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'Revenge' on ABC Is Sweet: Let Us Count the Ways

by Maureen Ryan, posted Nov 9th 2011 5:45PM
The first thing you need to know about 'Revenge' is that it's a verb.

Emily Thorne is in the Hamptons, stirring up trouble by REVENGING all over the place. She is REVENGING her dead father, who died after taking the fall for a bunch of venal rich people who committed a crime. Such infamy must be REVENGED. (Oh, that's another thing -- when you speak of the ABC drama, your tone of voice should indicate that you're speaking in ALL CAPS.)

What else do you need to know about 'Revenge'? Well, I found it a bit stiff and forced when it began -- as I said in my original review -- but I've grown increasingly addicted to it, and last week's episode was the most satisfying and entertaining festival of REVENGING yet. By fine-tuning its tone and its cheeky, brisk approach to the prime-time soap genre, it's become the guilty pleasure I always wanted it to be.

But if you're not up to speed on the show, the following guide should fill you in on what you need to know about Emily's busy schedule of REVENGING.

The basics: Emily Thorne, naturally, is not our heroine's real name. The former Amanda Clarke swapped identities with a dicey young woman who turned up at the end of last week's episode after murdering someone on Emily's behalf. Emily (and we'll call the show's lead character by that name to avoid confusion) met this other young woman (who's played by Margarita Levieva) in juvie years ago, and in the Nov. 16 episode of the show, we'll see flashbacks that shed light on their complicated bond.

In the present day, ever since Emily bought a lovely little cottage in the Hamptons, she's begun to fall for Daniel, the scion of the wealthy Grayson clan, who own the mega-mansion next door. The affair began as a ploy to get closer to matriarch Victoria Grayson, but now Emily has real feelings for the guy, but she also cares for non-rich bar owner Jack, with whom (unbeknownst to him) she shares a childhood bond.

But is love the main thing on Emily's mind? No! REVENGE is, of course! She's done her utmost to make Victoria and Conrad Grayson, who ensured that Emily's dad went to the slammer for a crime they committed, pay for what they've done (and their lackeys, retainers and gardeners will probably all end up paying as well). Nobody except Emily's good friend Nolan knows who Emily really is and what her goals are, but could her constantly evolving plans for vengeance have unintended consequences for her? Frequently! That's the whole point!

After all, the opening scene of the show's first episode (which was set five months after Emily's arrival) appeared to show Daniel Grayson lying on the beach near at Emily and Daniel's engagement party, after being shot three times. Dun-DUN-dun! Shall Daniel be REVENGED? We'll have to keep tuning in to see.

Note: It's worth acknowledging that, although several characters in that crucial scene assume that it's Daniel who has been shot and left for dead on the beach, the face of the shooting victim is never shown to the audience. Hmmmm.... I'll ask my fellow 'Revenge' fans to weigh in on whether they think hunky Daniel really is the guy who was shot (or if you think he was, chime in if you think he'll make a miraculous recovery).

By the way, you should have plenty of time to catch up on the show, should this piece pique your interest. 'Revenge' isn't on this week (grr, the Country Music Awards replaces ABC's strong Wednesday lineup, which is great if you're a fan of Carrie Underwood but not so great if you're a fan of backstabbing rich people and 'Happy Endings'). But never fear, it returns next week and before then, you can watch the first seven episodes on Hulu.

If you don't have time for that much REVENGING, here are some of the Hamptons high points, and a few low points. By the way, if you're already a fan of the show, feel free to jump into the discussion in comments and add your thoughts about what's working (or not working) about the show.

The bottom line is, if you were wavering about the show at the start (as I was), now's the time to jump in. It's not rocket science, but it's been a long time since an old-fashioned prime-time soap was this much juicy fun.

All right, without further ado, here are...

