Damages Review

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by Casimir Harlow Apr 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

    It has been said that dramas like Murder One are what kick-started the whole 24 franchise. The concept was simple - a single, big, murder trial that extends over a whole season, each episode having its own little story angle, mini-arc and mini-victories/losses, but adding up to a much bigger picture. It did not do quite as much for legal dramas as I would have hoped for, but we subsequently did get a few nice shows, including the Law and Order franchise and The Practice. Essentially though, the stories have generally revolved around murder cases, the meatiest subjects in the legal world. Film have provided us with a few interesting, alternative 'class actions', whether from Grisham or Erin Brokovich, where it is a civil affair, but Damages is particularly interesting because not only does it follow the Civil side to law, but it also follows just one Class Action lawsuit over the course of the entire season. Can it possibly work?

    Patty Hewes is a big name in New York civil litigation, a no-holds-barred lawyer, who can stand up to any man in the business, and seldom has to go to trial, mainly because of her reputation and her tactics. She may not make many friends along the way, but she gets the job done better than anybody else, and her settlement figures always have a welcome number of zeroes attached. Her latest Class Action lawsuit pits 3000 victims against an arrogant billionaire CEO, Arthur Frobisher, who Patty is personally interested in seeing face her own personal form of justice. Enter a talented new lawyer, Ellen Parsons, bright and young but unaccustomed to the back-street brawling that goes on behind the scenes during big trials. To Patty, she's fresh blood, to be used and abused, and it is not long before Ellen finds herself sucked into a world of back-stabbing, murder and perpetual betrayal. Trust no one, she is told, and she learns that lesson the hard way.

    Damages is a superior new legal drama, unique in its approach to the genre and - in this respect - it injects fresh new life into a dying staple of TV viewing. I didn't think it would work, and I'm still not convinced by the TV format approach (I cannot imagine any satisfaction in watching the show over the course of several months as very few episodes leave anything resolved) but in its entirety, it is fantastic viewing. Every time the viewer tries to get to grips with what is going on, who is betraying who, who is being played, the bigger picture comes into play and you are left reeling from the sheer sneakiness involved. These cats are smart, cunning and infinitely mischievous, the big case just a mammoth chess game to be played out over the course of months, if not years.

    Glenn Close heads up the cast, carrying with her that Fatal Attraction aura of untrustworthiness. She's ruthless, mean and totally despicable, but you cannot help but root for her when you see that, in this world, it's only her approach that gets the right results. She's the female Vic Mackey (from the Shield, another FX show) of the legal world, taking no prisoners and playing by the rules of the street, not the court. Anti-heroes like her have become commonplace in TV shows these days, but it is quite unusual to see such a character at the head of a legal drama, and you spend much of your time over the course of the first season wondering whether you can ever really forgive her for what she has done to get the results she wants.

    Considering Sunshine's Rose Byrne (who was also in 28 Weeks Later) is a relative newcomer - certainly to the small-screen - she does a superb job at standing up against the overbearing Glenn Close. Hers is certainly the character who undergoes the most changes over the course of the narrative, and as such it is extremely interesting to see her develop from naive newcomer into manipulative protégé. Despite the misgivings you may have towards the heroines/anti-heroines, it is fairly clear who the bad guy is. Ted Danson (who has come a long way since Cheers) is superb as the smug, greedy and immoral exec whose biggest fear is not the realisation that his actions have resulted in damage to several thousand innocent people, but the threat that this may have to his business and his reputation. He is not overtly evil, but he lives his life on the wrong side of the line, rather than just crossing it occasionally, as his adversaries often have to.

    As I've stated, I was not initially sold on the concept of Damages - I was not sure that it would work. But after having watched the entire first season in a fairly short period of time, it is clear that this is compelling viewing, and I hope that the writers' strike has not put too much of a delay on the next season. Whether or not you are interested in the legal dynamics, this is TV drama at its best - heroes, anti-heroes and villains all thrown into a seedy mix of betrayal and murder - and it comes recommended. Now, who do you trust?

    Episodes List:
    Jesus, Mary and Joe Cocker
    My Paralyzing Fear of Death
    Tastes Like a Ho Ho
    Regular Earl Anthony
    She Spat at Me
    We Are Not Animals
    Blame the Victim
    Do You Regret What We Did?
    Sort of Like A Family
    I Hate These People
    There's No We Anymore
    Because I Know Patty

    The Rundown

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