Revenge - Review

Sometimes a show arrives on our screens with a fanfare and a marketing campaign that would shame some Hollywood blockbusters. Other times, one will slip into the schedules barely noticed and slowly work its way into the public consciousness. Revenge is one such show. Premiering on E4 last year, it wasn't promoted that heavily and it would have been easy to let it slip by unnoticed. For those in the know, however, or those who stumbled upon it by chance, Revenge turned out to be one of the guilty pleasures of last year’s viewing schedule.

The set up was deceptively simple. Emily Thorne arrives in the Hamptons, renting a ludicrously beautiful beach house that just happens to back on to a mansion owned by the wealthy Grayson family. From an opening flash forward we knew that she would get engaged to the Graysons' son, and someone would get shot on the beach during the lavish engagement party. How we arrive at that point was the main thrust of Season 1. Emily isn't who she says she is. She is in fact Amanda Clarke, the daughter of David Clarke who worked for the Graysons but was framed for an act of terrorism and ended up getting murdered in prison. So Amanda is back for revenge, and if that sounds like a relatively simple plot, think again. Just about everyone that she meets is linked in some way to the death of her father and before she gets to exact her revenge on the Graysons, she has a whole swath of Hampton’s glitterati to deal with.

We left the first season with Emily splitting up from her fiancé, because she kissed her old flame, Jack, whom she is still in love with (even though he doesn't know who she is), the girl that Emily was in prison with, whose identity she is now using, getting pregnant by Jack, the Graysons' daughter getting sent to rehab for a drug problem, Mrs Grayson left on a plane that surprisingly went down in flames, a strange white haired man who may (or may not) have been her father’s murderer revealed as an associate of the Graysons and... oh it just goes on. In fact the plot is so labyrinthine that explaining it is close to pointless, as week by week goodies become baddies and allegiances change as often as the characters change their designer clothes.

Revenge has returned for a second season at a suitably breakneck speed. Victoria Grayson, the villain of the piece to all intents and purposes, played with relish by Madeline Stowe, turned out not to be dead, but instead hidden away in a small house in the forest which brought to mind an evil Disney Queen living in Hansel and Gretel’s cottage. How she manages to get back into the Grayson manor, when everyone thinks she is dead, to continue her scheming ways was done in such an audacious way that you almost felt like applauding. Alongside that we had Charlotte Grayson being sprung from rehab, after being kept there by a bent doctor, while her father siphoned off her inheritance, a paternity test for Jack and the real Amanda (now pretending to be Emily) and Emily coming face to face with the white haired man, who seems to be playing both sides. All of this while the man who may be the real puppet master watches on with his hidden cameras and odd sartorial style, Nolan Ross. Ross may be the most interesting of all the characters. Obviously based on Mark Zuckerberg, he is a computer whiz with a global company who until last season lived in a ridiculously chic modern beach house and helped Emily whenever she needed surveillance or phone taps (which was most of the time) We know he’s quirky as he always wears two shirts with the collars up, under a linen jacket, and is played by a usually good actor (Gabriel Mann) who has obviously been told to ramp his performance up to 11.

If all of this sounds like some awful teen soap that you wouldn't touch with a barge pole, think again. Revenge is must watch TV, and that’s because the writers know just how ridiculous the whole thing is and they are reveling in it. Nothing is too outlandish, too over the top or too ridiculous to get stirred into this pot, as long as it doesn't slow the action down. In some strange way it’s reminiscent of Twin Peaks crossed with all the best bits of early Dallas. Set in the Hampton’s, but filmed in L.A., you always know you are on a set, never more so than when a balcony scene is needed. It’s as though the film makers are boasting about the artifice of the whole thing.

Best of all are the performances of Madeline Stowe and Henry Czerny as the feuding Graysons. Two actors that have been side lined of late, they are relishing the chance to play what really amounts to Disney villains. Spitting their lines at each other like vicious snakes it’s a joy to watch. And with the addition this season of Jennifer Jason Leigh as Amanda’s mother, things look set to get bitchier than ever.

If you ask around you may be surprised how many people you know, outside of the target demographic, that are hooked on this gloriously ridiculous show. So put your prejudices aside, catch up on the first season and get stuck in to one of the best guilty pleasures TV has to offer at the moment.

Revenge is on E4, Monday nights at 9pm. Check out the Channel 4 official site, or watch episodes on 4OD.

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