The Five Most Awesome Things about 'Revenge'

Emily VanCamp as Emily Thorne: VanCamp has been consistently terrific in the lead role, easily transitioning from steely social climber to confused young woman to secretive, self-possessed plotter. By not straying too far into either camp or earnestness, VanCamp has made Ms. Thorne's quest not only the rock-solid center of what could have been a silly morass, and she's made Emily more interesting than the character almost has a right to be.

Gabriel Mann as Nolan Ross: Emily's pal Nolan has really come into his own in recent weeks; he's the friskiest character on the show and Mann plays him with a perfect blend of petulance, neediness, wit and intelligence. Having made a tech fortune, Nolan has the downtime to help Emily with her quest, though recently, his successful attempt to spy on one of Victoria's ex-pals made him privy to a disturbing scene of violence that left the unfortunate woman in a coma. Even he got a little spooked. But perhaps the best thing about the Nolan story line is that last week, his solo REVENGING helped turn one of the show's most annoying characters -- Daniel's Harvard pal Tyler (Ashton Holmes) -- into one of the most interesting. Nolan figured out that the scheming Tyler is your basic bisexual Hamptons gigolo, a crafty one with a restraining order in his past. The sexy scene in which Nolan confronted Tyler was a treat: Let's have more quality time with those two connivers, please!

Madeleine Stowe as "Queen Victoria": Some have wildly praised Stowe's performance from the start, but I'm not in that super-fan camp, though I've found her performance perfectly acceptable and strangely enjoyable at times. Still, Stowe never fails to make the head of the Hamptons socialite brigade icily interesting, mainly by having Miss Thing appear to be almost constantly on the verge of a diva meltdown. There've been a few attempts to imply that Victoria was secretly in love with Emily's ill-fated father, but I'm more interested in seeing Queen Vic throw shade at her alleged "friends" at fancy cocktail parties. Let's face it, if Victoria's stony smile doesn't fill you with pleasurable fear, this may not be the show for you.

The show's solid guest stars: Max Martini, late of 'The Unit,' has been a welcome addition as a spurned security consultant who did dirty work for Conrad (until the real Emily Thorne offed him last week), and C.C.H. Pounder has a recurring (if too small) role as the head of the juvenile institution where Emily and Amanda did some time. And even if I thought Tyler was written to be too smarmy and scheming in his early appearances, I still have enjoyed Ashton Holmes' slippery take on the role, especially as we've gotten to know Tyler's devious side even better.

The show's move away from the REVENGING-of-the-week: I was a bit put off by 'Revenge' at first because it appeared, in the early going, to have a predictable format -- Emily finds a target and quickly and efficiently REVENGES that person (i.e., ruins their life, makes them pay, yada yada). That structure didn't seem all that promising to me, but the show has wisely realized that it needs to mix it up when it comes to REVENGING -- and it's also fruitful to have plans backfire and have unexpected complications emerge. REVENGE may be sweet but it rarely goes as planned, and the show is better for acknowledging that and weaving together various stories of vengeance and aspiration.

And a Few Things That Could Be Improved

Those terrible green-screens: Like the alien-invasion saga 'V,' 'Revenge' is another ABC drama that has fake backgrounds that look laughable in some scenes. What's shot on location looks fine, but there are a number of scenes that are clearly shot on soundstages -- and look it. Come on, ABC. This is a show set among the mega-wealthy. Spend the dough to make the outdoor settings look real, not like something from a Syfy Saturday night movie.

The not-great guest stars: It's nice that Amber Valletta wants to transition from modeling to acting, but she has no range, she's stiff and her scenes as Victoria's friend Lydia are usually painfully lacking in nuance.

The voiceovers: Do we really need Emily musing philosophically on the soundtrack about her REVENGING adventures? Not really. Those bits of narration generally feel overwritten and extraneous.

