Revenge s4 ep 23

So Revenge, unsurprisingly, is done. It would probably have worked best as a short and nasty 13-episode kick to the head, but the ratings demanded that the show keep going, and results were mixed: Season 2, with its dreadful Initiative arc, was probably the least successful, and although season 3 was a return to form it was never quite the same. And the show probably damaged itself fatally at the start of season 4 by keeping David Clarke and Emily/Amanda apart – why in the name of God would she not tell her back-from-the-dead father that she was also alive? – and although the final run of episodes was generally strong, I wouldn’t quibble with the suggestion that Revenge had run its course.

I wasn’t entirely convinced, either, by the new characters: I like Karine Vanasse a lot, but Margaux – whose role was presumably enhanced for the purpose of giving the show another potential Revenger – was never more than an irritant to Emily/Amanda. On the other hand, I grew quite fond of Elena Satine’s delectably unbalanced Louise, whose marriage to Nolan was a highpoint of the final season. And, again on the plus side, the writers remained reassuringly willing to kill off main characters, and Emily VanCamp kept Emily/Amanda bracingly unsympathetic. The show also continued to be willing to come up with demented stunts, like having Courtney Love suddenly pop up as an international assassin.

I also liked the ending: Jack ending up with the right woman; the it’s-a-nightmare-or-is-it? of Amanda’s dream about the heart transplant; and series MVP Nolan getting a happy ending of sorts. Gabriel Mann, as Nolan, has been a treasure throughout, and his plaintive appeal in the penultimate episode, “Can’t anyone follow a simple revenge plan?” was in some ways a review of the whole show. I’d totally watch a Nolan spin-off, although I suspect that the revengines have been turned off for good.

Public Service Announcement 2 of 2015: Broadchurch, Revenge

Broadchurch, then. The first season became something of a phenomenon in the UK in 2013, combining strong ratings and critical approval, culminating in a second-season renewal and three BAFTAs, including Best Drama. I thought it was good but not outstanding: the acting was generally spot-on, as was the sense of loss, and it was invigorating to see a scripted drama turn into a major TV event. On the other hand it was a naked attempt to relocate Scandi-noir, and specifically Forbrydelsen, to the English coast; and it didn’t really need eight episodes.

But renewal was both inevitable and welcome, and the sense of anticipation around the second season, starting tonight, has been heightened by the impressive, almost fanatical, levels of secrecy maintained by ITV and writer Chris Chibnall. Most of the core cast is returning, but Chibnall has promised that season 2 won’t simply be a thematic repeat of the first season, with another body being found at the foot of the cliffs. He’s not disclosing much more than that, though: the smart money is probably on some sort of re-examination of the Sandbrook case which haunted DI Hardy in season 1, but that’s no more than a guess, and anyone who knows isn’t saying. (Refreshingly, ITV has declined to make advance copies of the show available to the media, who are therefore as much in the dark as the viewing audience.) I’ll get a review together as soon as I can (ITV 1, 9pm).

If you’re wanting some respite from the Broadchurch gloom, ABC’s Revenge returns to British screens at the same time. It’s been a bit up-and-down for Revenge since its creation: the first season was deliriously ridiculous fun which made the most of a high-concept premise. Season 2 was, at best, a mis-step. There was a return to form, though, in the third season, particularly the dazzling run of episodes which concluded it. So I’m prepared to be optimistic about the fourth (and, perhaps, final) season, which starts tonight (E4, 9pm).

Also back: season 2 of The 100 (Tuesday, E4, 9pm); season 9 of Supernatural (Tuesday, E4, 10pm); season 6 of The Middle (Tuesday, Comedy Central, 9pm); the second half of season 4 of Mike & Molly (Tuesday, Comedy Central, 9pm).

And coming soon: Scandal, Girls, Brooklyn Nine Nine, and lots of others.

