East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Vengeance, Unlimited.


One starts thinking about pulp tv shows, and soon finds himself at the end of a very short list.
But maybe it’s just a matter of looking sharply at old series.

Now, when I think about pulp, I think chiefly about adventure pulpIndiana Jones sort of stuff.
But there was much more, to the pulps, than Indy-style adventures.

What about the great avengers of pulp fiction?
The Shadow, The Spider, the aptly named Avenger, with his Justice Inc.

Well, at the end of the twentieth century, two writers and producers, John McNamara and David Simkins, created a show for ABC, updating those avengers of old.
The show was called Vengeance Unlimited, and it featured Michael Madsen in the role of the deceptively suave, and downright menacing Mr Chapell.

The premise is simple – if you have a problem, and the forces of Law and Order cannot help you, you can hire Mr Chapell.
For one million dollars, your problem will become his problem.
And he will solve it.
If you do not have one million handy, there’s an alternative deal – you agree to owe Mr Chapell a single favor.
He will call you.
He will tell you what to do.
You’ll do it, and you’ll be free of any other obligation.

The show is a tight, unusual crime drama – the stories are ingenious, the set-up is classy, and Mr Chapell, who “once had a very bad Monday” is a wonderful mix of ice-cold logic and of scary madness; and admittedly, few actors out there can do scary-mad-but-nice better than Michael Madsen.
The character has obvious debts with the Shadow (the “I saved you, now you’re mine” premise), with the Spider (the over-the-top gusto with which Mr Chapell hits – phisically and psichologically – his foes) and with the Avenger (the hinted trauma in the main character’s past, the idea of a corporation devoted to justice, or vengeance).

English: Head shot of actress Kathleen YorkThe cast includes a lot of well respected TV stalwarts, and Kathleen York, as the only other recurring character, is an unusual foil for Madsen.
The nocturnal sets, the quiet of suburbia being shattered by crime and violence, the humor and the spirit of the series marked this as an excellent show, one that should have been allowed to find its legs and start running.
But once again, the show did not last long, and after just sixteen one-hour episodes, the series was canceled.

Was it the violence?
Was it the idea of a hero acting outside of the law, to hit those bad guys who could work the system against itself and evade normal justice?
I do not know.
But as someone that once had a very bad Monday myself, I always loved this show, and its intelligent update of a classic pulp standard.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

3 thoughts on “Vengeance, Unlimited.

  1. I really don’t understand why good TV serials like this one do no reach the required target for the networks and/or do not fall into the scheme of the products to be aired. It look like that ideas that are just a bit out of a set of unwritten rules got to be stopped as soon as possible.


    • It’s complicated, and weird.
      A lot of series (like Gold Monkey, Bring ’em Back Alive, Firefly etc.) get cut because they are expensive – costumes, sets, SFX, the lot.
      If they fail to recap the expenses in a given time, they get axed.
      Deleting a thing like Vengeance, Unlimited, on the other hand, is harder to understand – while the look of the show was great, the costs were probably much lower than those of a fantasy series.
      It’s weird.


  2. Pingback: Nirlsch – Vengeance of the underworld | Gnstr's blog

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