The male supporting characters: So far, Daniel (Joshua Bowman) and Jack (Nick Wechsler), the two guys that Emily is torn between, come across as likable, good-looking guys, but if I'm being honest, the characters are a bit bland. I know this is never going to be a show that focuses on character depth, but I'd love it if a bit more complexity was added to their personalities. Same goes for Victoria's husband, Conrad (Henry Czerny), and Jack's younger brother, live-wire Declan (Connor Paolo). They all get the occasional moment to shine, but so far Nolan and Tyler's machinations are leaving the rest of the dudes in the dust.

Note: An unscientific Twitter poll had Team Jack pulling ahead of Team Daniel in the "Who should romance Emily" sweepstakes, though both guys had their strong advocates. And I don't think these Twitter respondents were advocating romance, but there were also several votes for Team Victoria and -- one of my favorite responses -- Team Immortal Dog. (What is the age of Jack's dog, Sammy, who appears to remember the young Amanda Clarke? That may be the biggest question of 'Revenge,' come to think of it).

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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I'm totally addicted to this show. Very well written, full of twists and turns. I am not bothered by green screens as much as scenes that supposedly happened during summer actually showing a colder weather (it's obvious that the actors are feeling cold, poor things!). And, unlike the author of this article, I do enjoy the voiceovers.
I think that Daniel has been targeted from the beginning to be framed for someone else's murder, not to be the victim. 'Amily' studied him very carefully in order to be able to get close to him and seduce him. She wants revenge, right? So Victoria will feel what it's like to have your loved (Emily) one turn your back on you (Daniel) when you're falsely accused of a crime. It hurts twice as much when it happens to your child. This is why Takeda told "Amily" he wouldn't help her anymore if she had developed feelings for the boy.
I think that they planned to use Ashley as victim, but Tyler proved to be a way better target. I think Mr. Takeda was the one responsible for him cutting loose from the high security institution he had been committed to. He had Tyler followed all the time. How else could he have known where to rescue the box from in order to give it back to "Amily"? This is also why I think Takeda was the one who shot Tyler. On top of that, he fled the scene right on time to pick up 'Fauxmanda' and thus removing her from the plot and keeping her from getting in the way again.
Btw, Tyler almost got 'Fauxmanda' against 'Amily', but when he told her he wanted revenge against 'Amily' because she framed him for killing Frank, that's when she realized 'Amily' was actually protecting her. Then Jack said 'Amily' told him to be patient as Amanda would eventually come back (she was probably thinking of herself, when the revenge was over), 'Fauxmanda' understood 'Amily' was getting her back again. This is why she ran to the party, to protect and save her dearest friend...
I also understand why 'Amily' started her revenge by taking down Graysons' friends first. Those were the one who would have stepped forward to protect the 'royal family' once again and help them get away with murder. Now, they can't or won't. The powerful family will be on their own this time. And any attempt to buy anyone else's testimony or loyalty shall be well documented by 'Amily' and Nolan and exposed to the public. As in "see? this is how they did it to my daddy!" GREAT revenge!!! :)

February 18 2012 at 2:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jenna Hammond

I accidentally stumbled upon Revenge online one night when there seemed to be nothing on TV. I was immediately hooked watching the first three episodes in one sitting. The suspense sucks you right in and you get the feeling that you have just got to know what happens next. I'm not sure that it was actually Daniel that was shot in episode one. It seems way too obvious, though if it is him, it would definitely result in some drama. The thing I find most confusing about the show right now is why on earth Daniel's roommate has it out for Emily. Does anyone know where that is stemming from?! I'm patiently awaiting Wednesday now that I am all caught up online! :)

November 22 2011 at 12:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Those green screens have been driving me nuts. There was one with Declan and Charlotte on the boardwalk outside the Stow Away and when they switched cameras to Declan, it was so perfectly blue and bright that you could practically see the pixels!

I watch the episodes on abc.com on my ipad, rather than hulu. I have to complain on that front because whenever it goes to commercial, it licks up and I have to close the app and go back in again, only to be stuck watching the choppy commercials again!