Revenge s3 ep 22

Season 2 of Revenge was widely regarded as something of a disaster. I didn’t think it was quite as bad as that, myself, but it was undoubtedly a bit of a letdown after the extravagantly preposterous, yet tightly-plotted, first season. With a new showrunner, though, this third season managed something of an unexpected but gratifying return to form.

Partly this was achieved through the intensifying of an old theme – Emily (Emily VanCamp) remained unlikeable, but the high price she was willing to pay for a goal she wasn’t always capable of defining became more and more important – what was her mission costing herself and others? The consequences became clear to everyone around her, and belatedly to herself. On top of that, the characters added over the course of the season were a more interesting and substantial bunch than season 2’s newbies, in particular Karine Vanasse as Margaux: I’m always pleased to see Vanasse, and Margaux was apparently good-hearted, yet somewhat elusive, until the end.

Most of all, though, the plotting was spot-on, in particular during the concluding run of episodes: episode 19 (the shooting); episode 20 (Homeland Security Emily and the propeller. DUDES. THE PROPELLER); and the finale, episode 22 (the death of REDACTED, the possible death of REDACTED, the inevitable resurrection of REDACTED, the shovel across the head, the asylum). In the middle of all that came episode 21, perhaps the best of the season, and a serious contender for best-ever: the identity of Charlotte’s kidnappers? The live-streaming? WHOA.

So with the big plot kind-of exploded, and some key cast members removed, where now for Revenge? Not my problem, fortunately, but on the evidence of this season there are reasons to have faith in the writers once again.

Revenge s3 ep 2

Another episode in the cautious reinvention of Revenge, and plenty of the usual nonsense: Victoria and her son (?); Aidan trying to give himself something to do; Conrad and his faux-Huntingdon’s; Margeaux trying to seduce Daniel. I can’t believe that anyone’s seriously shipping Emily and Daniel, so there’s no real emotional investment there, and anyway Daniel must be desperately in love if he’s rejecting Karine Vanasse in her underwear.

Where it got interesting, though, was when Emily identified this week’s red cross recipient: Paul Whitley, Conrad’s hype man back in the days when he was taking David Clarke down. Revenge has remained interesting, even in its off-form weeks, because Emily is remarkably unsympathetic and frequently unlikeable, which is quite a courageous thing to do with the lead character on a network drama. This in turn has meant that, every now and again, the show has implicitly raised the question of whether Emily’s quest for revenge is ultimately self-defeating. And here it became explicit: Whitley is now Father Paul Whitley, priest, reformed character, and someone who clearly adds to the sum of human kindness. This doesn’t deflect Emily, even when the ever-loyal Nolan’s stomach is turned by what Emily plans to do. And, for the first time (I think), we eventually get to see Emily realising that she might be going too far. Which might add a further angle to the show. Anyway, Revenge still isn’t near its season 1 peak, but it remains good, trashy fun.

Revenge s3 ep 1

Let’s never say the words ‘Carrion’ or ‘Initiative’ ever again” – Emily

Well, as a clock-resetting statement of intent that’s up there with Kalinda’s promise, in The Good Wife, that we’re going to hear nothing more from her ex-husband. And it was of a piece with the rest of the episode, which spent a fair amount of time on head-spinningly fast exposition – Nolan’s out of jail, for some technobabbly reason; Charlotte’s lost her baby; Victoria and her son have spent the last six months together, and are pawing each other in a way which makes it easy to see why others might conclude that he’s her toyboy – and on audience-reassuring gestures such as the reappearance of Emily’s Big Red Cross, this week deployed on Ashley, who goes swimming way out of her depth. And all of it plainly designed to tell the viewers that everyone concerned knows that season 2 wasn’t good enough.

On the plus side, Nolan parachutes into a party, Karine Vanasse – the best thing in Pan Am – turns up as an old friend of Daniel’s, and Emily remains the most bracingly unsympathetic heroine on network TV. And Nolan PARACHUTES into a freaking PARTY. On the other hand: now, I know that saying “Could you actually do that?” really doesn’t work with a show like Revenge, but when Emily drops some liquid into a water bottle intended for Conrad, then futzes around a bit with a hospital computer, thus resulting in a definitive diagnosis of Huntington’s disease… could you actually do that?

