ShawConnect TV critic Brent Furdyk samples the upcoming pilots for a first look at the new midseason series

Starring: Meagan Good, Laz Alonso, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Katherine LaNasa, Wes Brown, Ella Rae Peck, Marin Hinkle

The gist: When party-girl socialite Vivian Bowers ODs after a night of drunken debauchery, her family is saddened but not particularly surprised. But stop the clock: could she have been…[dramatic pause]…murdered? By…[longer dramatic pause]…someone in her own family? That’s what FBI agent Will Moreno (Alonso) thinks, and enlists Vivian’s onetime best friend, San Francisco police detective Joanna Lacasto (Good), to wear a wire and cozy up to the billionaire Bowers family (Joanna’s mom used to be a live-in servant at the Bowers estate; Joanna grew up among them and is practically one of the family).

The Bowers’ vast fortune comes from Bowers Pharmaceuticals, run by CEO Robert Bowers (Garber). Robert is keen to launch a new miracle-cure cancer drug that can shrink tumours and rake in billions — so what if it’s completely unsafe and has killed numerous test subjects in Thailand? The rest of the clan includes Robert’s boozy trophy wife Sophia (LaNassa) and their troubled teenage daughter Mia (Peck), who is Vivian’s half-sister (Robert’s first wife died years earlier). Then there’s youngest son Julian, an irresponsible playboy who once had a thing with Joanna, and eldest son Edward, (Donovan), who was acquitted 15 years earlier after being the prime suspect in vicious rape/murder case.

When Joanna runs into a snoopy tabloid reporter who claims Vivian was about to blow the whistle on the deaths related to testing of the cancer drug, she finds herself faced with unraveling a tangled web of secrets to get at the truth about the Bowers family. When Robert offers her a job, she decides to take it and go deep undercover in order to get to the bottom of her former friend’s murder.

It’s like… Donnie Brasco meets Dynasty

Sample line: “Vivian was a drug-addicted, narcissistic, black hole of need. Oh, I forgot — she’s dead, so now she’s a saint.”

IMHO: Deception is equal parts primetime soap and conspiracy thriller, although the idea of a wealthy, shady family with a ton of money and even more secrets is nothing new. The addition of the over-arching mystery, however, is what truly drives the show, and this ongoing storyline will peel back secrets like the skin of an onion as the story progresses. Even in the pilot, it’s clear that every member of the Bowers family is keeping some serious secrets, yet there’s a delicious ambiguity about whether these people are as bad as the FBI thinks they are — or even worse.

This is most true of Donovan’s character — is he guilty of the rape/murder (lots of people think he is), or is he just a jerk? Meanwhile, when Mia declares she thinks her dad may be a really bad man, does she know something we don’t or is that just another example of teen angst from a spoiled rich kid?

Fun Fact: The show’s original title was Infamous before being changed to Deception because, well, I’m not really sure, but they must have had a good reason, right?

Verdict: Conventional wisdom has it that economically challenging times drive viewers to watch soapy dramas about devious rich people (Dallas and Dynasty in the 1980s, for example), and Deception more than fits the bill. In addition, the cast if first-rate (Garber and Donovan are stand-outs, and Night Court‘s John Larroquette will appear in upcoming episodes in a recurring role). The storytelling is sleek and efficient, with crisp dialogue and solid acting, including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Dexter‘s David Zayas (a.k.a. Det. Angel Batista). If the show can maintain the momentum shown in the first few episodes, Deception has all the elements to become an intriguing, addictive conspiracy thriller — basically, Revenge without the actual revenge.

Prediction: Filling the Revolution timeslot until that show returns in the spring, Deception will have some big shoes to fill, but its primo cast and engaging story gives it a good shot at becoming NBC’s next hit.

DECEPTION premieres Monday, January 7 on Global and NBC