If you've clicked your way to this review because you're looking for a constructive analysis of the tangled web of lies, murder, and adultery featured in ABC's new nighttime soap Betrayal, turn away now. Go on, get! Shoo! If you've found your way here because you want to know whether someone else who watched it thought it was as awful as you did, well, pull up a chair, grab some popcorn, and let's chat!
Try as I might, I cannot be nice to this show. Betrayal takes the trophy for Worst New Show of the 2013 Fall Season in a landslide, and if it's still on the air by the time November rolls around, we are in a lot of trouble. It's eerie that on very same night that one of television's best series ever came to an end, one of its worst began. There is now an imbalance in the equilibrium of the television universe so great that I fully expect a vortex to open up and swallow us all whole, or gravity to reverse itself and spit us all into the ether. Betrayal is bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad television.
Falling in line with some of the other soapy dramas that ABC has turned into relative hits as of late—Revenge and Scandal, two other series named with inciting adjectives, come to mind—Betrayal is all about revenge, scandal, and betrayal. Hannah Ware (Boss) plays a wife, mother, and photographer named Sara who's "trapped" in a marriage on its way to Staleville. I guess. Her husband Drew (Chris Johnson) is a successful prosecutor working his way up the Chicago political ladder and no doubt paying for Sara's awesome photography studio and every other luxury in life. They have a seven-year-old son who Sara clearly loves, and in the pilot, Sara and Drew even had some awesome sex! So why so glum, Sara? Because it fits this hokey and terrible story, that's why.
At one of Sara's art shows, Sara met a lawyer/stranger named Jack McCallister (Stuart Townsend) in a chance encounter out on the balcony where they had the stupidest discussion about art, though Betrayal attempted to pass it off as deep philosophizing smalltalk and the spark that set their lust on fire. If it were me in either of their shoes, I would have blown my rape whistle or made up some excuse about how the cable guy was on his way and I had to leave. But these two duds just couldn't get enough inane conversation. He dissed the art show, saying he preferred something "real" that he could touch, and she kept her mouth shut about being one of the artists the whole shindig was for until finally admitting she was a photographer and saying her photography was kind of real, right? Then he said he liked her art and the two shared a chuckle and gentle eyef*ck. Oh and did I mention that Jack is married, too? A few very chance encounters and obsessive stalkings later, including an awkward all-day date in the countryside, and the two were f*cking each other's lunches out.
In the other, barely-more-intriguing half of the pilot, real-estate mogul (and Jack's boss) Thatcher Karsten (James Cromwell living out one of his worst nightmares) had an issue with an "Uncle Lou" possibly making some shady deals under Thatcher's company's umbrella. "After the first betrayal, there are no more," Thatcher growled (and Cromwell was probably referring to his agent), and a few scenes later, Thatcher's somewhat mentally challenged son TJ (E.T.'s Henry Thomas) confronted Uncle Lou to get some answers. We didn't get the details of what happened after that, but next we saw Lou he was floating face down in a river, with TJ the prime suspect in his murder.
Tying all of this nonsense together while still making it more complicated, Sara's husband Drew landed the prosecuting case of a lifetime to take down TJ (and Thatcher's illegal real-estate activities, too) on his way to becoming mayor of Chicago. In the courtroom, he'll be going face-to-face with Jack, who will act as TJ's defense attorney. BOOM there's your convoluted soapy drama! Meanwhile, Sara was left to cry with a broken bottle of wine on her kitchen floor, wondering what sort of mess she'd gotten herself into when she decided to throw away her marriage because some other dude paid attention to her.
That summary does no justice as to how truly awful Betrayal is. The pilot was full of characters for whom I felt nothing but hate, and there wasn't one favorable protagonist in sight. Are we supposed to be rooting for Sara and Jack to be together because they had one idiotic chat about art and he brought her donut holes and her scarf when he stalked her and kept showing up wherever she was unannounced? Was Betrayal trying to say adultery is normal even when the two horny parties are perfectly okay in their respective marriages? Has our society fallen so far that ABC thought it could trot out two moderately attractive people and make a case that their love was real because everyone is bored with their spouses?
Betrayal made two major mistakes, and millions of small ones, in trying to get us to believe in this garbage. First was the "steamy" affair at the center of the series. The Sara-Jack fling has no basis for existing. Ware and Townsend have zero chemistry, bouncing lines of horrendous dialogue off each other like two statues playing Smashball until it was time for Sara to grab Jack's scruff and suck his face. And their impromptu date, which escalated rapidly from skipping rocks on a beach to fancy dinner to Jack jingling a hotel room key in Sara's face like a complete douchebag and date rapist, made everything that happened during the the last season of The Bachelorette seem genuine. I think Ware and Townsend might've been held at gunpoint while filming this.
With zero believable fireworks between the two, their affair turned them into a pair of assholes just looking to get their rocks off while Sarah's husband and Jack's wife went about their business and asked them why they didn't pick up their phones. The nerve of Sara and Jack! These two are the most selfish people in the world and they have no excuse for their actions. They're just terrible people who shouldn't've been married in the first place. This isn't forbidden love, it's unforgivable love. Sara and Jack deserve to be catapulted into a brick wall. Or worse, forced to watch Betrayal.
Anyway, the second big oopsie Betrayal committed was believing that it's a drama to be taken seriously. Scandal and Revenge know what their game is: full-on lunacy that's supposed to be fun. Betrayal carried itself like it's already trying on dresses for next year's Emmys. There wasn't a wink in sight. And the pilot wasn't even accidentally funny, it was sad. The stone-faced acting, the sham writing, the sloppy dialogue, and the confusing editing were all an embarrassment. This show could've been a delicious little guilty pleasure (which I'd have loved), but instead it's more trauma than drama.
In conclusion, I hated it.
– I don't know what it says about Henry Thomas's performance that I couldn't tell whether his character had suffered some form of brain damage or not until the very end of the episode. Kudos for not feeling the need to bring attention to it, Betrayal, but maybe in this case you should have, instead of hanging Thomas out there like that?
– The choices to intercut certain scenes with one another did not work at all. Thatcher talking about Lou's betrayal while Sara had sex with her husband was an artistic failure, not to mention very confusing.
– Completely useless scenes and dialogue everywhere! What was the point of TJ talking about the pool table not being crooked? Why did Drew's coworker have to mention his retirement party? Why did Thatcher scream, "JUST GO!" to TJ and then immediately follow that with, "Come here"?
– Is the real hook of the flashforward where we saw Sara being shot the mystery of who is holding her hand in the ambulance?
– All I could think about while watching this was The Room, but that was fun.
So, uh, what'd YOU think?