The Best New TV Show of the Fall Season
For some reason I decided to take this fall TV season with terrible seriousness and I dutifully set my DVR for all the new offerings. Most of it was easily discarded by the second episode. (So thank goodness for some returning shows; “Bored to Death” is again absolutely awesome.) “Pan Am” is soulless and dreadful and slow. “Prime Suspect” is great to watch and incredibly edited and makes New York City look fun and gritty, but still when it comes up on the recorded shows list, it rings no emotional bells. “Charlie’s Angels,” good grief, I turned off the pilot 20 minutes in, it’s despicable. (And so long forever!) “Terra Nova” comes off as very simple-minded, it’s pitched for blockheads, but I’ll keep watching because it’s impressive how much money they’re willing to spend. “Person of Interest” came on way too strong. “The Secret Circle” started off entertaining and trashy but you pretty much can’t stick with it if you’re not 15, it’s pitched intellectually somewhere beneath the “The Vampire Diaries,” which is really saying something. Otherwise, I’m not watching any of the comedies because I’m humorless — maybe some are good! — and “Enlightened” I am hoarding so I can consume all its Laura Dernitude at once. And then there’s one show, one show that should be reviled and mocked and has no right to be considered good, and so far it’s absolutely the best thing around. Somehow, “Revenge” punches all the pleasure centers all at once.
If you haven’t seen, the gist is: once upon a time, a young girl’s very wealthy father was set up by his married lady-lover and a full-blown conspiracy of rich evil people. He goes off to jail (for TREASON no less!) and the girl grows up in institutions, and then finally inherits all of the father’s millions (somehow; that’s unlikely and vague), returns to the Hamptons under a different identity and name, and immediately spends her summer vigorously destroying all of them.
Part of what makes what should be an odious night-time soap successful, apart from how well it relays its cruel adventures, is casting; the lead, played by a Canadian named Emily VanCamp, does polite socialite, romantic damsel, hurt girl and incredibly evil mercenary equally well, all with just a twist of her flat face. She pulls the show off super-quietly, and lets the histrionics go on around her. Her nemesis is the astoundingly chilly, chilly, chilly Madeleine Stowe. Her love interest (real? Or ploy?) is this absurdly Kennedy-esque nobody hunk from England, Joshua Bowman. (Who was a friend of Amy Winehouse’s? Huh.) Couldn’t be better, down to the extras. (Except maybe for the casting of the dog.)
But the real success comes from a really elegant little tap dance of being both appealing luxe (money is so fun!) while also being about the glorification of the destruction of the rich. The helicopter shots of the Hamptons! The ridiculous real estate! The pool houses! The interiors are perfect; the outfits are terrific. It scratches that gross rash where everyone loves an enormous house and also the slightly less but still gross rash where we love seeing evil people get dragged under.
And the third ingredient is pure trashy camp of the classic evening soap variety, but of the highest order. Meanwhile, the show also reaches out to stroke all our little tinfoil hats: of course conservative Senators have affairs and children out of wedlock, and everyone’s corrupt, and it goes without saying, in this mindset, that all rich people got where they are by evil deeds. That this isn’t really strictly true in the real world is beside the point. Now (again and more) we all think the worst of rich people.
Le Comte de Monte-Cristo ran in 18 serial installments, over the course of a year-and-a-half; it seems inconceivable that “Revenge” could hold up for 22 weekly episodes, as was just (finally!) ordered by ABC, but such is the magic of television when it’s actually magical.