The money, power and privilege associated with the Hamptons is a ripe setting for a nighttime soap, and a young woman bent on revenge against those responsible for her father’s disgrace and death when she was a child is as good a place to start as any. Yet “Revenge” doesn’t quite pop, even with an opening murder to set the wheels in motion. Although the show incorporates the symbol for infinity, in terms of timelines, earning a full season order provides a more pressing concern.
Part of the problem has to do with Emily VanCamp (“Brothers & Sisters”), who is simply a little too sweet and apple-pie as Emily Thorne, the alluring young woman who takes up residence among the ostentatiously wealthy set, with an eye on exacting you-know-what.
After seeking to hook viewers with the murkily shot slaying on a moonlit beach, the series jumps back “five months earlier,” as Emily quickly wangles an invite to a lavish bash thrown by Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe), described as the “reigning queen of the Hamptons.”
Pretty soon, though, that crown begins to rest uneasily, as Emily sets about her elaborate plot against the local gentry, which includes using Victoria’s son (Josh Bowman) — who immediately takes the bait by setting his sights on Emily — against the family.
The first hour (shot in North Carolina, with series production shifting west to Manhattan Beach, Calif.) features philandering husbands and catty snubs, auguring the “Dallas”-like doings to come. Ultimately, though, those elements will have to take on a life of their own, since Emily gaining satisfaction against all the key players will have to be deferred to give the title any meaning or suspense.
“Revenge” teases out its story by flashing back in two ways — not just from where the pilot begins, but also by Emily recalling how each of her targets played a role in the elaborate, high-finance scheme that framed her dad.
Judging a series such as this by the pilot and a second episode is tantamount to reviewing a book based on the prologue, but the show mirrors many a Hamptons resident by being too thin for its own good. Stowe (who in an odd footnote co-starred in “Revenge,” the 1990 Kevin Costner pic) is the obvious standout as the brittle, ruthless bitch who dominates her status-conscious social circle, but there’s not much yet to distinguish Victoria from any number of divas past and present.
That leaves VanCamp, whose innocence might disarm her prey but also doesn’t establish her as a Machiavellian schemer with the grit or resources to bring the whole stinking (if beautifully decorated) house of cards toppling down.
Series creator Mike Kelley did create a compelling soap in CBS’ short-lived “Swingtown,” and Phillip Noyce directed the pilot. Their resumes, however, bode better for “Revenge” than the timeslot, an hour where ABC has struggled launching new shows.
Because even if there are traces of “Desperate Housewives” in “Revenge’s” DNA, ABC’s latest serial feels oh-so-last decade, which, particularly in the Hamptons, is about as thematically stylish as wearing white after Labor Day.