Filling the Void: Part One: Damages and Mad Men

Category: , , By Rev/Views

With 2008 bringing the end of some of my favourite shows - especially my two favourites - I've spent most of the Christmas period sitting about thinking "Are they really over?", but once I got over this I knew it was time to look forward and see what could possibly replace the huge gap in my TV watching. Now right now there's little out there with the same singular vision that Shawn Ryan and David Simon brought to their own respective shows. These two are prime candidates from the rarest breed of show runner, the ones with a singular vision for their show and a determination to see their stories to their natural conclusion and then end them. They don't stretch the show out beyond it's natural length of existence and milk it till it goes sour and likewise they don't wander of to do other major projects and leave their babies in less capable hands. They knew what the stories were they wanted to tell and they were committed to telling them in full

In short the greatest things about The Wire, The Shield, Six Feet Under and The Sopranos were the show runners and their commitment to their production. They are all dedicated and true storytellers in their medium. So finding shows to fill this vacuum left by their respective passing is not easy. Especially when you look at how weak the new shows which arrived in 2008 were. But it's not a total a total disaster, there are still quality shows out there that can fill this gap at least partially and I'm going to propose a few of them over the next week or so.

(Second season starts Jan 7th)
Damages is a show creatively descended from The Sopranos. It stars Glenn Close (The Shield) as Patty Hewes, the smart and determined head of a litigation firm. Her number two is Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan - The O.C., Friends) and they both hire Ellen Parsons(Rose Byrne - 28 Weeks Later) to assist them in a class action lawsuit against Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson - Cheers, Curb Your Enthusiasm) on behalf of his ex-employees who were all heavily affected when some accounting irregularities brought down his company amidst some shady stock sales. Art is defended by Ray Fiske (Zeljko Ivanek - Homicide, 24) a competent defense attorney who's been working for him a long time.

The show uses a complex and intelligent narrative that mixes two story lines, one set in the present and the other which starts six months previously. The two narrative threads are differentiated by a yellow filter placed across the present day scenes while the vast majority of the story is told in the past narrative, gradually bringing the story lines closer together while revealing information and enticing the viewer all the time.

Damages is a smart show, it's filled with realistic people who are genuine and multi-faceted. It's also not afraid to let the viewer make up their own minds about events, it tends to avoid over explaining and spoon feeding exposition to the viewer. It's also constructed in the same way that The Wire is, with a season long narrative which is surprisingly light on court scenes and packs quite a body count to boot. This is a clever, pacey show which will keep you watching from the first moment to the last. Teasing you with tidbits of information until the entire picture comes into focus.

For a second opinion on this you can also look at the review which originally convinced me to give the show a try. It's from Dan at Dan's Media Digest and the direct link is here. I will be reviewing the second season as each episode airs and I will also be reviewing the first season DVD as well.

Mad Men:
(Third Season airs later this year)
I've written about Mad Men previously in a Why You Should Watch... feature located here. At this point I'm not sure I have much more to write without repeating myself, but I can say that the second season is every bit as good as the first one was. Mad Men is another show creatively descended from The Sopranos, this time it's Matthew Weiner's project. Now there has been some hoo-ha over Matthew signing to show run the third season - apparently there is a five season storyline plan - and he's been holding out for more money. A ridiculous amount more considering the current economic and TV climate. But the show is genuine quality. It's not as accessible as Damages in my opinion, but for those people who enjoyed the pacing of The Wire or adore the stylistic beauty of the 1950s it's a rare treat indeed.

These are not the only recommendations I will be putting forward over the next week or two. So there's plenty more to come.


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