Ladies Be Filmin’: ABC’s Revenge

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The fall TV season is underway and, despite the ever-lower numbers of women in the writers’ rooms, it’s being hailed as the year of the women: 17 out of the 25 new scripted shows on the Big Five networks are female-centered and many were created by women. In this series, comedian Leila Cohan-Miccio watches the new female-centered shows and evaluates how realistic their portrayals of women actually are. Up now: Revenge.

Contrary to what you might have thought from Revenge‘s massive advertising push, the show is not actually about a lady in a giant spiky dress, though that would be kind of an amazing premise. Rather, Revenge follows Emily (Everwood‘s Emily Van Camp) as she exacts revenge on the fancy Hamptons folk responsible for her father's wrongful arrest and eventual death. For those of you who remember tenth grade English, yes, this is an extraordinarily loose adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo.

It's interesting to see a woman as the revenge-seeker. Emily is cold, calculating, and efficient — qualities usually portrayed in television as masculine. When they are given to a woman, she's generally positioned as the villain, but on Revenge, Emily is the one we're rooting for. Victoria Grayson (Madeline Stowe from the 90s), Emily's number one revenge target, is also a complex character – though she was Emily's dad's ultimate betrayer, she's also a good friend to those rare people on her good side.

There's a lot of fun promised by the reverse-My Name Is Earl premise and the contrast of the Hamptons' tacky opulence and Emily's nefarious motives. The pilot, however, doesn't totally follow through on this premise. We spend too much time watching Emily stroll along the beach and having flashbacks while a baby-voiced lady sings in the background and not enough seeing her wear fabulous outfits and go to swanky parties. None of the actors are bad, per se, but I spent several scenes thinking a lot more about the amazing houses on display (the abode of the Graysons, Emily's primary target, is particularly astonishing) than the action on screen. I also spent a lot of time marveling at the fact that Emily's love interest is played by Nick Weschler of Roswell and wondering what other late 90s WB stars might make an appearance. Popular‘s Leslie Grossman? Scott Speedman of Felicity? Joshua Jackson??? Please?

Revenge is not very interesting, is what I'm getting at here. And that might not be entirely the show's fault. Pilots are difficult to write at the best of times and when there's this much necessary backstory to deal with (what happened to Emily's dad? Why is Emily so hilariously wealthy?), it's very hard to avoid boring exposition dumps, like when Emily's friend Ashley literally takes her on a tour of a party and reveals every character's deal. I'm willing to give it another week to find out.