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So There's This Show Called...Damages!

Welcome to the second edition of our new feature So There's This Show Called... in which I get on board with a popular idiot box program a few (or many) years too late and attempt to explain myself and mostly just vent to the abyss of the Interwebs because I have few people or nobody to talk to about how awesome show X is. Last month I focused on The Sopranos and have since been only moderately enjoying season three of said show, though it is picking up steam in its final few episodes and will definitely be enough to encourage me to finish watching that show. This month we're looking at the quite underrated (in my opinion anyway) legal thriller serial Damages, which stars Rose Byrne as a rookie lawyer embroiled in conspiracies and betrayal with and against her boss, played by Glenn Close. It's a show that's always been heralded for its masterful acting, but I think though it's sometimes convoluted, the wicked awesome plot twists and storytelling techniques are just as magnetic. So without further ado, let us begin by saying:

So there's this show called...Damages.

Reason For Johnny-Come-Lateliness: Not having cable is a big one, but not good enough, seeing as how FX, as far as I know, also had this show streaming on Hulu, so I could have watched it while I followed their other shows like Sons of Anarchy and It's Alway Sunny In Philadelphia. So I would have to blame my tardiness on plain ol' bad first impressions. While the print and web ads made it look dark and gritty (a plus), I thought that it was all just a slick marketing campaign trying to elevate another lawyer show with self-contained plots and dull cases where rich people bickered back and forth until someone settled or got convicted by the end of an episode. Luckily positive word of mouth from both Qualler and Brigitte got me and Jerksica to Nerdflix the first season, and the rest is history.

Commitment Level: This is actually a show that I got hooked on right away, despite my initial misgivings, and then my addiction slowly tapered off, which is very unlike how I obsess over more shows. Usually I watch with trepidation at first and then slowly become a rabid fan, but this one, while I still loved by the end of the second season, Jerksica and I were able to control ourselves and only watch an episode a day instead of a disc a day, which is what we often found ourselves doing toward both the beginning and end of the first season. So yes, season one is far more satisfying than season two (and feels a lot more refreshing because they re-use their better-the-first-time flashback glimpse storytelling technique in season two to a lesser effect), but I definitely recommend both, and especially season two if you're a Michael Clayton fan.

The Episode That Got Me Addicted: While I believe Jerksy and I watched the first disc of the first season all in one night, I don't think I was officially sold on the show until I saw the third episode "And My Paralyzing Fear of Death" in which Ellen's (Rose Byrne) boss Patty (Glenn Close) and her husband start receiving death threats as they dig deeper into the Frobisher case (which is followed throughout the season and we brilliantly find out piece by piece how it's related to main protagonist Ellen's fiance's death, which we see flashes of through flashback at the beginnings and ends of each episode). What cinched the deal for me in this particular ep, besides the exciting (yet admittedly hyperbolic) twist that a white collar crime lawyer would find hand grenades placed in their car for digging too deep into a case, there's a brilliantly abstract scene in which Patty's disturbed teenage son tell his high school counselor about a dream he had where he knows he's about to be assassinated so he hires seven body doubles to prevent the real him from getting killed, but he ends up forgetting which one is the real him. These dark offbeat moments (especially when they're acted so damn well) are what make the show, and it's what got me hooked in the first place.

The Episode That Broke My Heart: For a show with such a standard thriller feel (not a bad thing in its case; it works the tense suspense mojo just as good as other high-ranking fare like Breaking Bad or Lost), where the emotions run high but largely not deep, the acting often has the cross to bear to elevate the content. What's hard for this show to succeed at, then, is to have an episode chock full of these kinds of bravura performances and not feel bloated or glutted with over-the-top dramatics. Luckily, there are a distinct handful of eps that do this in spades, including but certainly not limited to primarily the first season's "I Hate These People", in which (SPOILER ALERT!) one of my favorite characters, Ray Fiske (the lawyer Patty and Ellen are up against defending Frobisher and played extra creepily by Zeljko Ivanek of Big Love and True Blood) meets his bloody fate. The character is so magnificently tortured and antagonistic that we cannot draw the line between good and evil, arguably even more so than Glenn Close's acclaimed anti-hero portrayal. The other big one, to give season two some credit, is the season premiere "I Lied, Too" in which we watch season one's main villain Frobisher (played with glorious inept innocence by Ted Danson) is visited after his injury at the end of season one in the hospital by main character Ellen, who contemplates what she wants to do to him. See below for further explanation.

Favorite Character(s): Obviously I gave away my two biggies above when I mentioned both main villain Arthur Frobisher (Danson) and his lawyer Ray Fiske (Ivanek), but I think those are everybody's favorite from season one. So let's give some love to the underrepresented: with the new badassery of Justified, we must mention Timothy Olyphant's double-edged performance in season two as Ellen's new boyfriend with an ulterior motive. Here's a guy who I thought was a throwaway actor even when I was a teenager watching him slice and dice in Scream 2, and now he's becoming one of television's most revered. Whodathunkit? Also you gots to give it up for two familiar bad guys from season two: Clark Peters (Lester Freamon in The Wire) as the mysterious powerful villain Dave and John Doman (Lt. Rawls in The Wire) as Walter Kendrick, CEO of the evil company responsible for the deaths of several West Virginia farmers. All these minor roles aside, the main actors are just as respectable, with Glenn Close pulling off a deserved tour-de-force that everyone keeps raving about, and even the not-so-amazing Rose Byrne and Tate Donovan are totally capable and sometimes captivating, even when they're shown up by their more impressive counterparts. Also, Darrell Hammond played a real evil guy and that was just weird.

Questions I Can't Wait To Be Answered: Well Damages is the kind of show that doesn't necessarily leave a lot of loose ends on purpose (they follow one particular mystery through the end of each season), but they always tend to leave some stuff hanging and smartly show that the tragedies from the beginning of the show are going to have long-lasting and always changing consequences on our main characters throughout the series' existence. This I like because, well, it all hinged on whether or not main bad guy Arthur Frobisher will try to do something stupid again, or if main good girl Ellen Parsons will decide to follow through with her inclinations of revenge against him. So my questions largely revolved around that: will she ever get pushed over the edge enough to get arrested and actually have some kind of conviction stick? How might Frobisher's new headquarters (will be a 'healing center' like he originally planned?) bring about his downfall, or will they to completely phase out his plot? Will Tate Donavan, who plays Patty's right-hand man, ever fully realize that he probably shouldn't be working for Patty? Will Patty ever get taken down enough that it'll hurt her career? Can't wait to watch the Martin Short-enhanced season three and I hope the show doesn't get canned or at least gets picked up by DirecTV like Friday Night Lights did.

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  1. Blogger qualler | 10:22 AM |  

    Nice writeup Crisp! Brigitte and I followed pretty much the same trajectory with this show as you and Jerksy did, getting hooked hard right off the bat. Sadly the season three ratings are in the tank even more than season two was, and news yesterday that DirecTV bought the rights to The Wire, it seems unlikely that they'll pony up the cash to take on a show that's fallen apart in the ratings and is bound to become more expensive with actor salaries going up (and likewise FX seems unlikely that they'll allow DirecTV the "exclusive rights" to the first run of the fourth season.)

    This has been Qualler, Hollyweird Biz Correspondent.

  2. Blogger TG | 1:14 PM |  

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