I hope the infinity symbol becomes more significant later. They do touch on it early, but not in great detail.One of the most promising new shows to premiere this past fall was Revenge, an ABC series about psychological and social warfare amongst the rich and powerful inhabitants of the Hamptons. More specifically, it follows the story of Amanda Clarke (alias Emily Thorne) who lived in the Hamptons as a child with her father, until he was framed for financially backing a terrorist attack and getting thrown in prison where he was murdered. With her family gone, Emily suffered a troubled childhood, but was eventually contacted by a friend of her father’s and came into some detailed records about what happened to her father and who was responsible. With this information, she plans to ruin the lives of everyone who played a part in destroying her father’s life.

 

Now the first few episodes of Revenge fell very neatly into an imaginary genre I call “mastermind”. Mastermind as a genre is a difficult sort of thing to explain, but if you’ve seen it before then it would probably make sense to you. An example I often use among friends to describe this type of storytelling is a fairly well-known anime series called Death Note. The basic idea there is that a self-righteous high school student finds a death god’s notebook, granting him to power to kill anyone he wants in almost any way he wants, and he tries to use the power to achieve a godlike status and a world where crime is abolished out of sheer terror. Not exactly a comedy, but I do highly recommend it.

 

Hallmarks of the Mastermind genre include highly complex plans, highly complex plans that involve reasoning out someone else’s highly complex plans, using people as means to an end, a generally implausible ability to read people bordering on predicting their future, lots of turning enemies against one another and tricking people into doing your dirty work without them even realizing it. Basically, you know that weird type of humor in some comedies, where two opponents eventually start saying things like, “I knew that you’d know that I was planning to learn what you knew about what I know”? Mastermind is the anti-spoof of that concept.

The same actress did an excellent job on Everwood, a show you should check out if you've never seen it.

I'll refrain from making the obvious, yet certainly intensional, pun about her last name. I will however say "yowza!"

 

Back to my real point on the matter, the first few episodes of Revenge were glorious. The show was perfectly paced: fast, but not so fast that the details of what were going on would escape you. When Emily came back to town, she came with enough ammunition to start setting things in motion. She outted a few secrets that kept her larger targets off balance enough to keep from suspecting her of any wrong-doing, which is important since everything started after she came to town. Every move she made was masterful, turning foes against one another, finding brilliantly ironic ways to deal with her targets. Emily carved out a place for herself as a woman who was as dangerous as she was beautiful, which was no small feat.

 

Then Tyler happened.

 

Ugh.

 

As a character, Tyler sort of snuck onto the show. He didn’t do anything significant, and he didn’t has some grand reason to be in town. He was just an old college friend of one of the main characters on the show, and he claimed to be in town for a visit as I recall (unfortunately his debut was long enough ago that the episode is no longer on my TiVo). At first he made it a point to appear well-mannered and generous, but he quickly started acting strange. Initially he seemed to be doing things just to randomly bother people, then in became clear that Tyler was actually mentally unstable, which made him highly unpredictable even to himself.

 

So why is this character such a problem? Well for one, the thing that had been most fun about the show was the battle of wits, the struggle to balance action against the suspicion of others. Tyler, on the other hand, just did things haphazardly. He never had a plan, and the ways which he interacted with and/or foiled the machinations of other characters was just never particularly clever, interesting or compelling. There were also some unbelievably convoluted romantic subplots involving him that were so bafflingly out of place and unmotivated that I very nearly stopped watching the show.

 

Then, as quickly as he became a problem, he vanished. Of course this happened at the end of an episode so as the credits rolled I wondered to myself, “Does this mean the show can start being good again, or is the hole too deep to get out of?” Well one episode has aired since that plot resolved itself (as of this writing, of course) and I have to say that things are looking VERY positive. The last episode entitled “Infamy” showed all the promise of the early episodes and at no point during the episode did I want to bring harm to myself or others.

Tyler's so awful he made me hate my favorite character on the show, Nolan. Nolan used to be cool, and then...Tyler happened.

Just look at this guy! Don't you want to punch him!? I want to punch him, but I think I'm biassed by how much I hate the character.

I really hated the Tyler plot that much.

 

So what’s the moral of this televisual parable? As I sort of hinted at last week when I first addressed the idea of Spoiling the Soup, television shows have to experiment. Considering that a show ideally has at least 100 episodes for syndication, something new will eventually have to happen in order to hit the mark. Being creative is hard, being creative and likable is even harder, being creative and likable a hundred times? That’s nearly impossible. However sometimes I worry that the people making these shows don’t make calculated gambles, but rather just roll the dice and hope.

 

Even though TV shows go on and on with new stories and adding new elements as they go, there is a core to the show that should stay in tact; a core that defines the series despite these changes. That core is usually some combination or characters, setting and tone. When you change something about the show that defies the core of the show, it should have a strongly motivated reason. To once again briefly touch on my discussion from last week about Chuck, when Chuck tried to cut out the light-hearted, comedy relief components of their core, the show suffered. It suffered on multiple occasions when the writers made the same mistake over and over.

 

Now I understand why Tyler was added to the show, he was supposed to be an agent of chaos in a world defined by careful planning, control and manipulation. It’s an interesting idea, and he could have been a really interesting factor towards changing the course of the story. Having to account for and work around the unpredictable obstacle could have been an interesting challenge for the players of this dangerous game of social chess. The problem was that the way Tyler’s chaotic nature manifested itself was by just not involving himself in everyone else’s plans, but rather by trolling people he didn’t like, seemingly at random.

At least it's not as generic as the episode titles. They're all like "loyalty", "deceit", and other terms to are so broadly applicable to the show's themes that it could refer to any random episode.

I have no idea what's supposed to be going on in this cast photo, but they're all pretty weird, so I just picked the least sensical one.

 

In this case, Tyler violates the core of what Revenge seemed to be about in the beginning, and seems to once again be moving towards. It’s a show about calculating people using the indirect warfare of the rich to try and ruin one another while protecting their own dirty secrets. Because Tyler was such a wild card by his very nature, he had no knowledge of anyone’s secrets, plans or motives, and his own motives were capricious at best. But now that he has ceased to be such a major player of the political game that is Revenge, hopefully the show can exact its own Revenge by once again becoming a great show that everybody should be watching.

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