When I first heard about NBC’s new show Deception I definitely rolled my eyes and thought, “It’s Revenge with an African-American lead. Way to go NBC, combine ABC’s two new shows, (Revenge & Scandal) into one package.” That was last spring. Still, when they recently announced it would be a mid-season replacement for Revolution on Monday nights, I thought I should check it out. Revolution was a huge success last fall, and I wanted to see what about Deception gave them the confidence to place it in the same time slot – which is between Castle, Hawaii 5-O. and for those with premium cable there is at times also Homeland.
There are no spoilers in this article beyond what’s been in the promotions for Deception and the information that’s on NBC’s website. I did watch the episode, and you can look for my actual review of that next week. This is just a piece on whether Deception is even worth recording on your DVR.
NBC had been in last place for eight years until last season when it moved up to 3rd place in the 18-49 demo. Apparently they’d had enough of being the butt of every joke, and started looking around at the successful pop culture trends – including those on various network & cable shows. Not an unusual practice, but mimicking just short of copy-right infringement? Last mid-season they rolled out The Voice which, despite the recent public rivalry between it and The X-Factor, was actually more of NBC’s response to American Idol. Like-wise, it’s other mid-season show, Smash could be seen as a more adult Glee. Then I heard about their new fall season shows, The New Normal a show focused on a married gay couple and the relationship with the surrogate mother having their child and her family. It totally screamed Modern Family while it’s other new show, Revolution, sounded like a mash-up of The Hunger Games and Fox’s now canceled Terra Nova. So, when I heard about Deception, NBC was already at the top of my copy-cat list.
However, as it turned out, none of the shows are copies. The Voice isn’t about raw, young, undiscovered talent, it’s about giving talented performers a chance to be nurtured and seen by successful performers and jump start careers. The only things Smash has in common with Glee are drama queens and big splashy musical numbers.. It’s not even a comedy (regardless of what the Golden Globes say.) The New Normal has the gay couple as it’s center, and has a straightforward narrative rather than a “mockumentary.” As for Revolution, the one thing it may have taken from Terra Nova is the lesson to make sure there’s a story-line for every demographic. Other than that, it borrows from so many things it’s unfair to label it as a knock-off of anything. NBC, rather than trying to recreate other shows’ successes has decided it’s better to see how they can improve upon them. There’s really not a lot of Revenge in the new NBC series Deception - and believe me I was surprised. Maybe because when I first heard about it last spring it was called “Infamous” and the title card that was floating around looked like this:
Meanwhile Revenge was finishing up it’s season, so week after week my Wednesday night TV screen flashed this:
Ominous clouds, titles bleeding red – I think it’s clear why I thought NBC was about to copy the Revenge formula. However, before Deception was Infamous it was Notorious. Apparently the show was still figuring itself out. There’s a reason why the name of a new project is called a working title. More often than not the project idea started with is not what is actually created. Deception obviously had a more than a tweak done here or there. While I think it’s fair to say NBC development likely spent some time studying ABC’s Revenge, somewhere along the way it developed into it’s own thing. Here’s the quick progression:
One of these things is not like the others. While Infamous clearly borrows from Revenge, Deception’s logo is a black background with white lettering spelling “DECEPTION” -and gray shadowed lettering behind it, which after a moment you realize is the same word spelled backwards – deception on top of deception. There’s no effect of blood bleeding through the letters, no cloudy skies, no looking like the cover of a paperback mystery/romance novel. Black and white with shades of gray, Deception is a far more serious title. This is a dark crime drama. Revenge is a prime-time soap-opera. It’s a smart and at times quite interesting soap-opera, but it still has that slight over-the-top edge that let’s a show about trying to destroy and kill people fun to watch. For instance, Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) kicking butt with moves learned from Jedi Master Yoda…er from rich martial-art expert schooled in the art of revenge, Satoshi Takeda, is a blast. The high society high-jinks, the hot sex on the beach, the manipulations and maneuvers, the gorgeous tore-de-force that is Madeline Stowe – soap-opera doesn’t mean stupid. After watching Deception however, it seemed clear to me that the show has more the mark of a complex quality crime drama than a wickedly fun melodrama.