Anyway, is Revenge back on form? Too early to say. I wasn’t blown away, to be honest, but I’ll undoubtedly keep watching for now.

Public Service Announcement 1 of 2014: The Bridge (Bron/Broen); Revenge; The Americans

As ever, Unpopcult’s only New Year resolution is to watch more TV, and we’re starting about now.

In 2013, Danish/Swedish cop drama Bron/Broen became the latest European drama to generate a well-meaning English-speaking-world remake or two, with a British/French (The Tunnel) and an American/Mexican imitation now available. But the good news is that the real thing is back this Saturday, with both principals – Sofia Helin and the underrated Kim Bodnia – on duty once again. This time, the border-spanning crime which throws them together happens when a ship, containing a very unpleasant surprise or two, rams the Øresund Bridge. As with season 1, reviews here as soon as I can manage them, a task which will be hampered by the BBC once again opting for those stupid double-bills (Saturday 4 January, 9pm, BBC 4).

Then on Monday, UK viewers get the make-or-break season 3 of Revenge. Season 1 was awesome; season 2, on the other hand, really wasn’t as good, although I was a lone voice in suggesting that it wasn’t that bad, either. My theory remains that when critics and viewers are suckered into believing that a show they like is a “guilty pleasure”, the inevitable backlash is louder and longer, as they scramble to claim that the show was never all that in the first place. Once again: there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. Like something, don’t like something, but don’t let would-be tastemakers make you feel guilty about it. There’s more than enough room for feeling guilty in real life.

Deep breath. Anyway. The good news is that season 3 ratings have held firm enough to make a further renewal more likely than not for now, which I’m hoping means, in turn, that the storytelling problems which marred the second season have been ironed out (Monday 6 January, 9pm, E4).

And, tonight (Thursday), ITV starts a rerun of the first season of 80s-set Russians-in-the US spy drama The Americans. If you’re fed up with Homeland – and quite a few people seem to be – this might fill the espionage-thriller gap in your life. I think it’s a great show, and tonight’s first episode was one of the best pieces of TV in 2013 (10.35pm).

Also starting: season 9 of Criminal Minds (Monday, 9pm, Sky Living), and season 4 of Mike and Molly (Monday, 9.30pm, Comedy Central). And Universal has started nightly re-runs of the first half of Sleepy Hollow, the show which, along with Unpopcult double-award-winner The Blacklist, has been the biggest hit of the new network dramas in America. It’s worth a look.

Revenge s2 ep 22

After a second season which failed to live up to the expectations generated by the smart yet riotously preposterous first, this final episode – shown as a standalone in the UK, as half of a two-hour session in the US – felt like a conscious attempt to reset the clock, by getting rid of unpopular characters and storylines. So the absurd Initiative, international mega-criminals, doesn’t actually exist. But if it does – which it doesn’t – it’s actually Conrad who’s been behind everything. I haven’t yet thought through how much retconning this will require. The concept – creating terror and fear, and profiting from it, has been done before. (And is arguably being done right now, right in front of us.)

In other news, Declan’s (probably) dead; Aidan’s (possibly) dead; I’m assuming Padma is dead as well, notwithstanding the video which fingered Nolan – of all people – as a criminal mastermind. Victoria’s son is in the house, although as we haven’t actually seen his face yet it may be that the part is yet to be cast. And, of course, Emily did what she should have done two seasons ago and admitted her real identity to Jack, thus leaving us with – I’m guessing – a clear good-vs.-evil battle next season, with Conrad lining up against Emily/Amanda and Jack. I think. It was a little rushed.

There’s still much to be said for Revenge – it’s refreshing to watch a show which is actually prepared to kill off some of its characters, as opposed to putting them in the sort of apparent danger from which you know they’re going to escape. Emily and (I hope) Nolan apart, no-one’s entirely safe. This can backfire, of course; I thought there was a bit more life left in Fauxmanda.

