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REVENGE - "Doubt" - Daniel's imprisonment sends Victoria to depths that no one thought possible, as the surprise return of a past love (James Purefoy as Dominik Wright) provides a destructive but welcome distraction from her family's struggles. Meanwhile, Jack's search for Amanda grows more desperate as he comes under suspicion for murder, on "Revenge," WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18 (10:00-11:00 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/COLLEEN HAYES)
EMILY VANCAMP

primetime soaps

Revenge: The Best Half-Terrible Show on TV

There's a new Revenge on tonight — the first since Leap Day, which feels like a lifetime ago. The vengeance soap is way more fun than it really needs to be, which is why we're so sucked into the story of a blonde assassin who's destroying Hamptons high society, member by icy member. But: As often as Revenge exceeds expectations by being trickier or faster than other shows of its kind, it still has its share of problems. About half of this show is just straight-up terrible.

Madeline Stowe and Emily VanCamp are both solid, and Gabriel Mann is really good as Nolan. But the rest of the cast is barely keeping up — Josh Bowman (Daniel) and Nick Wechsler (Jack) are both very hunky, but their lantern jawlines don't make up for their lack of expressions. Connor Paolo's "working class" accent is a tragedy, and the weird green-screen effects for scenes shot on Emily's porch are laughable. Tyler was a ridiculous villain. We all know Daniel is not going to be convicted of murder. Of course Ashley will sell out the Greysons. The voice-over can be oppressively dumb, and the direction makes Melrose Place look like an exercise in delicate subtly. How many scenes can the show end with a slow zoom into Stowe's face as she makes a bitchy smile that's supposed to conceal fear?

But far and away the most terrible thing about Revenge has been its scheduling, which has been erratic at best. It aired steadily until Thanksgiving, but inconsistently and unpredictably since then: two weeks of reruns, three new episodes, two reruns, and a series of Dateline specials? This is no way to treat the heir to the prime-time melodrama throne.

Especially because Revenge isn't a terrible show, despite containing too many crummy ingredients. It's a really solid soap with a deeply enjoyable antiheroine, and the combination lifestyle pornography and voyeuristic loathing that come from setting the show in the Hamptons is done to perfection. Class warfare has never looked lovelier, nor have clambakes ever been so delightfully fraught. But the show's real saving grace, the character who winds up absolving the series of its less-interesting sins, is Nolan. Secretive, gorgeous murderer-mastermind dates wealthy lunkhead? Bo-ring. Said mastermind has zingy sidekick? Now we're talking. Nolan's sarcastic edge cuts through some of Revenge's schmaltziness, and on a soap opera, a little self-aware humor goes a long, long way.

Photo: Colleen Hayes/American Broadcasting Companies