Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sepinwall on TV: 'Damages' season two review

In today's column, I review the new season of "Damages":
It took nearly two hours into the new season of FX's "Damages" for me to remember why I don't like it.

The show, like its main character -- amoral lawyer Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) -- can be intoxicating at times, all shiny surfaces and steely control. The cast, led by Emmy winner Close, is, for the most part, top notch. Few TV shows filmed in New York have ever made the city look like such an architectural marvel. And the series' mystery format and interlocking timelines makes it easy to simply sit on the edge of the couch and wait for what happens next.

But just as working for Patty is ultimately a bad career move because she's going to turn on you in the end, "Damages" is a show that inevitably reveals itself to be less fulfilling than it seems at first glance.
To read the full thing, click here.

Not sure yet how much episode-specific commentary I'm going to be doing, but at the least I can do open threads for the first three episodes, which I've seen.

29 comments:

dark tyler said...

Oh, A-M-E-N, brother.

Dan said...

Maybe it's a show that works better as a DVD box-set? I watched S1 on blu-ray last summer and it was absolutely wonderful; like a really gripping novel, that I devoured in about 12 days. Looking forward to S2, despite your disappointed review. It sounds like you'd like it a lot more if you watched it in 3-episode bursts every few days for a week.

Matt said...

At least last season, the show had a killer pilot and killer final couple of episodes (basically, once Fiske shot himself in Patty's office to the end), but the middle dragged and got confusing, Hopefully, they can keep the momentum going this time.

And my guess for the car scene is that it's Hurt's character and someone from the energy company he's suing. They have a backroom deal to bring down Patty.

K J Gillenwater said...

I loved the first season of "Damages." You did not. So this review makes me feel very, very good about season 2. :-)

Alan Sepinwall said...

I loved the first season of "Damages." You did not. So this review makes me feel very, very good about season 2. :-)

And, in theory, that's how the critic/reader relationship should work over time: you get enough of a sense of the critic's tastes that you know when you're going to agree with them and when you're not.

Alan Sepinwall said...

It sounds like you'd like it a lot more if you watched it in 3-episode bursts every few days for a week.

I did more or less watch the first three episodes in one chunk, with the first two episodes in one night and the third a couple of days later. I just think that "Damages" is, like "Heroes," a stupid show that pretends to be smart. It's much, much better at pretending than "Heroes," thanks to the cast and those amazing production values, but I find it just as silly at the end of the day as I found "The Da Vinci Code."

Fran L said...

I'm a fan of this blog from Scotland. Every critic bar none in the U.K. loved this show last season, and even though I was always hugely gripped by each episode, I couldn't put my finger on what it was that was stopping me Loving this show. You're piece Nailed it. Saying that: I bet I watch every episode and have nightmares about Patty Hewes- Lenny

Anonymous said...

It sounds from your review you like cookie-cutter dramas and that's alright. This show is investment television where you need to sit down and pay attention and not be distracted. If you haven't watched the first season closely then you will be lost.
This show is not for everyone.
-Bert

Alan Sepinwall said...

It sounds from your review you like cookie-cutter dramas and that's alright. This show is investment television where you need to sit down and pay attention and not be distracted.

Yes, Bert. I love shows that don't require any kind of deep thought. Like "The Wire." And "Mad Men." I just turn off my brain and enjoy. Anything with a football in the groin is a plus.

Anonymous said...

Great review. This is totally a dumb show pretending to be smart. And I guarantee you that the longer it runs, the more people will realize that the emperor has no clothes.

Anonymous said...

Whoa there a second...How much Clarke Peters and John Doman are we talking?

56th Street said...

Damages is a Beyond fantastic show. It is unfortunate that you do not like it, but I have a feeling fans will devour this season up.

Alan Sepinwall said...

How much Clarke Peters and John Doman are we talking?

Not a whole lot initially, at least. Peters isn't in any of the three episodes I've seen, and Doman only appears briefly in the second and third episode, but he's playing the head of the energy company that's at the center of the plot, so I imagine he'll have a lot to do.

Anonymous said...

Don't watch it. Not interested. But I do have to say that the woman in the picture with Close really needs to be enrolled in the "sandwich of the day" club. Yikes.

Andrew said...

Have the writers actually admitted that they make it up as they go along? I haven't read that anywhere.

Anyway, overall I liked this show for pretty much the same reasons I like 24 when it's working. 24 is also pretty much a dumb show that sucks you in anyway with good acting and constant twists.

With that said, what always drove me nuts about it were the ways they constantly violated there own narrative structure. Having two separate timelines on the show was a good idea, but they'd still periodically throw in these random flashbacks to other periods in order to fill in blanks. They'd have some mystery that lasts several episodes, and instead of actually having one of the characters figure it out, which would justify keeping the audience in the dark, they'd just toss in some flashback after like five episodes to answer the question for the audience nobody else, thereby making all the mystery surrounding the situation manufactured and pointless.

One more thing, you didn't just compare my boy William Hurt mugging ass William Shatner did you?

Brian J said...

I'm almost glad that you are iffy on the show. It will bring my expectations down a little.

I really, really liked the show when it first came on. I saw almost every episode. When I finally got Netflix a few weeks ago, I got the episodes on DVD. I haven't watched many of them.

I suspect it has something to do with the reasons you listed, although laziness might actually be the key. There are many shows that I would watch again and again, even if I think they are overrated. This show might just be the type that, while not great art like "The Sopranos," is a great show in the sense that it's entertaining, but is not welcoming to repeat customers.

