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Friday, 5 of March of 2021

Audition Review: Revenge – “Pilot”

I have to admit, it’s nice meeting someone who never knew the old me.

This is the first hour-long pilot I’ve gotten to this season (I’m skipping The Playboy Club until the weekend), and I’m pretty okay with it. I don’t think Revenge is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen, but it’s certainly not the worst either. Of the new shows I’ve watch so far, it’s easily the one I’m most willing to tune in for a second episode of.

And maybe it’s because I’ve just had a long week (and I don’t even get paid to watch this stuff, let alone write about it), but I’m feeling like I’ve been a bit overly critical of stuff, picking at flaws more than the strengths. Admittedly, it’s easy to do that with a pilot since there are often just so many flaws (pilots, by their very natures, are little ugly ducklings), so I’ll try and offer more than just a list of flaws.

One of the big obvious questions about Revenge is exactly how long this show can last. There can only possibly be so many Graysons for Amanda/Emily to kill, which leaves the show with only so many episodes it can possibly do (Are there 100 Graysons so it can hit the magic syndication number?). The premiere demonstrates the show is side-stepping that issue for the moment as it starts at the engagement party between Amanda/Emily and Daniel  Grayson, the prodigal son of the family, but then flashes back to, and seems to settle into, five months earlier in the story.

Which means that a substantial amount of time will be spent showing us how Amanda/Emily worked her way into the Grayson household, at least a half-season if not the full season, I’d guess. I’m pretty okay with this move as it helps us the series maintain a pace and let us know just how clever Amanda/Emily is (though the pilot demonstrates some of this rather well already).

The basic conceit of the show, that Amanda/Emily is extracting revenge (REVENGEEE!!!) on the Graysons for destroying her father’s life, is a  juicy one, primed for lots of betrayals and planning. While I think the general instinct is to see Revenge as a class warfare show (one young woman destroying a wealthy family), I’d push back against that, arguing that it’s a bit more wish fulfillment. Amanda/Emily is wealthy (courtesy of some smart investments from her father), able to move among the Graysons and the rest of the Hamptoms elite, but she is not how we’d typically conceptualize wealthy.

Her wealth is not used for leisure or extravagance, but for a specific purpose. And the Graysons are not a target because they’re rich; they’re a target because of what they did. If Amanda/Emily was just after them just because they’re rich (and if Amanda/Emily didn’t have any money herself), that’d be class warfare. Indeed, if Amanda/Emily is really anyone, she’s Batman, using her wealth for a singular purpose, working from the shadows and in plain sight.

And I’m cool with that. The pilot demonstrates that Emily/Amanda is adept at playing folks against each other as she quickly and effortlessly manages to remove Lydia from the board, and uses the Graysons to do it. It’s the anticipation of watching her plans fall into place is where I feel like where the soapy enjoyment of the series will come from. (Provided it doesn’t get too dragged out, of course.)

Emily VanCamp as Emily/Amanda shows promise, but the pilot doesn’t let her rip loose until near the end, when she threatens to kill Nolan (more on him in a moment). I’ll be eager to see how VanCamp manages to keep Emily/Amanda from being boring, and hopefully all that doesn’t rest on her avoiding her past.

Madeline Stowe, on the other hand, is already relishing her ice queen bitch of the Hamptons as Victoria Grayson. Getting bits of scenery stuck in her teeth, particularly as she, as her husband notes (in a line of dialog that is a bit laughter inducing), “exiles” Lydia from the Hamptons, is a pleasure. You may come for the revenge, but you’ll stay for Stowe’s performance.

But there are little problems. The show, at its core, is just another “Oh, man, sucks to be a white person in a world with no minorities” escapist fare. I’m all for it the escapist part, and the show doesn’t feel as painfully serious as Game of Thrones (another “sucks to be white…” show). Sure, you can argue the Hamptons setting of the show helps make this “okay” (most major places in the Hamptons are about 80 to 90 percent white), but it’s still pretty obvious, especially as the show works in Ashley, a friend of Amanda’s (not Emily’s), as its only minority.

But then there’s Nolan, and I don’t know what to do with him. We first see him at the engagement party, where the women are in red while the men wear white. Nolan’s in both. Is he gay? Trans? Who knows? The show doesn’t care enough to tell me right now. He shows up in pink and skinny pants in his next scene, antagonizing the blue-collar coded Porters to buy a boat. So more gay than trans?

Sure, he’s probably just bucking norms in the society, as he seems prone to do, but introducing him in that opening in such a way has me asking questions that the show doesn’t want to answer right away. Which is fine. Again, pilots can’t do everything (unless they’re Modern Family). Revenge does most of it right, and I’m happy with that.

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