The obvious point of comparison for NBC's new drama Deception is ABC's Revenge: Both involve attractive young women with hidden agendas infiltrating wealthy, corrupt families in the Hamptons. But while Revenge is an unabashed soap opera, Deception seems, at least from the first episode, to be going for more of a serious crime-drama feel. With its hints of a grand conspiracy, it's really no less ludicrous than Revenge, but the creators are playing things straight for now.
Straight also means mostly dull in the first episode, which introduces police detective Joanna Locasto (Meagan Good), the daughter of the former housekeeper for the ultra-rich Bowers family. When daughter Vivian Bowers, Joanna's childhood best friend, is found dead of what appears to be a drug overdose (but is suspected of being murder), Joanna gets sent undercover as herself, to infiltrate the Bowers family and discover the truth about Vivian.
There are plenty of juicy plot elements just in the first episode (the Bowers family pharmaceutical company may be releasing a deadly drug! Joanna used to hook up with Vivian's brother when they were teens! Vivian's older brother was once accused of rape and murder!), including a big plot twist at the end, but it's all played so grim and somber that it doesn't really get a chance to be much fun. The hints of a conspiracy around the family pharmaceutical company seem to indicate a rather uninteresting storyline, and the relationship drama (including Joanna's on-again, off-again romance with her FBI handler) is similarly lifeless.
Good is an appealing lead, and Victor Garber does typically solid work as the Bowers family patriarch. Tate Donovan's performance as Vivian's maybe-rapist brother connects Deception to Damages, another soapy crime drama that took its outlandish twists way too seriously. Despite the fairly novel (for TV) set-up of an African-American lead in a show with a white supporting cast, the first episode doesn't have a single thing to say about race (or class, for that matter). The pilot makes Deception seem like it's going to end up being the world's longest Law & Order episode, and that's not something I'm particularly interested in sticking around for.