Damages is half drama, half psychological thriller, and all eye-peeling entertainment. The cast, the direction, the writing, and the visuals sucked me in right away.
Glenn Close plays Patty Hewes, a remarkably successful civil litigation attorney. She is particular about everything in her law firm — everything. She especially controls the people who work for her, even beyond the scope of their jobs. She never blinks early and has a legendary bull-o-meter. Rose Byrne is Ellen Parsons, Patty’s newest associate. She is just out of law school but she’s no rube. Ellen is smart, beautiful, and talented. Katie Conner, played by Anastasia Griffith, is Ellen’s older sister. With deep emotional ties to each other, Katie and Ellen’s lives find an unexpected and terrible connection. Rounding out the cast is Tate Donovan, another attorney at Hewes’ law firm; Ted Danson, a greedy billionaire; Zeljko Ivanek is the greedy billionaire’s attorney; and lastly is Noah Bean as Katie’s husband.
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The writing in Damages left me completely engrossed. The plot is occasionally disorienting, but only to heighten your senses. I thought I had figured it out; I was wrong. The audience knows a little more than the characters do but instead of shedding light, it makes the story darker. The story reminded me of a country road: windy but not nauseatingly so. The characters wind around each other like branches on trees connected by their roots. You think they are only connected by their branches, but if one died, the others would wilt a slow death. You could easily build your house in one, cut the other down, and find yourself homeless. The characters all play a game of strategy, often they think they are playing one game but another character has plunked them down on a different game board. To be more literal, the story is all about lawsuits and what each of the characters will do to win.
Glenn Close is great as the tyrant genius Patty Hewes. She is dignified but terrifying; a striking combination. It is surprising how scary she is and she never does anything outright frightening. I was mesmerized by her character. Patty Hewes is the dramatic version of Miranda Priestly, Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada. She is an unabashed control freak.
Rose Byrne (28 Weeks Later) is fine as Ellen Parsons. I think her character needs more than one episode to develop. She goes from running nearly naked through the streets, to being a bridesmaid, to helping a friend in serious trouble, to being a new attorney. It is a lot of roles for her character to fill in one episode. Don’t get me wrong, she is great in each of the roles but I think her character suffers the most in the opening episode because they have to accomplish so much in such a small amount of time.
Ted Danson has a lot to prove to me. His short performance was strained and unnatural. I expected some joke to come flying out of his mouth because he couldn’t fully get into the character’s sinister nature. I was disappointed by his inability to commit to Arthur Frobisher’s personality and heartless ambition. The role is a departure for Danson, hopefully another few episodes will allow Danson to come into his own!
The pacing in Damages is slow, sometimes very slow. I think the director, Allen Coulter, wanted to give you every opportunity to study the plot, to really examine it. The more you think you know and the more you are sure about, the more surprised you are when you don’t know anything at all. The end of the first episode will make you feel like the director just told you there is no Santa Claus. Everything you believed is wrong and it is a wonderful feeling.
The first episode of Damages will air nationally on Tuesday (7/24) on the FX Network at 10pm, with an encore presentation at 11pm, as well as on Wednesday (7/25) at 11pm. I have never suggested a show on the first episode alone but I’ll make an exception for Damages. The ending left me angry that the show was over and hanging on with baited breath for the next episode. I want more!
Click HERE for U.S. TV listings.
UPDATE: Pilot episode now available as a free download in iTunes HERE.