Is ABC’s Betrayal becoming a guilty pleasure?

ABC's Betrayal - Stuart Townsend and Hannah Ware

A couple of weeks ago, I was sharpening my axe to write a scathing review of ABC’s Revenge-esque soap opera, Betrayal. The show stars Hannah Ware and Stuart Townsend as two lovers from dull marriages who discover they’re soulmates. To complicate matters even further Townsend’s character is a lawyer for a rich, corrupt family (is there any other kind of rich family on TV?) who is involved in an acrimonious murder trial that Sara’s husband is the prosecutor in.

Let’s look at the problems with Betrayal

Cast of ABC's BetrayalThe show is struggling in the ratings, mostly because of the cataclysmic lack of chemistry between the two lead characters. Here is a couple who, having a torrid romp in a hotel room…are both fully clothed! Honestly. I know it’s network TV, but if the central tenet of the show is this unstoppable passionate connection between two unhappily married people, they could at least emphasise the passion. Because the ‘connection’ between the characters hasn’t been convincing so far. The Chicago Sun Times said:

From Jack and Sara’s meet-cute at the top of Tribune Tower to their snorefest of a flirting session in Union Station — even their first time in bed together when she, I kid you not, recited a children’s bedtime story to him — lacks excitement and takes way. Too. Long. This liaison isn’t dangerous. It’s tedious.

Townsend’s Jack McAllister is potentially one of the dumbest characters on TV, taking a picture of Sara on her camera, then printing it out and leaving the incriminating photo on the camera. Naturally, her husband was going to find it.

As for Sara, it’s hard to empathise with a woman who’s got a relatively stable family life and a loving – if busy and inattentive – husband. Perhaps if Sara was the victim of domestic violence or her husband was a philanderer, it would be easier to feel sympathy for her situation. Certainly there are signs of guilt, especially toward her child, but otherwise she seems to be happily allowing her affair to play out.

To make matters worse, the gangster subplot – where Evil Karsten is trying to exonerate his son from a murder charge – feels like a storyline we’ve seen a million times. Corrupt tycoon tries to solve his family’s problems with violence, blackmail and money. These types of storylines have to be done brilliantly if they’re to be successful, otherwise they feel like they’re whodunnit-by-numbers.

How Betrayal is improving each week

Sara's husband Drew may know about the affair

Weirdly, I found myself looking forward to the last couple of episodes. What Betrayal has been lacking in character dynamics has been replaced with the impending discovery of Sara and Jack’s affair. Last week, it was the photo on the camera that threatened to unravel the illicit couple’s affair. This week, Hannah’s husband Drew went on a frantic chase across the city to find the room where Sara’s picture was taken.

Upon finding it, he discovered a bloody rag – from where Jack had cut his hand. Later on, he spots a bloodstain on Sara’s blouse, but doesn’t have any conclusive proof at that point. However, after the Karsten clan get their boy acquited, Jack stupidly tries to shake Drew’s hand. Dumb move, because Drew sees the bandage on his hand and red flags rise. But Drew has been suspicious all that day and has Sara’s phone. So, when Jack walks off and tries to phone Sara – in front of her husband – Sara’s phone rings just a few feet away. Uh-oh!

As the episode closes, it looks like Jack and Sara have finally been rumbled by Drew. Whether you’re convinced by the connection between the characters or not, the potential fall-out now that the affair has been discovered makes for delicious drama. I’m interested to see where things go from here, whether Jack’s wife and especially Karsten will find out. Will Karsten take Jack out? Will Jack’s wife make her move on the wine guy?

Another interesting development is Jack’s desire to break away from Karsten’s empire. Perhaps as a result of his conversations with Sara, he’s developed a conscience. It’s like he wants to be a better person as a result of his relationship with Sara. I’m interested to see how this will play out as the affair becomes out in the open – will the pair try to go it alone, or will he try to reconcile with his wife?

Still, it doesn’t quite make up for the fact that Jack has been so particularly dumb: taking the incriminating picture, phoning Sara’s phone after getting so close to her husband. And there’s still that lack of likability between the two main characters. However, if the series can solve the chemistry issue and provide a compelling reason why these two characters are soulmates, watching the remainder of the season play out could be fun.

by Gerard McGarry on November 5th, 2013

Gerard is the founder and editor of Unreality TV. He writes about TV dramas as well as reality TV talent shows and is obsessed by sci-fi and Doctor Who. Follow him on Twitter @gerrybot or Google+

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