Look, the plentiful comparisons between Revenge and Deception aren't without reason. Both shows follow a strong, independent-type lady who infiltrates a wealthy community she has a past connection to in order to rectify some wrongs. Both shows are trashy primetime soaps bloated with murder, sexy times, and extravagant lifestyles. Both shows get straight to the point with their descriptive titles.
But let's not fool ourselves, both shows are trashy as all heck. The difference is that one of them knows it and the other does not. Revenge's first season (the second season is bleh at best) was all fun and sass and Honey Badger philosophy because it didn't pretend to be anything but an outlet for our passive selves to experience the thrill of ruining someone else's life. The first step toward becoming the thing you want to be is knowing what you are. Tonight's series premiere of Deception tried way too hard and didn't get the note that primetime soaps, especially those that take place in the world of the heinously wealthy, had better embrace their garbage-y smell rather than attempt to dress it up with the pretense of legitimacy. Such a practice may have worked back in the dinosaur ages of television (the 1980s and 1990s), but today's audiences simply do not care about generic rich-people murder mysteries.
In this generic rich-people murder mystery, wildchild Vivian, daughter of pharmaceutical bazillionaires the Bowers family, is found dead after taking one too many goofballs. The case lands on the desk of Detective Joanna Locasto (Meagan Good), because A) she's a sexy, hard-nosed detective, B) she just so happens to be a childhood friend of Vivian because Joanna's mom was "the help" for the Bowers back in the day, and C) Vivian was obviously murdered, hence the television show about it.
The bulk of Deception's opening hour was spent showing us just how truly terrible the show's rich folks are (insults and accusations are passed at the dinner table more often than the low-sodium salt substitute), and making sure you think everyone could have played a role in Vivian's death. Was it Vivian's handsome brother Julian, who may have been trying to kick Vivian out of the family's inheritance? Was it joyless mother-in-law Sophia, who by the end of the episode was 75-percent wine? Was it older brother Edward (Tate Donovan), who likes to have secret whisper arguments in the driveway? Or was it one of countless other suspects who will check in throughout the series' short lifetime? In creating the multiple possibilities that are key to the success of any murder mystery, Deception has succeeded. In making us care about any of them, Deception has failed.
Deception's Joanna has all the makings of someone we want to root for; we get the idea that she's a good person trying to do the right thing. But where's the fun in that? What made Revenge so compelling early on was that its heroine, Emily Thorne, was just as conniving of a bitch as the people she set out to destroy. Emily wasn't just a snoop, she was a threat. That made the show multi-layered. Joanna is just a witness poking around a mansion looking through closets.
The pilot's painfully trite dialogue and sad performances (some of them from actors who've done great work in the past—Tate Donovan, looking at you buddy) didn't help. It was painful to watch the actors struggle to do what they could with the material. When this cast is forced to pretend to like each other, they have all the chemistry of oil and vinegar.
Without any self-aware embracing of the lunacy of the genre, there's zero pizazz to keep things interesting. There were two big reveals in the pilot (Julian has the ring! Mia is Vivian's daughter!) but they landed with the thud of a feather because Deception is as plain as it gets. Ensuing episodes will no doubt do a lot of tail-chasing as evidence against various suspects gurgles up to the surface, but nothing will ever truly be shocking. Deception is boring. Even this review is boring. I apologize. Let's all just move on with our lives.
– How about that montage of Julian weeping on the dock? Eek. Ugly stuff right there.
– Let me guess this straight, because I'm not sure I did. The same place (outside behind a small brick in an archway) young Vivian used to hide her weed is the same place older Vivian hid a flash drive with her sex tape on it?
– I do like Katherine LaNasa as Sophia Bowers, the hard-drinking stepmom. That type of character is nothing new, but LaNasa embodies it and works it. She's the only person who seems to be aware that Deception should be purposefully trashy television.
– The paparazzi photographer guy was an interesting addition. And then they killed him.
– How long does this show last? Does NBC let it run out its order and just wait for Revolution to come back, or are we looking at a quick cancellation and repeats of other stuff?
– It's a shame Deception doesn't feel like it has any potential, because it's nice to see a primetime drama with a minority lead.