Fall TV is in full swing, but one new series wants to keep summer going a little bit longer. Set in the sun-soaked Hamptons where New York's rich and fabulous come out to play, ABC's "Revenge" recalls glitzy primetime soaps like "Dynasty" with its beautiful cast and picturesque setting. But this isn't just mindless escapism: A mysterious newcomer infiltrates this exclusive society, intent on exposing all of their sordid secrets and making them pay for their past misdeeds.
Emily VanCamp ("Everwood," "Brothers and Sisters") stars as Emily Thorne, the new girl in town who quickly finds a place for herself inside the Hamptons social elite. But she has a secret: The same people she's befriending are the ones who destroyed her father's life, and once she wins them over, she's determined to exact vengeance by taking them out, one by one.
With her innocent face and reputation for goody-two-shoes roles, VanCamp certainly makes for an unlikely antihero. "Yeah, I'm going to really disappoint my fans with this one," she jokes. But she doesn't see her character as entirely unsympathetic. "She's quite justified in what she's doing," she says. "I mean, these people stole everything from her. They are horrible people… and I think on some level, everybody can connect with the theme of revenge, whether they act on it or not."
Creator Mike Kelley ("Swingtown") adds that VanCamp's innate appeal helps audiences connect with the character: "You are rooting for her even though she's doing something that's kind of diabolical." The girl known as "Emily Thorne" is actually Amanda Clarke, a damaged girl who still remembers being torn from her father's arms during a violent raid. Her dad passed away while she was in juvenile lockup and now, fueled by years of pent-up hurt and anger, she's plotting to wreak havoc on those she blames for her dad's death.
[Photos: Meet the Cast of 'Revenge']
But Emily more than meets her match in Victoria Grayson (played by film veteran Madeleine Stowe), the queen bee of Hamptons society with an icy smile worthy of a Disney villainess. (As Victoria herself says, "Approval is not something I give away freely.") Victoria rules over her social inferiors with an iron fist, willing to turn her back on even her closest friends in order to maintain her grip on power.
We learn from flashbacks that Victoria and her husband, Conrad (Henry Czerny), were involved in the downfall of Emily's dad. And Stowe is truly frightening in the role, already hinting at the ruthlessness yet to come. (Don't be shocked to see her nab an Emmy nod next year.) The actress thinks viewers are going to enjoy watching Victoria get what's coming to her: "We are dealing with a particular time right now in American history where I think that the average American is going to want to see the takedown of the rich." (Amen, sister.)
Only a few people know Emily's true identity, including geeky Internet mogul Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann, "Mad Men"), who once worked for her father. "They're like siblings," Mann says. "They have a love/hate relationship. She wants nothing to do with Nolan, but he knows her secrets." Emily also runs into a man from her distant past: Jack Porter (Nick Wechsler, "Roswell"), a scruffy local bartender who still carries a torch for the Amanda he once knew.
Emily makes her way inside the Hamptons inner circle thanks to event planner Ashley Davenport (Ashley Madekwe), who introduces her around and lets her in on all the juicy gossip. "She's almost like a Greek chorus, letting the audience know what's going on," Madekwe says about her character. "She's Emily's eyes and ears, and she knows everything about that society."
Executive producer Wyck Godfrey was excited to revive the good old-fashioned primetime soap: "I grew up in the era of 'Dynasty' and 'Dallas,' so those are the kind of shows we wanted to make. And Mike [Kelley] brought a kind of wickedness to it that we weren't expecting — but loved." There's already an intriguing love triangle emerging between Emily, her old love Jack, and Victoria's golden-boy son Daniel (Josh Bowman), who Emily quickly cozies up to in order to get closer to his mother.
But with only so many upper-crust evildoers for Emily to knock off, how long can this story last? Kelley reveals that "in the first 13 episodes, we are holding to a character being taken down each week. It's a great procedural element within our show." But if the series gets picked up for a full season, then the focus will shift from the Hamptons to New York City, where Emily's master plan will continue to unfold. So might we see a climactic Emily-Victoria showdown on the streets of Manhattan? Fingers crossed.
"Revenge" premieres Wednesday, 9/21 at 10pm ET on ABC.
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