Some shows stay with you for years after you first see them, becoming a part of who you are, and informing the way you watch all subsequent TV, but some shows slip past you, making no impact on your memory and by the time the season is over you wonder if you actually watched the beginning.
Damages S1 is the second type of show. For 13 episodes Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) whined, Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) schemed, Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson) grandstanded, and I tried to stay awake. In all honesty, at points I didn’t stay awake.
Patty Hewes is the sharpest, most-manipulating, hardest-ball playing, one-way train to crazy-town of a lawyer. She is hell-bent on destroying Frobisher, a billionaire who defrauded his employees by convincing them to reinvest their pensions right before he dumped his stock when he got a tip-off from an SEC inside man that his company would be charged with fraudulent accounting. Combating Patty is Frobisher’s lawyer, Ray Fiske, whose mild manner and Southern drawl intensifies his ruthless professional capabilities. Patty hires Ellen, not because she is a recent law graduate at the top of her class, but because her boyfriend David’s sister knows something (without knowing it) about the case. In the pilot, it is revealed that David has been/will be murdered, setting up the show’s structure of alternating the plot between present and past time, therefore attempting to convince us, the audience, that we think we know where the show is headed, in order to make the “shocking twists and turns” that much more so.
The problem is that even in an entirely straightforward linear narrative, we would always know exactly where this show is going. Well-worn elements plod along easily recognizable narrative tracks, neither asking the audience to give anything, nor offering anything in return. The conclusion of the “who killed David?” plotline is so obvious, and so clichéd, that I was almost embarrassed for whomever wrote it. In fairness, there is one genuine surprise, and two semi-surprises, over the course of the season, and I won’t spoil them, but I won’t pretend that they are good enough to make the show worth watching.
Essentially, Damages S1 is an exercise in hypocrisy: the morally outraged crusader-for-the-little-guy is a devious, deranged, puppy-killer; the devout Baptist is a deeply closeted homosexual; the family man is an aficionado of coke and hookers; the ingénue is a stone-cold bitch. But, again, the “true” personalities underneath the public façades are so predictable that they read like just another façade. There is a dead core to this show; there is nothing vital and real for the audience to invest in, or even be intrigued by. Even the opening credits seem designed to repel the audience, like Tephlon. Gray pictures of stone buildings flashing quickly by, accompanied by muted, unidentifiable music, presenting a false door without any enticement to walk through.
I will give this endorsement. For those of you out there who value performance and acting craft above other mimetic components, the cast of Damages is exemplary. From the strongest to the weakest (you know who you are) each and every actor brings their personal best to the role they inhabit. Given that, it really is a shame that the show is so cold and boring.
The TV Girl
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- I guess you would like to know a little bit about the person making all these proclamations upon good taste and horrid characters. I'm Andrea and when I was 15 I fell in love. An hour after meeting "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" I was forever altered in the way only love can, and I never questioned for one minute afterwards that television offered me an amazing chance to experience lives and moments that I could never imagine. So now, when I'm not getting distracted by my real life, I write about TV. I also read, am finishing a Master's degree in English Literature, travel, am attempting to learn vegan cooking, am the 5th of 6 children, and drive my roommate nuts by constantly cleaning our already clean apartment. Now that we're old friends, time for you to take my opinions as the be all and end all.