Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Damages: The devil is in the details

Today's column previews FX's new drama "Damages," which I wanted to like more than I did:
The new FX legal drama "Damages" offers two superb performances by old pros Glenn Close and Ted Danson. It has a knotty, ripped-from-the- headlines thriller plot that evokes the best of John Grisham. And it has the moral ambiguity and style we've come to expect from the home of "The Shield" and "Rescue Me."

One thing it doesn't have: a compelling main character. It's a doughnut show: lots of sweet, satisfying goodness around the edges, nothing in the middle.
To read the full thing, click here.


Anonymous said...

So do you think the problem is Rose Byrne or the character?

I had to laugh at one review that suggested Alexis Bledel would have been a better choice. I don't think you can get less charismatic.

Alan Sepinwall said...

It's essentially like watching Alexis Bledel. As for Byrne. vs the writers, I'm always hesitant to call out an actor the first time I've seen them unless they're just egregiously bad. If you're an Eric Balfour and you make it clear from role to role to role that it's not them, it's you, then sure. But I've heard that Byrne has been good in some of her movies, and the character is written fairly blandly. So I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Alan, I'm confused by the timeline of events on Damages. According to another review, Zap2it's TVGal, the show starts out in the present with Rose covered in blood. It then moves six months to the past when she is first hired. Then it bounces to the future(or back to the present...this I'm not clear about) as the police try to unravel what happened to Rose. Where does the plot with Ted Danson fit in, in this chronology? And also, is there any major drama series that Zeljko Ivanek hasn't showed up in at some point? When does this guy sleep?

Sleepyhead said...

I gotta say that the FX promo for this show did absolutely nothin' for me. And since I can kinda take or leave Glenn Close (heresy!), I pass.

Rose Byrne has, I think, turned in some good performances (28 Weeks Later, decent. The Dead Girl, excellent.) Did anyone besides me have an "acting" problem with USA's "Burn Notice"? I thought the concept was good, the writing very sharp, and all the lead actors wooden and confused. I jettisoned it after 20 minutes.

Todd said...

Man, I thought I was the only person this didn't do a whole lot for. I have mostly the same criticisms as you, except I'm pretty sure it's not Byrne. I've liked her in movies. I think she's just not as good of an actress as Glenn Close and unable to wrestle an underwritten part down like Close can. So we, naturally, side with Close, just because she's interesting.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm confused by the timeline of events on Damages

Here's how it works: we open in the present day, and Rose Byrne is found by the cops covered in blood and refusing to say what happened. The cops' interrogations and investigation are then used as a framing device as we jump back six months to when Byrne's character went to work for Close's, just as Close is pushing forward on the case against Danson's character. The story mainly takes place in the past, but there are occasional jumps to the present-day cop scenes. For instance, you'll see the cops find a ring lying on an apartment floor, and then we'll cut back six months (or less, I imagine, as the season moves along) to see whose ring that is and what significance it has.

dark tyler said...

Just came back from 28 Weeks Later, she was good in it. Actually I like her in all of her films, nothing spectacular, but always good.

Basically I just like looking at her.

afoglia said...

I liked it. It's over the top, but not campy. Think of it as the legal equivalent of an action movie. (The coincidences required to get to the climatic twist are not remotely plausible, but for the ride, it's worth accepting.)

I agree that the "corrupting the innocent" theme doesn't work well, partly because we don't know Ellen at all outside the law firm. Without scenes away from work, we can't really see how she's being corrupted, or care if she is. Since the show isn't designed to have any personal scenes, I'd drop it, and hope for scenes where Ellen doesn't simply come across to others as a young Patty, perhaps by making naive mistakes, or proudly choosing family over work.

But I disagree that Byrne isn't a strong center. She's not supposed to be. She's the audience, just entering this new world. Patty is the main character.

PS: What a difference a decade makes. I remember Zeljko Ivanek from "Homicide." Quite the change from the overworked prosecuter Ed Danvers. From his look here, just wait a few years and he'll be playing the Cryptkeeper.

Anonymous said...

I pretty much agree with your assessment, Alan. I wanted to like the show a lot more than I did.

One of my biggest problems was that, for all the talk about how "special" Ellen was supposed to be there was absolutely nothing onscreen to justify that opinion of her. Granted, we learn at the end that there were ulterior reasons for her hiring, but Ellen being in demand by several top firms or Patty being excited about her coming on board had to be believable before the twist and it just wasn't. I think a lot of it had to do with the writing, but I do fault Byrne too. A better actress would have risen above the material. But she just sat there looking completely blank throughout most of the hour.

Another thing that bothered me was that, for all of the talk of Ellen's ambition, there was never any evidence of it. She never seemed to agonize over whether or not to go to her sister's wedding and it was completely unclear why ANYONE would want to work in a firm where the lawyers don't ever go home, get fired at a moment's notice, and where other lawyers warn new associates how awful it is there.

Also, I had a few problems with particular plot points. Despite the twist with the dog, it was completely obvious as soon as Zeljko Ivanek even looked at it that it was going to die. And I don't understand why so many machinations were involved in getting Katie to testify. If Patty knew about her couldn't she just subpoena her??

Finally, too much of the plot seemed cliche and done before. The sweet naive newbie coming into the high pressured world where she'll be corrupted and the dragon lady boss have been done a million times before and I didn't see much new here. Glenn Close recently gave an interview where she said she was drawn to the character because it wasn't just a Miranda Priestly type bitch. But that's exactly what I got from her--only with less warmth than I got from Meryl.

