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Monday, August 06, 2007

Damages (2007)

I watched the pilot episode of “Damages” completely by accident. I’m not one to gush about today’s rather abysmal television landscape, but his dark legal thriller completely mesmerized me.

“Damages” starts out looking like any other Jerry Bruckheimer or Dick Wolf legal procedural drama. Unlike the CSI and Law & Order series, however, “Damages” manages to be consistently unpredictable, unfailingly intelligent, meticulous and, above all, subtle. Mind you, I’m not knocking “Law & Order,” which has fed my id and kept me entertained for years. After seeing only two episodes of “Damages,” however, I can say with certainty that this show is in a completely different league; this is a new kind of television.

Glenn Close plays Patty Hewes the always unrelenting and often vicious head of a high-stakes litigation firm in New York City. Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) is a brilliant young lawyer who gets mysteriously poached and hired by Hewes herself. Ellen is soon drawn into the den of iniquity, coaxed by a new apartment, a staggering salary and a brand new designer wardrobe. The plot of “Damages” seems at first to be an old one, similar to The Firm, Devil’s Advocate or even The Devil Wears Prada. Patty’s big case, a lawsuit against a billionaire (Ted Danson) who sold off his company and lost his employees’ pension plans with Enron-style chicanery. With more probing, Ellen begins to wonder if she was hired merely because she's related to a potentially key witness. Soon it becomes apparent that everyone is hiding something, especially Patty. There are no clear moral lines in “Damages.” Everyone has a price, an agenda and a skeleton in the closet.

Part murder mystery, part courtroom drama, “Damages” is so richly nuanced and so well acted that it almost feels like a high-budget miniseries. Glenn Close is stellar as the passive-aggressive, morally ambiguous Hewes. Ted Danson wisely makes his villain role a sympathetic and complex one, and the result is his best work in ages. “Damages” could very well be FX’s sleeper hit this year.

FX at Tuesday, 10:00 PM EST


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