I also wanted to say that I can't imagine the show lasting for a number of seasons unless there's some drastic change in format down the line. Or maybe I am just not creative enough, so I can't see where they could go.

Brian J said...

Anything with a football in the groin is a plus.

It works on so many levels.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mV1LWhNpTJU

David J. Loehr said...

One thing I learned as a writer was to always have some sense of where a story was going. If I was writing a mystery, I needed to know how it ended. If it changed as I wrote it, I could go back and adjust as needed to make the story stronger. And when you add actors into the mix, they really need to know in order to play their roles properly.

That's why this show has always seemed so empty to me, because everyone is blank and mysterious. They don't know what's going on, and they can't shade their portrayals one way or the other.

And it has nothing to do with playing fair with the audience--although that's nice--or with making the audience use their brains--which is also nice, but not always vital. This is just sloppy writing propped up by good actors who nonetheless could do better.

Have you read the NY Times' piece on William Hurt where he goes on about how hard it is to work like that, even though he did anyway? It's here. It's fascinating to watch him try and rationalize his way back out of it.

Lewis said...

I never really had time to watch this show, but I saw a couple of the later episodes of the last season and was intrigued. Perhaps, as Dan mentions, it's best to watch it straight through on DVD?

Hatfield said...

Yeah, Alan, you should try more intellectual fare like "Corner Gas!" To quote the infamous Thomas 'Herc' Hauk: "It puts the 'B' in subtle."

I keep meaning to check out "Damages" but I tend to agree with you on shows, and that makes me wary. But it has Mario Van Peebles! Oh, the decisions...

jcpdiesel21 said...

I gave this show a shot when it first premiered, mainly due to its strong cast. I wanted to like it, but the pilot didn't really grab me, so I didn't watch any more.

Maxwell Q said...

I would like to thank you Alan for explaining both why I watched the entire first season even though I knew I was not really enjoying it and why I was somehow dreading the second season and having to do that again. Your "empty" description is exactly right - and I, like others, really did want to like it. So thanks for saving me from myself.

Now I can go back to turning my brain off and enjoying the lighter fare that is coming on in the next few weeks, like Battlestar Gallactica or watching that boxset of the Wire while I wait for the ultimate summer popcorn show, Mad Men...

sedeyus said...

I haven't seen any of the second season so I hope I don't turn it on Wednesday and it suddenly sucks but I have to ask: How many people calling it a dumb show actually watched the entire first season? Because I think if you just tuned in for the first few episodes and then tuned out you actually miss a lot of the character moments that made the season hang together.

andythesaint said...

While I enjoyed the first season, I can't exactly disagree with Alan's thoughts on it (although "dumb show" might be a bit much, "of average intelligence" is probably more accurate). It got better as it closed out the season, and while not one of my top ten shows, I think it's twisty nature, strong acting, and gloss make it a decent portion of a well-rounded TV diet.

Julia said...

I watched the first season on blu-ray, and liked the look of the show, and the performances of Close and Danson.

I've seen the first two episodes from season two, and the only thing that stick out in my mind is the disturbing weight loss of Rose Byrne...

cdg said...

If it's true that the writers are making it up as they go...well, that changes it a bit for me.
First season, I started out very intrigued but got increasingly frustrated by how preposterous the law story was getting, since I worked in the legal field for many years (probably how medical types feel watching Gray's Anatomy). But I kept watching 'cause I was hooked.

But I gotta say, the last few eps and especially the finale really, really nailed it. Everything came together and twisted in a hugely satisfying way and I remember saying to my husband at the time, "Wow, I can't believe they pulled it off! Now I love this show!"

Somehow, thinking that they are deliberately writing ambiguously and figuring it out later makes it a lot less interesting. I expect that nonsense from 24 and don't really care, but yeah, I was convinced this show was better. No Lost, but better. (No one will convince me that Lost doesn't have a grand design! [yet])

Anthony Foglia said...

"I just think that "Damages" is, like "Heroes," a stupid show that pretends to be smart."

I won't call it stupid, but I definitely think "Damages" isn't as smart as it thinks it is. I did call it "the legal equivalent of an action movie" after just the premiere. I'm surprised the writers don't know where they're going. Last season ended so well, I just figured they didn't plot out a middle till they sat down.

Anyway, I'll probably have it on in the background. Heck, I just had "Nip/Tuck" on against my better judgment.

Nicole said...

I enjoyed Damages last year, and while it's not on the same level as Mad Men, the performances were compelling enough for me to keep on with it, even though it wasn't that accurate in terms of how you run a civil action. As a lawyer, I get picky about that stuff, and it actually started out fairly realistic, with the hell of a junior associate's life actually involving late nights at work and not at a bar, but then it started to veer off course, but by that time, I wanted to know the answers to the mystery.

In terms of legal realism, it's definitely more accurate than Boston Legal, or any David E. Kelley show, which makes me wonder if he actually ever practiced law.

Gob's Aztec Tomb said...

Last year (or wait, was it the year before? S1?) I, too, had the feeling they were making it up as they went along. I'm a big plotter, not a pantser ("writing by the seat of your pants") so this annoyed me and I almost gave up on the show many times.

I just watched the S1 10-minute recap and I *still* can't recall what the "plot" was about! Just that Glenn Close got away with a lot of improbable stuff. And didn't she kill a dog? Like Duck on "Mad Men"...You kill a dog, and you lost me.