On the other hand Padma probably won’t be missed, and turning Nolan into a lovesick puppy perhaps blunted the creativity which gave us cutting-edge devices like the NolPad. (Also to Revenge’s credit: having complained before about shows which refuse to even acknowledge the concept of bisexuality, Nolan’s is accepted without comment.) And right at the top of the list of implausibilities: as yet, no-one in the Grayson family has said “Isn’t it funny how it all started going wrong for us, and people started dying, when that Emily turned up next door? What gives?”

On which note we have to turn off our reveng-ines (© Nolan) and contemplate a second season which, in just about everyone’s estimation, wasn’t anything like as good as the first. To a certain extent Revenge was a victim of its own success: it could reasonably be argued that it would have been best as a thirteen-part series, with targets being red-crossed one by one. But viewers came in, advertisers close behind them, and all of a sudden you’ve go to work out how to make your basic plot last for much longer. The answer – more characters, more plot arcs, more arms and legs.

Revenge isn’t by any means the only show to have grappled with this problem, but perhaps because critics were always a bit sniffy about it in the first place (yes, the dreaded “guilty pleasure” thing, a concept with which I have no truck: like something or don’t like it, but don’t feel the need to punish yourself either way) the backlash was prolonged and protracted. And, for my money, disproportionate; season 2 wasn’t as good as season 1 for sure, but it really wasn’t as bad as some would have you believe. Anyway, creator and showrunner Mike Kelley has been edged out, with current exec producer Sunil Nayar taking over. (Assisted, intriguingly, by Gretchen Berg, who was a character in Heroes. Perhaps Sylar can be drafted in as well.)

But there’s no way Emily’s giving up now, and I’m not planning to either. Apparently we in the UK won’t see season 3 until the New Year, by which time we should have enough of an advance word to let us know whether the revenge-da is back on track.

Public Service Announcement 1 of 2013: Borgen, Glee, Hawaii Five-0, Revenge, Mr Selfridge

Holiday’s over, TV is back, and this weekend sees the return to British screens of some very heavy hitters.

First up is the second season of Danish political drama Borgen, season 1 of which was something of a revelation. Given that it emerged from the same stable as Forbrydelsen, its excellence was predictable; who knew, though, that a show about Danish coalition politics could be so exciting? In my personal Scanda-drama hierarchy Borgen is second only to Forbrydelsen I, so I’m expecting great things. Unfortunately the BBC scheduling department hasn’t made a New Year resolution to lose the double-bills already (Saturday 5 January, 9pm and 10pm, BBC4).

There’s a Sky new season double-bill the evening after, with the return of Glee and Hawaii Five-0. On the evidence of seasons 2 and 3 Glee remains the most maddeningly inconsistent show on the air, capable both of brilliance and crass misjudgements, sometimes in the same episode. Rachel’s off to New York, of course, which might give the show a bit of freshness, but otherwise I’d anticipate that the oldest teenagers on TV will be giving us more of the same. It’d take a mighty drop in quality to stop me watching now, mind you, so I’m expecting to be doing week-by-week reviews here (Sunday 6 January, 8pm, Sky 1).

Hawaii Five-0, on the other hand, is remarkably consistent and, just as “Frank Lampard Jr.” eventually became Frank Lampard, H50 is gradually losing the “reboot” tag and becoming a strong show in its own right: a superior procedural with great scenery and an endearingly literal approach to product placement. (“Dude. Why not do your internet searches with Bing?”) The core, of course, is the relationship between Steve (Alex O’Loughlin) and Danny (Scott Caan). It’s no surprise that, to date, any attempts by the writers to introduce female romantic partners for the guys have been less than successful; Stanno remains the only love story on Oahu worth a damn. CJ will be on the bromance beat, at least to start with (Sunday 6 January, 9pm, Sky 1).

