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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