In my search for great television with good leading ladies, I once came upon the show Revenge. While the first time around I made the error to take a break from it, because of some unexplained reason. The second time is where I was dragged in to the mind of Emily Thorne/Amanda Clarke (Emily Van Camp), from here on called Emily, and I did not want to go without her. The plot was also not convoluted enough to be trite, which worked just fine for me. It will probably come a time when the series will run off with the ideas and turn it to something muddy. But for now I just hope they can continue this course. When that is said, there are some elements of this show that rubs me the wrong way. Yes, it is the soapy elements that bring some of the entertainment down. Thankfully it's not a prominent as say Gossip Girl who almost prompted me to throw the remote at the television. Also, not every character is up to snuff, but that isn't really all that troubling since the two main characters Emily and Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann) are so enticing to follow. Let's not waste anymore time, we will see the juicy stuff through.
It's time for Revenge
Emily's father, David Clarke (James Tupper) is betrayed by his company after he is falsely accused of downing a plane. The head of the family, Conrad Grayson (Henry Czerny) was the one who funded the money to the organization responsible. His wife Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe) had an affair with David which made things easier for the framing. Previously mentioned Nolan gets weaved into Emily's story by her father; David helped kick-start his company. Because of this he feels obligated to help her to avenge him. After a while it's increasingly telling that that's not why he is doing it anymore. Both Emily and Nolan form a bond that transcends love (thankfully there is no romantic love to speak of them). In other roles we have Nick Wechsler as Emily's best friend, Jack Porter from when they were young. Jack's brother, Declan Porter (Connor Paolo), has a crush on Charlotte Grayson (Christa B. Allen). She is Daniel Grayson's (Joshu Bowman) sister, which Emily's using to get close to the family. Last but not least we have Ashely Davenport (Ashley Madekwe) and Tyler Barrol (Ashton Holmes).
I first saw VanCamp in the televison show Brother's and Sisters (2006-2011) where she didn't make much of an impression. She did however just guest in a couple of episodes of season one (she probably did more, but I have only seen the one). In Revenge she epitomizes everything that is good about the show. She is the lead role yes, but every time she is on screen it's electrifying to watch her scheme. Emily starts the show with an ice-cold but convincing revenge-laden front. But she is so much more, for every moment she can be soft, caring and even approachable. She always has a contingency if her plans should fail. While she starts the season as a chilly ice queen, she softens through the season, and especially in the interactions with Nolan is where we get to see her true face. She is capable of anything, but it's good to see that she isn't scheming everyone just to do it; she has a big emotional heart as well. Emily may not change in ways that easily show on screen, but in subtler way she becomes an even more awesome person. Lest not forget how kick-ass she can be both physically and mentally. I love her character and claim her to be one of the best female leading roles in a long time.
While David doesn't get much screen time seeing as he is dead, he is still an integral part of the show. The show uses flashbacks to front the relationship he had with his daughter. They are sweet and build up the revenge Emily needs fluently and astonishingly. If there ever were a best father in tv- shows, he would definitely deserve it.
Czerny plays the stereotypical husband Conrad that thinks he can get away with anything. This conniving little shit does whatever he wants, damn who should come in his crossfires. Still we can see the love he has for his daughter, but I am not so sure he loves his son. Because he seems more interested in him getting the company then whatever Daniel wants to do with his life. Even though Conrad's role is full of cliches, Czerny owns it right down to the core. The way he speaks sounds convincingly rich and smug, and let's not forget how he talks to his wife that want me to smack him around. I guess this means his role has succeeded. How can we sympathize with Emily all the way, if he was played any other way? Still there are nuances of good elements to him. Like the previous mentioned love for his daughter. All this changes though after certain news are revealed to him.
Even though I want to smack Conrad for the way he talks to Victoria, she is still a scheming queen. This doesn't mean he should talk to her this way, it just means that she is just as worse as him. For some reason though I feel more for her, and this might have something to do with her back story that gets slowly revealed throughout the season. Like Conrad her ways are tied into their rich lifestyle and this of course in turn influences the road she guides her children. With Daniel she is chastising him every turn for being with Emily, and with Charlotte she is always down on her for not being the do-thy daughter Victoria wants her to be. This does have something to do with elements out of Charlotte's control; but they both still judge her for it. Stowe is just as magnificent and intensifying as VanCamp. I still say the latter is the better actress, but let's not get into a contest here. Let's just say they both bring something to the table that the show wouldn't want to be without.
Now we can't forget Nolan in all this. When I first started watching this show, I wasn't really a big fan of his. But as the season progressed he was rapdily became one of my favorite characters. His sly wit is so intoxicating, and his fierce loyalty to Emily is endearing to see. He starts the series as a slimy businessman who seem to only care about himself, to change into a certain lovely person who will do anything for his friends. And as the viewers might not be a fan of him in the show, it also seems like the characters aren't exactly on board with him either. But as the series progresses they too come to the conclusion that he is worth having here.
It's worse when it comes to Jack and Declan. While they are both good additions to the show, especially Declan seem to drag things down. His crush on Charlotte is sweet, and their enveloping relationship is also something to treasure. But that's it, whatever he has going for him gets squashed at every turn. Still he is the only one who has the nerve to say something against the Grayson family. Jack is created purely for Emily to have a Will they or Won't They drama for whenever they will hook up. Outside of that, their relationship is cozy, but we can still see the writers pulling the manipulating strings. This of course ties into the soapy elements of the show. While it does sound like I have huge problem with it, yeah it annoys me, but because the rest of the show is so good it's not really a blip on my radar. However what I am trying to say, had they done this differently and maybe written these two characters better than maybe the show would be even better. Except for that Paolo and Wechsler does some good things with what they're given. They're just a tad boringly nice guys, and maybe, just maybe they will get some juicer story lines in season two.
