Monday, October 15, 2012

My Problem with the First Three Episodes of "Revenge"

I know, how behind the times could I possibly be? The rest of the world (at least those in the part of it where Revenge actually airs on TV, on schedule) is already into the second season of one of last season's most-talked-about new shows, and I'm just getting around to diving into my first-season DVDs of the ABC hit.

My biggest impression after watching the first three episodes: This is what everyone's been gushing about so breathlessly? God, I hope Homeland is better than this. At least now I understand why Revenge was pretty much absent from the 2012 Emmy race.

Don't take this the wrong way. I flat out adore Madeleine Stowe, and I have since 1990 when I first saw her with Kevin Costner on the poster for a film called, ironically, Revenge. For years I've been dying for the largely MIA actress to return to the screen (the big one preferably, no offense to the small) in a great meaty role. I'm not sure if that part is Victoria Grayson, who has spent much of the episodes I've watched so far on the periphery. Stowe makes an excellent bitch with a heart of gold-plated stone, and whenever she's onscreen, my attention is undivided. She's a not-so-real Housewife of New York who could make Countess LuAnn de Lesseps cower. If only Revenge were all about her.

Unfortunately, three episodes in, it seems to be all about Emily Thorne, played by Emily VanCamp, and the payback she's seeking to punish those responsible for the false imprisonment and death of her father, a multi-millionaire-turned-accused-terrorist portrayed in flashbacks by James Tupper, the hot rugged actor who costarred with Anne Heche in Men in Trees and is now her partner in real life. I swear, some girls -- Heche, VanCamp -- have all the luck.

The execution of the concept has two glaring flaws: The first is VanCamp. I never paid much attention to the ever-gainfully employed actress in Everwood or Brothers & Sisters, but based on the evidence I've seen up to now on Revenge, I'm surprised that such a bland actress would be cast as vixen No. 1. Everything about VanCamp is too lightweight. She lacks that can't-take-my-eyes-off-her quality that I require from my soap divas. You know something is wrong when you're paying more attention to a side dish like Ashley Madekwe, whom I loved as Bambi in Secret Diary of a Call Girl, than you are to the main course. At the end of 43 minutes, you're still hungry for something substantial.

Though the part of Emily Thorne is probably more suited to a brunette (I don't know why, but black hair just equals schemer to me), I suspect they went with a blonde to provide a visual counterpoint to brunette Stowe, which begs the question: Wasn't Kristen Bell available? Anyone who saw Burlesque knows that the normally perky actress can go full-on bitch when she needs to. Katie Cassidy, who negotiated similar terrain in the new Melrose Place and Gossip Girl, also would have rocked the part.

The second glaring flaw: the revenge itself. Perhaps it's because I'm not a big fan of dishes best served cold, or maybe I've had my fill of revenge after years of watching daytime TV, but really, does it solve anything? Even stepping out of my Pollyanna shoes for a minute and pretending that I want to see more revenge plots on my TV screen, there needs to be more to a show's central premise, which is why I'm hoping that as the season unfolds, I see more of Stowe and less of VanCamp. I'll never tire of watching overprotective mothers shielding their beloved sons from unspeakable sluts.

Also, Thorne's revenge schemes would be more compelling if we knew the character better, if we were more invested in her because we saw how her father's legal predicament made her suffer. The flashbacks haven't been enough to draw me into her story and care whether or not she makes everyone pay. As much as I hate them for causing James Tupper to be relegated to brief flashbacks, I'm not that interested in seeing him avenged by a little girl playing dress-up bitch.

Tellingly, the flashback scenes featuring Tupper and Stowe's characters and the fallout from their clandestine affair have been more interesting than anything set in the present day. Three episodes in, I can't help but think that Revenge is the rare instance where living in the past just might have been the way to go.

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