As far as the show, I think the dead guy will be Tyler as well. And i think Amanda (swap-name-girl) will be the killer. I think she fell in love with Emily in juvie. She'll kill Tyler because he either knows about the swap, or because she thinks he's Daniel and she's jealous of him. Lastnight's episode closed with her looking upset at them being affectionate as she spied through the window (before she went to bar to romance Jack as REVENGE.

I hope abc sticks with this show. I got really into Prey and they killed that. And same for Invadion. And Kyle XY (which also had a character named Declan... How original.)

I love all of the actors except Paolo. The best casting call ever made was Nolan. :) I love love love him!!!!

Oh and the dog was Amanda's and I assume Jack took custody of him when everyone got hauled away by feds? He does act way too young... They cast the dog horribly. Lol lol

November 17 2011 at 4:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've enjoyed the show immensely since it premiered. It might be worth pointing out to anyone just now tuning in and who hasn't caught up via HULU that Emily's current abundant financial status comes by way of her father having been the primary investor in Nolan's tech company when it was just a startup. You know, in case they're all, "Wait, how does a kid who spent the bulk of her young life in juvie become a millionaire?"

As for what could be improved, I'll see your voiceovers and raise you Declan's horrible Jersey/Long Island/whatever accent. His older brother Jack doesn't have one, so why does this dude have one? There were too little scenes involving the guys' father (before he kicked it) to know if *he* had one, but c'mon! Either they both have an affect or none. It just makes scenes with the two brothers look silly to me. In fact, it makes me feel like Connor Paolo is overcompensating for viewers who last knew him as Serena Van Der Woodsen's gay little brother on Gossip Girl.

November 11 2011 at 2:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John Browning

I was amazed at how ridiculously easy Max Martini's character got into what is a very secure facility & then picked a lock that in a real institution would be a highly pick resistant lock & found the real inmate folder of Amanda/Emily.
Since CCH Pounder is totally working with & for Emily, there's no way she would have left the real info in a place it could be found, she would have either removed it or even better, replaced it with one that had the real Emily, now Amanda, in its place.
That's just bad & really lazy writing on an otherwise fun show to watch.

But my main problem with this show is that it has a limited number of episodes that can be run or it will end up like Prison Break, which worked for two seasons & should have ended there, but was insanely & boringly extended by two more seasons which were pointless, useless & totally boring.

November 11 2011 at 3:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Maybe the dog is Son of Sam ;)

I adore this show in all its cheesy green screen bliss. Guess it’s just me, but I like the cost-effective visuals more because it just adds to the Douglas Sirkian guilty pleasure melodramatic soapiness. Totally agree with your high points. I’d add a couple to the opps for improvement: I grow weary of seeing Ashley waltz around with her iPad and explain who’s who at the party-per-episode. Charlotte and Declan aren’t clicking for me, either as characters or as a couple. I hope The Talented Mr. Tyler character continues to evolve; the producers have said they were inspired by the Ripley character in book and film and so far it’s been almost a carbon copy, but Ripley was more interesting. Minor quibbles though – it’s a fantastic show that’s just plain fun to watch.

November 10 2011 at 3:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Adriana Frida Critte

is it me or did Nolan have an English accent at the beginning and now it's gone...

November 10 2011 at 1:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is a great show , better than the reality shows

November 10 2011 at 10:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The Sammy thing cracked me up!
That dog must be around 140 in dog years.

(Hey, the asterisks don;t lead anywhere!)

November 09 2011 at 11:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cayayofm's comment
Mo Ryan

you're right! I took the asterisks out. They were from an earlier version of the story and somehow stayed in. Sorry about that!

Yeah, that's the thing about Sammy. I've had old dogs before and when they really get up there in years, you can tell. But the dog on Revenge seems like he's drunk from the Fountain of Youth! And maybe he's had some work done ;)

November 10 2011 at 10:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Glad you've come around to the show. I especially enjoying seeing something new that is not a cop/doctor/lawyer show. Especially when it is as enjoyable as REVENGE!

November 09 2011 at 11:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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