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NBC’s drab ‘Deception’ not as sweet as ‘Revenge’



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Updated: February 8, 2013 6:21AM

PASADENA, Calif. — A justice-seeking woman uses false pretenses to penetrate the inner circle of a family of 1 percenters living in a New York mansion.

Sound familiar? It’s the premise of “Revenge” rip-off “Deception,” a new NBC drama making its mid-season debut Monday.

Executive producer and writer Liz Heldens (“Friday Night Lights”) told TV critics Sunday that ABC’s “Revenge” wasn’t her inspiration. A couple of films were.

“I asked myself, ‘Could ‘Donnie Brasco’ and the movie ‘Sabrina’ have a baby?’ ” Heldens said. “That was how it happened.”

“Deception” stars Meagan Good (“Californication”) as do-no-wrong Detective Joanna Locasto, who grew up with the filthy rich Bowers family when her mother worked for them as a maid. Joanna was childhood besties with the Bowers’ oldest daughter, Vivian, a recently reformed wild child who turns up dead in the premiere.

Joanna’s onetime flame, FBI agent Will (Laz Alonso, “Avatar”), suspects foul play. He persuades Joanna to reconnect with the Bowers and infiltrate their secretive household to get to the bottom of Vivian’s murder.

Keeping her cop job a secret, Joanna shows up at the Bowers doorstep after being gone for nearly 20 years. That doesn’t stop Vivian’s dad, Robert (Victor Garber, “Alias”), from inviting her to move into the mansion, much to the chagrin of Vivian’s brother Edward (Tate Donovan, “Argo”) and conniving stepmother, Sofia (Katherine LaNasa, “The Campaign”), a poor man’s Victoria Grayson. They, along with bratty teenage daughter Mia (Ella Rae Peck, “Gossip Girl”), do everything they can to make their house guest feel unwelcome, but an unfazed Joanna doesn’t mind because she’s got a murder to solve.

One family member happy to see her return is Julian (Wes Brown, “Scandal”), a playboy doctor who showers a reluctant Joanna with the finer things in life.

Among the show’s many improbabilities, Joanna gets handed a job at the family’s pharmaceutical empire, whose dodgy cancer drug appears to be connected to Vivian’s death.

I’ve only seen three episodes (and that’s enough for me), but so far “Deception” feels like one long TV crime drama where everyone takes turns standing under a cloud of suspicion. A comment Heldens made Sunday implies the whodunit is going to drag on for quite a while. Joanna likely will have “a pretty good idea” about who the killer is by the end of the season, “and the second season is about proving it.”

The one part of “Revenge” I wish “Deception” had ripped off was giving the main character a compelling backstory and a bit of personality. Instead, we’re left with boring, one-dimensional Saint Joanna.

As evil stepmom Sofia purrs in one of “Deception’s” better lines: “Very little of value in the world happens because an angel kisses a unicorn.”

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