‘Betrayal,’ don’t expect to be seduced
ABC drama tackles infidelity against a backdrop of corruption
September 23, 2013
When a review is about to divulge some plot twists, a decent respect for the sensibilities of readers who like to approach new shows with a fresh eye requires that the reviewer write “spoiler alert!” This is true even if the plot twists are obvious or unsurprising or both.
Since it’s impossible to explain the premise of ABC’s new drama “Betrayal” without divulging the entire plotline of the premiere episode, spoiler alert! But there’s little to be spoiled in this predictable blend of adulterous romance and big-city corruption.
The adulterers’ attraction and consummation is well played, but we’ve probably seen the best part of the relationship by the end of the premiere, which airs this Sunday, Sept. 29, at 10 p.m. The episode also sets up a courtroom drama that simply isn’t intriguing enough to compel us to tune in the next week.
Like many current TV drama premieres, “Betrayal” opens with a potentially deadly attack that leaves us guessing as to the victim, the perpetrator and the motive. Unlike most such premieres, this one leaves us at the end of the hour with no clue as to the perpetrator and his or her motive.
The victim in the gurney, however, turns out to be Sara (Hannah Ware), a photographer who is married to a hard-working prosecutor, Drew (Chris Johnson). The whole premiere episode, therefore, happens at some unspecified time before those gunshots.
When Sara and Drew attend a show of her works, she meets and is immediately attracted to Jack (Stuart Townsend), the in-house counsel to a powerful real estate developer, Thatcher Carson (James Cromwell). Since the show is set in Chicago, it’s assumed that Thatcher is corrupt.
Jack, we learn later, was adopted by Thatcher when his parents died. He’s now married to Thatcher’s daughter Elaine (Wendy Moniz). If this were “The Godfather,” it would be as if Tom Hagen married Connie Corleone.
Jack and Sara try to suppress their mutual attraction while making no attempt to avoid what Catholics used to call near occasions of sin. For example, at one of their meetings, she just happens to drop a scarf, giving him an excuse to track her down.
After a respectable struggle with their consciences, they give in. Whereas most TV shows would give at least one of the adulterers an abusive spouse to help us sympathize with them, these two are merely stuck in comparatively passionless marriages.
In the meantime, Thatcher has discovered that a relative may be embezzling money from his company. Thatcher’s mentally handicapped son, T.J. (Henry Thomas) — if this were “The Godfather,” he would be Fredo — decides to handle this himself. Soon, the relative’s body is found floating in the Chicago River, with two bullets in it.
Guess which hard-working prosecutor is going to handle T.J.’s murder trial! And guess which in-house counsel of the Carson family is going to handle the defense!
Although “Betrayal” feels like a blend of dozens of previous American series, with incongruous dashes of Puzo, it is, like many ambitious recent crime series, based on a crime drama from a Northern European country, in this case a Dutch series called “Overspel.”
But whereas “The Killing” imported a pervasive Nordic mournfulness along with its Danish source material, “Betrayal” has nothing new to offer, not even a fresh premise. Psychologically, Jack and Sara react in predictable ways. If subsequent episodes are going to throw in some twists, the premiere episode gives us no reason to hope that they’ll be intriguing or surprising.
Still, the very fact that someone bought the rights to the Dutch series suggests that there must something worth seeing in future episodes. And viewers whose lives are comparatively passionless will empathize with Jack and Sara.
But since most of us are already in happy, committed relationships with other TV dramas, “Betrayal” will have to get better fast to tempt us to stray.
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