DVDs in Review #114: Damages: The Complete Third Season.

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Over the past week I've spent just over nine hours catching up with the third season of the Glenn Close tour de force that is Damages. As I mentioned previously I have a great deal of respect and enjoyment for the first season, but I felt that the second season - despite some excellent performances from the cast - wobbled more than a few times and came dangerously close to falling over thanks to weak plotting and poor editing choices.

It wasn't a deal breaker, but I was concerned that the third season would also suffer from similar issues.

Spoilers, it doesn't. In fact it's everything the second season wanted to be and more. Damages continues with it's own indomitable style; strong female leads, non-linear plotting, twist revelations, shocks and high stakes in the world surrounding the law courts.

This time the show focuses on the Tobin family, who are involved in a ponzi scheme that has bankrupted everyone who was involved in it. Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) and Tom Shays (Tate Donovan) are given the task of recovering the money for the various victims while Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), now working for the DA's office, is involved in the criminal side of the investigation.

Sadly the adorable Anastasia Griffith does not return as Katie Conners, but Ted Danson does as Arthur Frobisher, and he's not the only familiar face who graces our screens as the plot moves along by touching on events from the past. There's also a host of superb guest stars, including Campbell Scott, Martin Short, Len Cariou and my all time favourite actress Tara Summers - who I can unashamedly say is utterly brilliant in every moment she is on screen.

Performances are throughout, superb, in particular I have to praise Rose Byrne - who previously has struggled to bring any real emotion or rounded characterisation to her performance as Ellen Parsons, something I've often felt was caused by her need to maintain a US accent (she's from Australia). She's more comfortable with the new, slightly evolved, Ellen - and she's able to play someone who's learnt about the manipulation game from the best. Yes, that's right - Ellen is becoming a schemer of epic proportions in her own right, a much warranted and superb development for the character. In fact, every core character gets some deserved character development, we delve further into Patty's past while also gaining a broader perspective on both Ellen and Tom's lives.

The third season of Damages is everything you've come to expect from the show; it's dark, exciting and clever with strong characterisation layered on top of a plot so twisted you might as well call it a pretzel. It's one of the current cream of the crop drama shows out there and it's one of the few running a genuinely serialised plot over it's thirteen episodes. In fact the serialised nature of the show makes it a better experience on DVD than when it's shown weekly, you can dive into the murky depths of Patty's world and only come up for air when you choose to. As such I can highly recommend picking up a copy of the boxed set and settling down to enjoy a dark tale of deception, embezzlement, lies, fraud and more than a few murders. It's Damages and it's great.

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DVDs in Review #113: Damages: The Complete Second Season

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For a review of the first season go here. Be warned there will be spoilers about events from the first season in this review.

Damages had a first season with an exceptionally unique style of show, I personally appreciated the ambiguity in characters, their goals and personalities not being a clear cut case of Good/Evil but having instead greyer shades. Yes, by the end of the season we had clearly defined villains and a heroine but the journey there was far from straightforward and the last episode of the season is one of my favourite episodes of all time.

The second season then needed to build on the original season's style by evolving its use of non-linear narrative and ambiguous characterisation without straying too far from the format. It's a tall order, because if the season just re-treads old ground you'd end up with something that doesn't engage and if you deviate from the established format you risk losing established viewers. Not an easy line to walk.

So, Damages brings in more big names capable of fantastic performances - joining the returning cast of Glenn Close, Rose Byrne, Tate Donovan, Anastasia Griffith and Ted Danson we get the fantastic selection of William Hurt (A History of Violence, Dark City and so much more), Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood), Marcia Gay Harden (Royal Pains), John Doman (The Wire) and Clarke Peters (The Wire, Treme). A huge wadge of quality talent descending onto our screens and promising great performances.

Following on from the fantastic season finale the second season sees Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) now cooperating with the FBI in an investigation into Patty Hewes (Glenn Close). Ellen naturally has good reason to be involved in this after Patty attempted to have Ellen murdered. Ellen is not only using her position to investigate Patty, she's also maneuvering to expose Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson) as the man behind the murder of David Conner, Ellen's fiancé. Ellen has plenty of reasons to remain close to Patty at this time.

Just like the previous season the show is divided into a past storyline that builds up towards the shocking present 'teaser' storyline. The 'teaser' storyline in this case initially opens with Ellen pointing a gun at an unknown person or persons and talking before pulling the trigger twice. It's a marked change from the Ellen of the first season and the film noir undertones of the scene are nicely played. As before, the past storyline pushes forward towards the teaser while the teaser expands on events and gradually reveals more of the situation to raise more questions for the viewer. It was an exeptionally effective ploy in the first season, but if I'm honest it's not as well done here - the performances from the actors are superb, but the editing is very ham-fisted, in particular the music used for certain moments is completely mood breaking.

