Fall First Impressions: ABC’s Betrayal “A Confusing Mess of Genres Saved by James Cromwell”
Betrayal comes to ABC, Sundays this Fall. The new show is poised to attract a post Revenge audience looking for a second helping of soapy drama on Sunday nights. Having screened the pilot episode on a ‘not for review’ basis (we’re told that some details may change between now and the time the show hits the air, meaning that all we can give you for now are our first impressions) we can honestly say we’re not sure what Betrayal is. Part romance, part whodunnit, part potential courtroom drama, the pilot episode was a little all over the place thematically.
The drama, or betrayal, centers around a chance meeting between the show’s two attractive leads, Sara Hadley (played by Hannah Ware) and Jack McAllister (Stuart Townsend) who, despite their own marriages and in Sara’s case, children, begin a wild affair. (Clearly this relationship was written in the stars, as evidenced by their finishing of one another’s sentences after just five minutes of conversation.) Actually, we’re calling their affair wild, but it involves a lot of Sara and Jack staring at each other in wonderment while pondering aloud how they “Never knew it could be like this.”
Matters are complicated by Sara’s neglectful husband Drew (Chris Johnson) who favors his aspiring political career over his wife, and Jack’s older wife Elaine (Wendy Moniz) who was responsible for snatching Jack from the crib at the tender age of nineteen. Wendy’s Dad is also Jack’s Boss, Thacher Karsten, played with effortless gravitas by screen veteran James Cromwell (LA Confidential, The Green Mile). Karsten is head of a large organisation with links to the mob and other nasty criminal underworld types – allegedly.
And here’s where Betrayal leaps from a by-the-book ‘illicit-affair’ storyline to something other. After some developments (we won’t spoil you) Karsten’s brother-in-law Lou is found murdered, and all evidence points to Karsten’s simple-minded son T.J. (Henry Thomas). Jack, the lead counsel of the Karsten company, is tasked with defending him in court, while Sara’s husband Drew is assigned to the case as lead prosecutor. And so, all four lead characters find themselves tied together in an uncomfortable knot.
Will Sara and Jack decide not to see each other again now that they are on opposite sides of a murder investigation? Did T.J. really kill uncle Lou? Is Betrayal shaping up to be a courtroom drama, a romance, a whodunnit or all three? We don’t have the answers yet, but we think the storyline is over-complicated and the romance angle overblown. The whole thing might have been better served if Betrayal had ditched the affair angle and focused instead on an intriguing drama about a powerful and corrupt family facing scandal and heartbreak over a murder allegation where the real victim might be a mentally impaired young man.
Cromwell and Thomas are both consistently watchable and their father and son scenes form a real bright spot of the show’s first hour. Both Ware and Townsend are attractive and watchable, but there’s a lot in their shared dialog and behaviors that just don’t ring true for a couple engaged in a secret affair.
Our bottom line: We think Betrayal has a lot of potential, a sensible lead cast and a great heavyweight presence in James Cromwell, but it needs to convince its audience about what sort of show it actually is, and it needs to tone down the romantic melodrama. “I never knew it could be like this” may be acceptable between the covers of an E.L. James book, but it’s an unforgivable line on any aspiring primetime TV show.
Betrayal stars Hannah Ware (Shame, Boss) as Sara, Stuart Townsend (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) as Jack, James Cromwell (Babe, American Horror Story) as Thacher Karsten, Henry Thomas (E.T., Gangs of New York) as T.J. Karsten, Chris Johnson (The Vampire Diaries) as Drew, Wendy Moniz (Guiding Light, The Guardian) as Elaine, Elizabeth McLaughlin (The Clique) as Val and Braeden Lamasters (Men of a Certain Age) as Vic.
The show comes from ABC Studios and was was written by David Zabel (ER) and directed by Patty Jenkins (The Killing, Monster) and is executive-produced by David Zabel, Rob Golenberg (Red Widow) and Alon Aranya.