While Charlotte doesn't get much more interesting story lines than the previously mentioned, she still ties into the story in ways people might not think. And yeah this might make her a plot line, but I still don't feel like the story has dictated her every move. Some weak story lines with her abusing drugs, which is also so cliche when it comes to women in soap. Except for all this, I don't feel like I got to know Charlotte. But as season two has promised it looks like she will get a bigger role, and I am all for it. Allen does what she can with the role, and she seems to embrace what little she is given. So even though I don't feel like I know her that well after season one, she is still someone to watch for.
This brings me to Daniel who while actually getting an interesting story line is kinda boring to watch. However he does subvert the idea of the typical richman's son. He does have past with drinking and drunk driving, but when the series starts he is getting away from the drinking, and is actually doing what he is supposed to. I also love that he has such a good relationship with his sister. But one thing I reacted to, Conrad is constant plaguing his son to start working for his company. Then I thought, what about Charlotte? Wouldn't she also be an candidate since she is also an Grayson? Now people will chime in and say that this is tradition and this how rich families does it. So? How about we subvert this idea as well? Why can't a woman be eligible for a high positions in Conrads company? Other than that I think Bowman does a fine job with his suave Daniel.
Ashely is unfortunately one of the marginalized in the show. She doesn't have an identity, except for being Emily's friend (this doesn't seem all that genuine either) and the party planner of Victoria. Ashley does however form a relationship with Tyler. But that seems only to appropriate Tylers scheming to get a position on Conrad's company. Even though I find Tyler's scheming to be mildly soapy and annoying, he is still an entertaining part of the show. Ashely however is just a girl who gets pushed around and seems to facilitate many of Emily's ploys. She does however get more to do at the end of the season, either way how not plausible it seems. Holmes is devilishly sly and self-assure as Tyler, while Madewke draws the short straw and just contributes enough to compare.
Soapy elements be damned
You might have noticed that I am not a big fan of soap-elements? While they are not egregious in this show, there are still places where it plagues the story telling. Especially is this evident in the relationship of Charlotte and Declan. While they are sweet together, at the end of the season, the cliches comes a-running. This is also evident in the handling of Tyler, who is mischievous throughout most of the season. Even though his actions manipulate the plot in ways I don't like, by misplacing Daniels phone to put cracks in his relationship with Emily and also making him think he struck him; it's still really enticing to see Tyler doing his dance. While that is said, it's even more awesome to see Emily dance around his magic tricks and winning in the end.
The soap elements also shows themselves when it comes to Jack and Emily. At different parts of the season Nolan encourages Jack to tell Emily. The problem is that this gets shut down pretty easily. I would have liked them together had they had a better chemistry, not that I embrace Daniel and Emily together. Yes, the have a connection but this is unfortunately not enough to play it convincingly. Still they have some moments that show that they can have a future. It's problematic that the producers at every turn sabotage everything they try to conquer by putting cliched roadblocks for their annoyance and mine. I know this is first and foremost suppose to be a soap, but the show has so much more potential in their leading lady and her revenge. The soapy elements come out stinking of second hand cliches.
Yes this is what I came to see, and every time she gets to play around with the other characters I am all for it. In the start of the show the producers doesn't quite trust the audience. They keep on showing how Emily does her tricks every time. Haven't they learned that a magician never reveals his tricks? The show functions best when it doesn't think the audience is dumb. The first few episodes focuses on people Emily has to put down for her revenge to work. I really like this setup and enjoy her punishing them. Still I like how the show evolved from this and fully embraces the ongoing series main plot. This doesn't mean that she doesn't take down one character after another of the ones responsible for framing her father. It's just means that her revenge and the story becomes more organic by mixing things up.
The flashbacks in the show are few and far between. Still they functions as a way to build up Emily's revenge. But what it also does is to give Victoria some well deserved sympathy. Yes, she did help her husband frame David, but still there are elements of the plan she didn't know. Even though I said that Emily and Nolan are the main characters of the show, I still feel that Victoria has just as an big role. I just love that the show has two strong women who doesn't pull any punches and doesn't let the men around them play with them.
The season is built up well and the pace is at times lethal. It's actually quite an simple show with complexities dripped where it's needed. I feel that the show should embrace the complexities even more. But as a first season, the way they weave characters and plotlines together functions quite well. The season starts with a mystery that gets solved after a while. Yes this is something else apart from the actual revenge part. But it's actually solved quite quickly, and for someone hoping it will stay on through the season will be dead wrong. At the same time I am glad they didn't prolong it. The show is also quite mysterious at times, but it's very good at dealing out answers when needed.
If it's not clear, yes I liked this season. I feel the story of Emily's revenge is quite emotional and well told. VanCamp as Emily is fantastically animated and enigmatic, but not the absurd borders. The other characters also functions well oposed to the story, and not any real clunkers. Revenge's soap elements are to simple to plague my opinion of it. But the cliches the producers use to create drama is way to embelished in the season. I hope they stop this in season two, but we'll have to wait and see. All in all a great season of television.