Even though I grew up in Florida, I don’t swim anywhere but swimming pools, because I’m too afraid of sharks. Emily Thorne, the anti-hero of ABC’s smash soap Revenge evidently shares no such fear as she plunges into the water outside her beachfront Hamptons home for her daily swim. Perhaps it’s because she knows she’s the most dangerous thing in the water.
Revenge was a highly buzzed about show at the beginning of the fall TV season, and it has actually managed to live up to its hype. The soap operatic twists and turns are worthy of Melrose Place in its wig-ripping heyday, but even in its over-the-top escalation of stakes each week, it manages to toe the line and avoid slipping into camp. This delicate highwire act has earned the show a loyal audience; it continues to grow in the ratings each week, and has landed on the cover of this week’s Entertainment Weekly .
What makes this show so compelling on a weekly basis? Much credit lies in the performance of the strong female leads. Emily Thorne (aka Amanda Clarke) is played with an incredible duality of sunniness and cool efficiency by Emily Van Camp. Van Camp is excellent at portraying sweetness with an undercurrent of edge as she infiltrates the high-society backstabbers who framed her father for murder. She’s a master at letting a warm smile slip into a chillingly predatory stare when no other eyes but ours are on her. Madeline Stowe plays Victoria Grayson, Emily Thorne’s adversary, with a patrician steel reserve. Like Van Camp, Stowe has a great knack for saying one thing, but letting the home audience know she means another. Prime time soaps are not often known for subtle performances, but these two masterful actresses elevate the form, and seem to have fun doing so.
These virtuoso performances are buoyed by an excellent supporting cast. The standout in these performances is Gabriel Mann as unexpected style icon, Nolan Ross. Nolan serves many roles in this show. He is Emily’s confidante, accomplice, and unlikely conscience, as well as an occasional deus ex machina. He could buy and sell every one of the extremely wealthy characters on the show a hundred times over, but more importantly, he has the thing that both Victoria and Emily seem to lack: a heart.
I was a major Melrose Place fangirl back in the day. I even dressed as crazy Kimberly Shaw for Halloween one year. I didn’t think any show could ever replace that one in my heart, but after a strong showing in the first half of the season, Revenge is definitely in the running. I hope it keeps unspooling its treacherous arc with the same impeccable pacing. But even if it slides off the rails, I’m likely to overlook it, because I am invested in these characters. I would totally hang out with them. Even though that may be scarier than swimming with sharks.