Madeleine Stowe and Alex Carter in "Revenge." (Eric McCandless / ABC )
"Revenge," a new soap-thriller from ABC, begins its life Wednesday on a beach at night, during what social power broker Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe) will soon describe as "the final weekend of a remarkable summer in the Hamptons." There's a gunshot, and a body, and just up the way an engagement party. Who's getting engaged is "the lovely and beguiling" Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp), seen wiping sand mysteriously from her hand. Her fiance, "tragically privileged" Daniel Grayson (Joshua Bowman), Victoria's son, is absent, also mysteriously.
Presently we are flashing back to the beginning of this soon-to-be-remarkable summer, and then flashing back from there. What we learn from this paddling in time — close your eyes now if you insist on being spared what is the most basic information about this show — is that Emily is not fabulously wealthy Emily Thorne, after all, but is in fact fabulously wealthy Amanda Clarke, the daughter of "disgraced hedge fund executive" David Clarke (James Tupper), a secret known only to "former tech-boom whiz kid" Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann). (This is beginning to sound like a Bob & Ray routine.) Selfless barkeeper's son Jack Porter (Nick Wechsler) does not recognize Amanda from their childhood gambols along the shore, though he has named his boat after her. But his dog does.
Creator Mike Kelley ("Swingtown") has been at no pains to disguise the fact that "Revenge" is loosely based on, and sometimes specifically lifts from, "The Count of Monte Cristo," Alexandre Dumas' novel of settled scores: Amanda has come for payback in the name of her father, framed for a bit of financial skulduggery that supposedly financed a terrorist attack. There is also some standard teen class drama, centered on Daniel's sister Charlotte (Christa B. Allen) and Jack's brother Declan (Connor Paolo, across the tracks from "Gossip Girl").
As is often the case with melodrama, I find "Revenge" essentially unconvincing and also quite likable. At times, it has something of the sound and silliness of kids playing at being sophisticated adults.
"If we're going to set a more generous tone for the summer it's clear I'm going to have to do something fresh and provocative. So I've decided to auction off a piece from my personal art collection."
"What a wild idea, Victoria."
"I don't care how good the cause is; if you put up the Van Gogh that Michael and I gave you, I'll kill myself."
That the atmosphere of let's-pretend never quite dissipates is not really a hindrance; the show seems happy to breathe in that air. The Phillip Noyce-directed pilot is quite handsome — Chris Manley, from "Mad Men," photographed it — with a chilly-looking North Carolina standing in for the Hamptons. The production has since moved to Southern California, and we'll see how that impersonation works out.