There are certainly some surface similarities between Revenge and Deception: a provocative one word title, a strong female protagonist who can literally kick and figuratively kick ass. Both leads are on a mission because someone dear to them was murdered in the arena of the New York super-rich. (Revenge takes place in the Hamptons. Deception is less concrete about where in New York the family lives because clearly the house is NOT in Manhattan.) The time difference from when both women last lived in said arena is also…17 years ago. Oh, and both feature complicated love triangles.
Despite these similar ingredients, the shows are quite different recipes. The premise of Deception (according to NBC) is, “Detective Joanna Locasto goes undercover to investigate the death of her best friend, a notorious socialite from one of America’s wealthiest families.” Although the mystery in Deception is around the murder of a “notorious” socialite, the story is about Detective Joanna Locasto (the fabulous Meagan Good) facing her past, dealing with her present, and uncovering all sorts of deceptions within the rich socialite family and within herself. Revenge is about Emily Thorne getting her …revenge. Revenge is spicy, sexy, smart, and just a bit camp. I mean it’s first season poster has Emily Thorne standing on a sunny beach wearing a full-length evening-gown made of…black thorns. This is a clever, witty, and dark visual pun – and absolutely tongue-in-cheek. It telegraphs the idea that “this is not to be taken too seriously.”
The evolution of the Deception posters shows how the concept moved from a soap-opera about a murdered socialite to a drama. Here’s the one for Infamous.
It screams soap-opera. You have the lily-white dead friend, and then, in overstated dramatic poses is the divided rich-looking (snobs)family,and the hot-looking guy who’s linked to the defiant-looking cop by being the only ones in leather jackets – and African-American. In the background is the far away mansion, and floating at the bottom of it all is the title, “INFAMOUS.”
Once NBC scraped that title, the next promo shot was this:
This is less soapy…but still soap. The tagline is Revenge worthy, but, by cutting out the adults of the rich family, it puts the focus more on the cop. Money and power is now only the backdrop of the friend’s murder. Our guy is still there, and the girl in her Catholic school uniform is now focused as being between them. So, apparently she has some kind of role in all of this. However, with it’s finally incarnation, Deception leaves the land of soap to become a full-on crime drama:
This promo shot is a completely different concept from the other two. First of all the title is now the most prominent thing in it. The backdrop is a mass of tabloid covers, which re-emphasize the title idea of lies and deception. Our cop is in an evening gown looking over her shoulder holding her badge. No longer staring out defiantly, she’s inviting the viewer into her world, letting us in on her secret. Also, for the first time, the dead friend has a name, “Vivian Bowers.” This poster tells a different story. There’s no house or family. This is about Detective Joanna Locasto, an African-American cop who is going undercover in search of the truth of why, “Vivian Bowers” – a woman notorious enough to make the tabloids – was murdered. Unlike Revenge and its thorny Emily, the message in this poster is straightforward – there’s a sense of danger – not humor.
Of course, if I had looked at the show’s writer before watching the pilot I could have guessed this was going to be more on the drama side. The show’s creator is Liz Heldens, a veteran writer (among other things) from Friday Night Lights. If there was ever a show whose concept seemed made to be turned into melodrama it was Friday Night Lights. Instead it turned out to be one of the best dramas ever done on broadcast television. (This fact has nothing to do with the Emmy Awards.) Will this be the case for Deception - I don’t know. I’ve only seen the pilot and the show’s original intention was clearly more along soap-opera lines. At the same time Deception has many layered issues being presented: class, friendships, family, ethics, power, why people make the choices they do, and race. (Race is actually NOT a factor in Scandal, which does very color-blind casting.) In the Deception pilot these issues were all presented in ways that were compelling – and not sudsy at all. Deception premieres January 7th on NBC at 10pm. Whether or not NBC can stay on the more complex path of the pilot remains to be seen, but I definitely will be giving it some DVR space.