And the day after that E4 is running season 2 of the sensational Revenge, much earlier than it gave us season 1 (which started at the end of May 2012 in the UK). My EPG’s synopsis for episode 1 is as follows: “Emily returns to the Hamptons after spending time with her mentor in Japan. In search of answers about her mother, she takes Nolan to a psychiatric ward”. Which is about as appetite-whetting a preview as you can get, and tells you all you need to know about this absurd yet brilliant show. Particularly that Nolan will be back. It’s preceded by a season 1 catch-up, but do yourself a favour if you haven’t seen Revenge: record season 2, and go get the season 1 box-set (Monday 7 January, 9pm, E4).

Finally, something homegrown: ITV and PBS co-production Mr Selfridge, created by Andrew Davies, starring Jeremy Piven, and based on the true story of the man behind department store behemoth Selfridges. Not a million miles, apparently, from the BBC’s recent drama The Paradise: yes, more shipping and shopping (Sunday 6 January, 9pm, ITV 1).

Also starting over the next few days: NCIS: LA season 4 (Sunday, 10pm, Sky 1), and doomed sitcom Ben and Kate (Monday, 9pm, ITV 2)

And coming soon, Fringe, Bones, The New Normal, NCIS, Psych, Girls season 2, Beauty and the Beast, Louie (finally), The Following…

Revenge s1 ep 22

Revenge has just finished its season 1 run in the UK, so this seems like a good time for a quick look back. Not that you’re going to get anything too critical from me; not only has it been a triumph, but of the freshman 2011/12 shows Revenge is arguably the one which has most surpassed expectations. Starting out as a straightforward – albeit ridiculously enjoyable – revenge fantasy, as Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) tries to get revenge on the impossibly rich and evil Grayson clan and its associates, who framed her now-dead father for a terrorist atrocity, it subtly shifted mid-season – presumably after the full-season pickup – and, while the vengeance theme remained foregrounded, there was a clear secondary theme of the misdeeds of the 1%. Had OWS turned up in the credits as consultants I wouldn’t have been entirely surprised.

Rich people behaving badly has always been a ratings-grabber when done right, of course, and it was surely significant that the bar run by poor-but-honestish Jack (Nick Wechsler) was called the South Fork Inn. But Revenge arguably transcended its influences, delivering week after week with sharp writing, complex if improbable plotting, fabulous clothes, flat-out weird touches like the intervention of Emily’s sensei, and a sure touch when it came to the handling of a large case of characters. It could even be argued that since no-one in the show, with the possible exception of Jack, was actually likeable – nominal heroine Emily looked like a sulky teenager all the way through, apart from a couple of minutes in the final episode – it was actually modestly courageous.

Season MVP, though – and I’m not brooking any argument about this – was undoubtedly software gazillionaire Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann), who provided emotional, technical, and financial support to Emily, but remained an intriguingly feline and unsettling presence throughout. His warning to Emily in the final episode – “Do not do anything revenge-y until I get there” – might well have been my favourite moment of the season, topped only by that bit where he wondered what was on Emily’s “revengda”.

As for the final episode: that’s how you do it, Just About Every Other Show On TV. Just as Emily thinks she’s achieved her goal of revenge, bodyswerved marriage to Daniel (Josh Bowman), scion of the evil Grayson family, and lined up love-of-her-life Jack, she’s hit with two colossal emotional gut-punches setting things up nicely for a second season. The news that VanCamp and Bowman are now in an off-screen relationship rounded things off nicely. And I’m delighted to discover that Revenge scooped the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics’ Association award for Campy (Intentional or Not) TV Show of the Year, although I’m pretty sure that everything about Revenge is intentional.

Season 2 is well under way in America, and with a show which teeters on the verge of total absurdity in the way that Revenge does there’s always a danger that every episode will be one too far. But such has been the assurance shown until now that I have faith in the Revenge writing team, and as soon as it returns to British screens I’ll be there. Meantime, if anyone didn’t bother with season 1, it’s recommended with bells on as far as I’m concerned.