Friday, September 23, 2011

"Revenge": New series on ABC features bad-girl actress from "Everwood", tests viewers ability to follow flashbacks

The major networks have veered away from sci-fi  (although there will soon be a time-travel “Jurassic” series), but the idea of a complicated story reaching back in time with flashbacks certainly appeals now, even if it makes it harder for intermittent visitors to follow the plot. Such is the case with ABC’s new series “Revenge”, starting Wednesday Sept. 21 at 10 PM. It's one of the most heavily anticipated new series of the Fall 2011 season, after so many other dramatic series have eventually been canceled because ratings couldn't be sustained "forever". 

Here is ABC’s site, and the main director is Phillip Noyce.  The plot is loosely adapted from the novel "The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexander Dumas, which I read in ninth grade (and again in French as a senior). The novel was the basis of a big film from Touchstone in 2002, directed by  Kevin Reynolds, with James Caviezel as Dantes (I saw in Minnesota).  More dramatic was the earlier Dumas adventure "The Man in the Iron Mask" (1998) with a scraggly Di Caprio from MGM and director Randall Wallace, which made more impression on me. 

Emily Van Camp plays the “heroine” who rents a house in the Hamptons to plan pay-back for the people who destroyed her father and family in the 1990s.  Van Camp had played the self-serving teenager Amy Abbott in “Everwood”.   (I remember a line when she had failed some courses in high school and she told her parents, “I’ll fix it.”)  She’s the same sort of character here. A twist: she's exchanged identities (not bodies a la Smallville) with a former institution-mate and hiding out as Emily Thorne, so she can, with her bourgeois inherited wealth, go after the people who set up her pop, David Clarke. 

The show begins Labor Day weekend at a fireworks party at the estate, when a man is murdered on the beach and soon discovered. It then walks back to April when Emily Thorne  (I thought, is she a “Thorne Bird”?) rents the place, and then takes us back into some backstory in the 90s when her father was wrongfully arrested and she was taken away.

The sets in the show are garish, particularly in high definition, with a lot of red.

Connor Paolo, who had appeared as a gay character in "Gossip Girl", is especially attractive here as a bartender who his present on the beach when the body is found. 

There is a lot of play on New Testament ideas of forgiveness, versus the human need for "justice" and therefore (maybe) revenge. 

I have been looking over my novel manuscript “Brothers”, which I have talked about on this blog before, and also in an Aug. 5, 2009 posting on my Books Blog.   A 30-something CIA agent, married with a family in Dallas and working also as a history teacher, is piecing together possible alien artifacts that explain a slowly emerging (but so far quieted) epidemic of a bizarre “possession” disease that first affects people who live at higher altitudes.  He befriends a gay college student who (at the end of the days of “don’t ask don’t tell”) seems to bring more evidence through his personal life.  Of course, part of the plot concerns the CIA agent’s feeling attracted to the student “Sal”) (and Sal takes advantage of this in an intimate scene) and the implosion of his marriage (as in “Making Love”) – yet his kids will help “save the world”.

The original novel has the lead character making several overseas trips, and then in the second half goes into long “road movie” mode through western states as several other characters, all with complicated pasts related to the “disease” introduction (by aliens) as the population empties out and moves down lower.  In the East, I actually make something of the mountaintop removal issue and reduction of altitude. Finally, there is a climax, involving both apprehensions and an escape in a spaceship. There’s also a secret right wing academy that has been set up for the “new order”.  To make the novel manageable, I “simplified” the story and cut out some of the trips and extended “roadside attractions” sequence.  But the original seems to fit well with a 20-part (or so) series – if viewers can keep track of the flashbacks, where the explanation of what has happened and what now must close things – like they did in “The Event”. Ultimately, the survivors must go to other worlds – not have them teleported here.  I guess I don’t have a “Sofia” character, though, although the gay college student fills the role of “Shawn” in “The Event” as a kind of para-savior.  I do have a retired FBI agent, now legless after a mysterious auto crash (on an earlier, flashbacked road trip out West), and his epidemiologist wife, who is more stable than Sofia, but maybe not under the same pressures from “The Outside”.
Would a suspense or sci-fi thriller accept a gay lead character, who isn’t just there as a comic relief (not  just a “cobbler” to open “Julius Caesar” – I sat in on some lit classes when I subbed).  Would it sustain Nielsen ratings with a gay co-lead in mainstream broadcast TV?

I have to mention another moment here about my book manuscripts, because something like this is probably an issue in any "dramatic" television series. In the original version of my novels, there is a moment where the retired FBI agent, having visited his previously delinquent (computer hacker) grown son, walks away from a train wreck, all the way into a cafe and meets another young adult male character (who walks in, in blue jeans, in "Iceman Cometh" fashion) whom he learns, in an a-ha moment, is an "angel".  The idea that some beings exist who will never age and always remain perfect  (and never have to procreate, perhaps) is suddenly relative truth.  I think this could be a terrific scene to direct. But in the condensed novel (and probably any television series based on my material), the incident must be shown as a flashback (part of the backstory), assuming that the viewer has watched every episode and is committed to following the series. But the condensed novel is told largely from the viewpoint of two characters (the 30-ish CIA man and gay college student), one of whom may have a chance to "become" an angel, and all are linked by a mysterious writer/blogger who wants to be one and who has discovered the "plot" on this own.

There's one plus for cable networks as opposed to broadcast: they don't get pre-empted by breaking news (usually).  But they don't get the audience and advertising dollars necessary to pay for a really ambitious series.

So much for my latest elevator speech.

I wish the networks could come up with another “FlashForward” or resume it.  But I could give them a new idea. 

"Everwood"  (TheWB) is discussed on this blog on a posting March 31, 2006.

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