she believes betrayed her father.
  • The whole thing starts with a flashforward to three months in the future Emily Thorne is engaged to Daniel Grayson, the oldest son, but he is killed at their engagement party, seemingly shot by Jack.

I’ve spent longer trying to write that blurb than any other in recent memory. That’s not even everything that happened in the pilot, that’s really just what can be extracted from the two minute trailer! Fortunately it’s a lot harder to explain on paper than it seems when you’re actually watching. The pilot is phenomenally well put together, introducing a complicated back (and future) story and a lot of characters each presenting different faces to different groups. The flashes backwards and forward are used sparingly but reasonably well to deliver the exposition in a logical and straightforward way.

Everything about the production is fantastic – it’s well written, directed, cast and acted. It looks beautiful too – it’s nice to see a new location that’s not Miami or California and the windswept Hamptons looks fantastic. BUT, and it’s a really big but, for all that this is technical very well produced, I really didn’t like Revenge, because there is almost no one and no thing to actually like about it. These people are horrible, they’ve got more money than we can comprehend and they’re entirely concerned with petty bickering. The only sympathetic character in the whole thing is Jack Porter who has to give up his dream of joining the Red Cross in Haiti so that his dad’s bar doesn’t get repossessed. When you put that in the middle of the episode everything else is just ridiculous.

The central character of Emily/Amanda is particularly unsympathetic. The flashbacks show that she’s had a really difficult childhood, but they also explain how she ended up with a moderately immense fortune. Instead of embracing her chance at a new life and doing something productive, she’s obsessed with this hatred and desire to seek revenge destroying other people’s lives with gleeful malice. As the trailer says “this is not a story about forgiveness”, but this didn’t feel like juicy entertainment, it felt cruel and sad.

This is an extremely well put together 45 minutes of television, but I just didn’t like it. The trick of showing us where it’s all going to get to and then jumping back to see how it gets there is an old trick but a really solid one. I do find myself intrigued about how it’s all going to play out and how much of what we saw is what it seemed to be. But I just don’t want to spend time with these people who are all so petty, self-centred and filled with hate.

Other reviews – most of which disagree with me
CliqueClack – I am in love with Revenge. I’ll just put that out there right away. In the first hour, we got to know the large cast of characters, the back story, and Emily started her revenge plans without delay. Oh, and there was a murder … well, if he is actually dead. The show covered so much ground, but it never felt like too much as it was well-paced and written.
TV Fanatic – Revenge may not be for everyone. It could be too soapy for some, but I liked how unapologetic this show was about that. This is a continuing drama about sex, lies, greed and revenge. What more do you need to make entertaining TV?

The Upfronts: ABC

What’s out
Biggest loss as far as I’m concerned is Brothers & Sisters, it’s cheesy, melodramatic and basically a well polished soap opera, but I loved it. Apparently the large cast made it too expensive and time was called after five seasons.

V also bit the dust. I gave up on this very early on in because in the battle between all these characters, I found myself rooting for the third option of ‘kill them all and leave me in peace’. With its cancellation unless I’m missing something, there isn’t a sniff of a spaceship anywhere on US television.

More freshman deaths – Detroit 187 (nothing special, but solidly ok from the pilot, not enough to drag me in for more), The Whole Truth (awful), No Ordinary Family (tolerable pilot, but seemed doomed from early on) and Off the Map (showing that even the creator of Grey’s Anatomy is finding it tough to make the next Grey’s Anatomy). I’d forgotten ABC was also responsible for the hideous My Generation which never aired more than 2 episodes. Oh and Matthew Perry still can’t catch a break, Mr Sunshine was cancelled, he’s back in rehab and I never even got round to watching the pilot.

What’s back
Surprisingly – Body of Proof made the cut, personally I thought it wasn’t great, but apparently desperation set in and they had to actually renew something! Less surprising are renewals for Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice and Castle. Desperate Housewives was also eventually renewed after some kerfuffle about salaries, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was its last season. Various comedies that I don’t watch but hear good things about will also be back – The Middle, Modern Family, Cougar Town (although not until January) and Happy Endings.

What’s new
Charlie’s Angels – it’s exactly what you’d think it would be, so long as it doesn’t take itself too seriously, I see no reason why this shouldn’t be stupid, entertaining and successful.

Once Upon A Time – I so want this to be good! It’s got a great cast and the back and forth between fairy tale looks great in the trailer. Please don’t suck. Please don’t suck.

Apartment 23 – not really what I’d call funny, but it was considerably less offensive than most of the other ‘comedy’ trailers ABC brings us this year.

Last Man Standing – I like Tim Allen, he can pull off the stuff that in the other shows is offensive and contrived, not sure the writing or supporting cast of this can manage it though.

Scandal – lawyers doing ‘crisis management’ i.e. (it would seem) solving problems by threatening people. It sounds sort of horrific, but actually I rather liked the trailer (if they dilute the melodrama a bit). It’s Shonda Rhimes which gives it an extra couple of points as well. But it’s not arriving until midseason.

The River – This was not the kind of trailer I expected to see for a television show, certainly not one on ABC, but it’s got me hooked already.

Revenge – ah, this was more what I expected from ABC, more melodrama than you can shake a stick at.

Good Christian Belles – ee! So much blonde! So much wooden acting… Kristin Chenoweth deserves better.

Missing – I have no idea what’s going on with this, the show looks like the Bourne Identity all exploding and espionage, for some reason though ABC decided to have the lead actress do the voiceover as herself, not the character. Worst trailer evah!

Suburgatory – from the school of ‘think of a title the rest will follow’. The central out-of-place character I kind of love, the problem is that she’s out of place because she’s surrounded by the most annoying and ridiculous collection of characters I’ve seen since… well last pilot season.

Man Up! – It’s a very very sorry state of affairs when this is not the worst trailer I’ve seen today.

Work It – Oh. My. God.

Links: The Futon Critic, The TV Addict (with some different video clips and first impressions).