"The key", says an unsuspecting character on Monday's Revenge, TV2, "is not to dig too deep, and not to lay it on too thick."
He was talking about how to do a clam-bake, rather than how to make a gloriously melodramatic television drama, otherwise this programme would be petering out by now, rather than accelerating toward ever more outlandish coincidences.
Revenge digs ridiculously deep and lays it on with a dump-truck. More a hangi than a clam-bake, in fact - and never more so than this week, when the show unveiled one of its baddies as secretly being a full-blown psychotic loony. And even more dangerous than a full-blown psychotic loony is a full-blown psychotic loony who Knows The Truth.
We thought the promiscuous blackmailing fraudulent imposter Tyler couldn't get any worse, but just wait till we saw him off his meds. Apparently wanted in several states, for goodness knows what sicko atrocities, the preppy friend of the innocent rich boy Daniel has been worming his way into the secret life of this high-gloss Hamptons beach community for several episodes. By this week, he had come further than any of the better-balanced characters in figuring out the darkest, nastiest secret: what really happened to our heroine Emily's father.
As the (no doubt rather sheepish) fans of this series now have tattooed on their hearts, Emily is really Amanda, whose investment banker father was framed for a shocking act of terrorism when she was a little girl. His colleagues, with the connivance of his lover, Victoria, had pulled a massive financial fraud and covered their tracks by making it look as if Amanda's father had nicked the money to finance a terrorist attack on a plane in which many people died.
A slew of people were blackmailed or bought off to facilitate his prosecution and he was murdered in prison. Amanda, now calling herself Emily, has devoted her young life to planning vengeance, including getting herself Ninja-trained by a sinister Japanese character who seems to specialise in helping evolve elaborate come-uppance schemes - 0800-You'llKeep in the Yellow Pages, presumably.
An essential feature of good soap is that it's so twisty, you need a generously proportioned flow-chart to explain it to anyone who has never watched it before. But suffice it to say, Emily's big secret now threatens to unravel on two fronts. Firstly because Tyler, while demented, has let the cat out of the bag about the fact that Victoria and her mega-buck ex-husband Conrad "know what really happened" to Amanda's father. Until this point, no one in the story, save for Emily, her annoying billionaire computer genius buddy Nolan (everyone should have one of those) and the Japanese comeuppance specialist, has known that there was any secret there at all. (Sam the labrador has some inkling, but the secret's safe with him.)
Secondly, along the way, Amanda/Emily, who spent some of her early life in juvenile detention, made a pact with a fellow inmate in which they swapped identities. So the original Amanda calls herself Emily, and Emily goes by Amanda. But the original Emily has now turned up in the Hamptons and refuses to leave because there are all these hot guys, sunshine, boats and champagne, not to mention plenty of intrigue. Emily/Amanda is not that bright, and has the maturity and impulse-control of a 12-year-old at a New Direction concert, plus a streak of all-purpose malice, so it seems only a matter of time before she lets something slip just to stir things up.
Our vengeance-seeking Amanda/Emily is accordingly worried about Emily/Amanda, and is now using the despised Victoria, also a dab hand at making sure awful things happen to people she doesn't like, to get rid of her former cellmate. Presumably when you call 0800-You'llKeep they tell you that your enemy's enemy can be your friend, at least for some purposes.
With so many cats spilling out of so many bags, you might think it's only a matter of a couple more episodes before the story runs out of gas. But not a bit of it. There are five more episodes before we get to the tantalising beach murder featured in a flash-forward in the pilot episode (and as I've by now quite forgotten who it was that gets murdered, don't worry about reading any spoilers here). And there are another 11 episodes to come in total. And the series hasn't been cancelled yet. For that, we can only be (still rather sheepishly) grateful.
More improvingly, Vibe on Mondays, is re-running a rather good Anna Karenina dramatisation from 2000. It stars Helen McCrory, who is probably most famous for her believable but cheeky portrayals of Cherie Blair in two movies, notably The Queen. While not as obviously a ravishing choice as a subsequent remake's casting of Keira Knightly, McCrory has about the sexiest voice you can imagine for a doomed heroine and brings the right degree of vulnerability to the role.
The dashing Count Vronsky is Kevin McKidd, again hardly Casting Central fodder with his rather washed-out, borderline-ginger looks, but he has since aged up to American soap standards, because he is now one of the heart-throb surgeons on Grey's Anatomy.
It's easily as beautifully art-directed and costumed as any British period adaptation, and with lashings of Mussorgsky and sleigh bells, it's hard to avoid getting caught up in the story all over again. Who knows how often this story has been filmed, with everyone from Greta Garbo, Sean Connery and Jaqueline Bisset in various casting combos. But this version has the virtue of faithfulness to the book's difficult themes, and there remains something terribly haunting in the early advice Vronksy's mother gives to Anna - that it never does to become too fond of one's children.
One to Watch
Hawking, 8.35pm, Prime
A compelling story however it gets told. The story of genius with motor-neuron disease Stephen Hawking is adapted as a drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock).
- © Fairfax NZ News
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