In all, despite the superb cast, the second season is not as strong as the first one - watching it on DVD was a superior experience to watching it 'live' (one episode per week), just like the first season Damages is a show better watched in bursts rather than one part at a time, but the second season shows a poor choice of direction by the editing and directing staff. It's rare that a superb cast cannot overcome technical and plotting issues, but in the case of the second season of Damages it has happened. Fortunately I'm now watching the third season on DVD and I can say that many of the problems and issues the second season has are resolved.

So Damages Season Two is something that needs to be taken at value, yes it has flaws, yes it is not as good as the first season, but it is an enjoyable experience and it is most certainly worth watching.
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DVDs in Review #112: Damages: The Complete First Season

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Damages was one of those shows that crept up on my radar after I discovered that Glenn Close and Ted Danson were appearing in it. Both actors who have exceptional pedigres on screen, I had most recently enjoyed Glenn Close's performance in the fourth season of "The Shield" and Ted Danson was, of course, fan-flipping-tastic in "Cheers" back in the day, so I was keen to see how he'd perform in a serious drama.

The show focuses around the dynamic between titanic lawyer Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), a young associate named Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) and their class action lawsuit against the wealthy Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson). Frobisher is accused of lying to his employees and attempting to profit from insider trading.

The series is most notable for it's unusual use of time, the vast majority of the show's scenes are set in the past - with only a few key scenes being set in the present time. These present day scenes are used as 'shocking' teasers designed to raise questions for the viewer while also teasing unthinkable events and placing characters in bizarre situations. It's an interesting concept that demonstrates just how important the journey can be when you're understanding how someone got there, not entirely original in the media of film (Memento being the classic example for playing with time and the perception of it).

Patty Hewes is a sharp, dangerous litgator at the top of her game, she's aided by her right hand man - Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan) and her Uncle Pete. As time passes Patty comes to allow the young Ellen Parsons further and further into her business and her life, with events that suggest (given the unusual timeline in the show) a bad end for Ellen and her fiance David Conner (Noah Bean).

Damages is an intense, fun ride of a show through a twisty plot that barely enters the courtroom at all. It's somewhat surprising at first, but despite being a legal drama very little of the action takes place in the courts. The show instead looks at the surrounding work involved in building a case, especially when dealing with someone as powerful, clever and duplicitous as someone like Patty Hewes. The show racks up the tension with every passing moment and thanks to clever dialog and brilliant characterisation it works beautifully. Cumulating in a stunning season finale that brings everything to a head, answering the questions you will have had along the way and then leaving you wanting more while wondering 'what's next for these characters?'

Particular praise must be lumped onto Glenn Close, her performance is key to the show and she really excels in the role. Damages came into being after her appearance in The Shield's 4th season and I think it is fair to say her observations and experiences near Michael Chiklis's blistering (and career defining) portrayal of Detective Vic Mackey have had some influence on Patty Hewes. At times she manages to display the same duality of purpose and even on occasion she holds similar facial expressions to Vic's. This is not to take anything away from Glenn herself, she's an accomplished and quite brilliant bunny boiler - but like any great actor she's capable of cribbing from others and improving on her game.

Ted Danson is likewise fantastic, his performance as Arthur Frobisher is a long leap from the bartender Sam but he handles it with aplomb and poise. He walks a fine line between being a detestable cartoon villain and being a reasonable (if unpleasant) human being with understandable objectives and believable motives. I know Frobisher is one of the outright bad guys of the piece (being the target of the class action suit etc etc), but I still can't help but appreciate the guy.

One of my favourite cast members is Anastasia Griffith whom I think is just wonderful as Katie Conner, but the powerhouse performances come from Glenn Close, Ted Danson and the brilliant Zeljko Ivanek (as Ray Fisk). Zeljko in particular is a favourite of mine from the superb 1990s show Homicide: Life on the Street and I'm thrilled to say he's as good in Damages as he was in that show, but it's hardly surprising as Zeljko tends to be superb whenever he's on screen.

In fact the only cast member I'd say feels a little out of her depth is Rose Byrne, she's adequate as Ellen - but at times her performance is a little wooden. As she's often in a reactive role this isn't too bad to deal with, but occasionally I do find myself feeling unengaged with her character because of it. I'm not sure if this is an intentional performance or just caused by a lack of experience as a leading character in a TV series, but it is a shame at times.

This minor grip aside, the first season of Damages is a whistle stop tour of a story told through time, space and the world of lawyers. It's an awesome experience that will get the blood rising and leave you wanting more.

It also has one of the best (and most appropriate) TV Themes of all time. So what are you waiting for? Hurry up and check out the first season of Damages, otherwise - by the time I'm through with you, there won't be anything left!

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Damages week here on Rev/Views

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I recently renewed my aquantience with the wonderful drama/suspense/twisty experience that is Damages by rewatching the first season of the show and finally catching up with the entire of the second season. With the third season coming out in the UK on the 18th of October I've decided to spend several posts this week looking at the show and why it's a great piece of television that any consumer of great drama should be watching.

The schedule is to look at the show as a whole and what makes it great, then look at the first two season boxed sets in turn. Hopefully by the end of it there is at least one person who decides the show is worth a spin, because it's a brilliant creation.
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