It’s Wednesday and this fall that means one thing: the latest installment of my guilty, TV-watching pleasure—ABC’s new soap-opera-y, over-the-top drama Revenge comes on.
I love this show and I’m only a little embarrassed to say so. Yes, I’ll admit there is a part of me that likes looking at attractive people cavorting around the beaches and mansions and yachts of the Hamptons. And I enjoy the ridiculous plot twists and over-acting and shocking hook-ups. My teen daughter and I pop a bowl of popcorn and curl up on the couch together, excitedly gasping during commercials and trying to pull the other members of the family in. (Typically, husband is at the computer, but he occasionally looks up when there’s a climactic shift in the music to ask what the heck is going on. Or son ambles in with his nightly bowl of cereal to make a derogatory remark about inane TV shows. My daughter and I roll our eyes. This show is GOOD, we insist.)
In case you haven’t tuned in, I will say here that it is not too late to jump on board. You can watch the earlier episodes online and catch right up with us. And now I will attempt to analyze the appeal. Because I am a writer who prides myself on having some taste in entertainment offerings. And because watching this show is a kind of assignment for me. You see, all of the necessary aspects of a story are present in Revenge, and watching it religiously can therefore improve my own story-telling abilities. (If I keep telling myself this, I might eventually believe it.)
It starts, I think, with a proper hook. The minute we meet the main character Emily Thorne (spoiler alert—this is not her real name) we are introduced to her quest. Emily’s father was framed in a spectacular way by his wealthy and powerful friends for a terrible crime he did not commit. And now Emily is out to seek revenge on every last one of them. She’s got a photo of the smiling, smug group and each episode she takes one down in a satisfying way and marks an X across his face.
So that’s fun.
The first episode began at the end, in a kind of flash-forward. A man is (possibly) shot on the beach during a Labor Day/engagement party. It’s Emily’s fiancé and we watch her react to the news and then we rewind back to the beginning of the summer when Emily is just moving into the Hamptons and setting her diabolical revenge plan into motion. I love this framework for a story because it gives the sense that the writers know where the plot is going. I’ve gotten sucked into complicated programs before (ahem, Lost) and the build up of sub plots and introductions of characters, etc., works up to a certain point in grabbing the audience’s attention. But eventually there has to be a pay off equal to or greater than the building up section. It’s nice if the writers have some idea how they’re going to tie everything together. Otherwise you have the sneaking suspicion they’re making it up as they go. Not a great tactic, by the way, for any kind of story creation.
No story, no matter how cleverly plotted, can last long without interesting characters. True, the ones in Revenge are exaggerations (I hope) of reality, but these people are much more complex than you realize at first. Take “Emily.” We are rooting for her to destroy her father’s enemies, but there are many times when she seems to go too far. And we don’t know her true feelings about anyone, including the clueless boyfriend/fiancé Daniel. The main antagonist in this drama is Daniel’s mother, Victoria Grayson. You really really want to hate this woman, but somehow in every episode there’s a little glimmer of humanity glinting behind her smirky smile. It’s like that with all the characters. One week we applaud Emily’s destruction of former supermodel, Lydia. But a few weeks later that poor woman is thrown out of a window and somehow survives. It’s hard not to feel sorry for her when Victoria keeps her bedridden and drugged in a back bedroom.
The writers could’ve rested on their laurels with the cool premise and complicated characters, but each week they up the ante, introducing more potential enemies for Emily and flashing intriguing pieces of the past at us. Victoria was having an affair with Emily’s father. Da da dum! And Emily’s reform school roommate, the one she switched identities with, is back, after murdering the Grayson’s evil security guard. Da da dum! And Daniel’s best buddy from Harvard is really a sociopathic lying hustler. Da da dum!!!
Each show is more brilliant and funny and ridiculous than the last. And I for one will be eagerly watching it all unfold tonight. (Pen in hand. To further conduct my story-building research. Not.)