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Television Review

In ‘Revenge,’ a killer time in the Hamptons

By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / September 21, 2011

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"For the truly wronged, real satisfaction can only be found in one of two places: absolute forgiveness or mortal vindication. This is not a story about forgiveness.’’

Indeed, ABC’s delightfully frivolous new drama, “Revenge,’’ premiering tonight at 10, is about precisely that. Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp), the young woman who provides the above line in voice-over in the pilot, returns to the Hamptons under an assumed name after 17 years. And it isn’t for the parties and the sun. She is there to exact vengeance on the outrageously wealthy and nefarious clan that ruined her childhood by framing her single father for a crime he didn’t commit.

Given the depressing state of many nest eggs and 401(k)s in this country, watching someone from whom much was stolen take down the untouchables who did the stealing is likely to be a fantasy that folks on the losing side of that ledger will relish.

And with its loose, gender-flipped take on “The Count of Monte Cristo,’’ “Revenge’’ appears ready to supply modern comeuppance in a fashion that favorably evokes the titanic trifecta of classic nighttime soaps: “Dallas,’’ “Dynasty,’’ and “Knots Landing.’’

Mercifully, the shoulder pads and fountain brawls have been left to history, leaving VanCamp a slightly more realistic playground in which to ensnare her betrayers.

Among her potential victims are her neighbors the Graysons, headed up by society doyenne Victoria (a fine, fierce Madeleine Stowe), her philandering tycoon husband Conrad (the reliably oily Henry Czerny), prodigal son Daniel (Joshua Bowman), and mean girl daughter Charlotte (Christa B. Allen).

Complicating matters is blue-collar bar owner Jack Porter (Nick Wechsler) with whom Emily was childhood friends - when her name was Amanda - a social climbing best friend (Ashley Madekwe), and a bored rich boy (Gabriel Mann) who is the only character who knows her true identity and could prove either asset or threat.

VanCamp, playing nicely against winsomely likable “Everwood’’ type, handles the elaborate scheming and plotting without winking. But she allows glimpses of her gloating to emerge while bobbing and weaving among the perfectly manicured ladies who lunch and then backstab one another with tight, surgically altered smiles.

But “Revenge’’ will need Emily and the others to slow their roll to make this cold but delicious, faintly ridiculous dish last. The pilot alone includes flashbacks within flashbacks, a shooting of a major character, infidelity, disguises, poison, a trip to the ER, and a shunning. Emily is so efficient she’s either going to have to suffer fresh betrayal or amnesia or start offing innocent bystanders just to keep her supply of targets stocked.

It will also be a delicate balance to keep audience members rooting for someone who, at least at first blush, appears so calculating, no matter how justified she believes her mortal vindication to be.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com.

REVENGE

Starring: Emily VanCamp, Madeleine Stowe, Henry Czerny

On: ABC, Channel 5

Time: Tonight at 10