Anonymous said...

Okay, Alan. I hate to be the one to point this out (and I'm shocked one of your editors didn't notice) but in your review you refer to Byrne's character as "Ellen Parsons" (the actual character name) and then as "Ellen Draper."

So where did you pull the name Ellen Draper from??

Alan Sepinwall said...

So where did you pull the name Ellen Draper from??

I have no idea. I've been out here so long, I literally don't know what day it is unless I look at the top bar on my computer.

dark tyler said...

I know! I know! *raises hand*

It's from "Mad Men". (which, by the way? Fantastic.))

Anonymous said...

I liked The Firm better. That said, this was a nice, but not overly amazing show. I mean, I like that it's a bit suspense than most other things on television, and it will no doubt do well, but I still am not warming to Byrne.

Liked, not loved, but it seems par for the course for FX.

Side note: I'm aghast no one mentioned Ted Danson's hairplugs.

Anonymous said...

Could somebody tell me what the big shocker was at the end of Damages last night? Do we know who killed the boyfriend? What did Glenn Close throw in the river?

Anonymous said...

She threw the dog collar in the river. Patty had the dog killed so that Katie would be mad enough to come forward and testify.

Rahul said...

I think Glenn Close's evilness emanates from her chin. And I think that Zeljko Ivanek needs to work on his accent. Aside from that, I actually found the pilot pretty compelling. I want to keep watching to find out how Rose Byrne's fiance ended up dead in the tub.

Anonymous said...

Rahul: Not that much to find out. Basically, the lawyers at the firm do the pretty stuff, but for behind the scene work (like the killing of the dog to get the sister to testify, or the killing of the finance to have Ellen turn into more of a sinister, and dedicated employee, and one that will be more adamant at catching, in one way or another, the Ted Danson character), that's what they keep the old guy around for. He's like the hitman or general "go-to-it" guy they keep on staff (and as you'd expect, intimately involved with the inner workings of the law firm, like when he said to the Tate Donovan character that it's "almost as if you were really fired").

So basically, it is fairly likely that it was Patty that ordered the killing (with the twist being that the Danson character seems evil from the get go, but is actually not all that bad. The inverse of Patty).

Anonymous said...

The "Ellen Draper" error may have been a "thirtysomething" throwback - Hope's best friend on that show was played by Polly Draper, whose character name on the show was Ellen. Or am I just making that up?

And, regarding the notion that there were no personal scenes in "Damages," what about that gratuitous sex scene following the young couple's engagement? Yuck.

Ivanek as crypt keeper? Excellent. The guy looked like a corpse.

Glenn Close, however, can act the hell out of any scene she is in.

afoglia said...

I had forgotten about the sex scene. Must have been trying to block it out of my mind. You're right, it was very gratuitous and completely unnecessary, and amazingly bland for a post-proposal sex scene.

Anonymous said...

Nothing to add, really, but I did want to point out that Todd made the same "Ellen Draper" error in his piece. So maybe there was a name change at some point.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for clearing things up. That said, Patty is more evil than Michael Vick. Just a little too evil to root for.

Anonymous said...

I seriously doubt that the Glenn Close character had Ellen's fiancee killed. That just makes no sense.

Anonymous said...

The real mystery to me is, behind closed doors did they refer to the plan to bring Ellen to the firm as "The Ellen Parsons Project"???

dark tyler said...

See, I'm not so sure it will end up making absolute sense. I found it really enjoyable, and I don't see any reason why I'd drop it, but at the same time I'm fairly certain that it won't be anything more than a better acted, less cartoony, legal version of something like "Prison Break".

An "Alias" that takes itself too seriously, if you will. (Also known as The John Grisham Novel.)

Anonymous said...

"If Patty knew about her couldn't she just subpoena her??"

I am not sure how subpoenas work, so perhaps some knowledge there would answer my question, but Katie, the fiancee's sister, signed a confidentiality clause, so perhaps getting her to agree to break it, which was the reason the dog was killed, was the only way she'd testify. In other words, perhaps a subpoena would be meaningless.

"(The coincidences required to get to the climatic twist are not remotely plausible, but for the ride, it's worth accepting.)"

I'm not really sure what you're referring to here.

As for Rose Byrne's character, isn't the whole point that she's sort of bland? She's young and (soon-to-be) successful, but she hasn't had enough experiences yet to really shape her personality. That's how she's able to be so easily influenced by Patty.

And for those who suggested that the old guy (who is played by Carmela Soprano's father, it looks like) who dry cleans the clothes for the staff, do we have definite proof he is the hitman? Of the dog, perhaps, but of the fiancee? I have to say, if Patty's firm definitely does it, it's going to be pretty hard to justify any sort of likability in her.

Anonymous said...

watched it on my dvr last night. I liked it overall, but a few things stood out.
1. sex scene - boo!
2. close up of dogs fighting in dog park really was strange after the Michael Vick supena this week
3. loved Ted Danson in first scene on motorcross course
4. I think the original lawyer mentor is somehow involved.

Anonymous said...

OK, I'm obviously no longer competent to watch TV, since all I got out of the last sequence was "Tate Donovan wasn't really fired", and missed the completely obvious meaning of the dog collar. As always, I blame society.

K J Gillenwater said...

Wow, guess I was the only one who was blown away. I *loved* this show. Spectacular. Surprising. Horrifying. Love that Glenn Close is that evil. It was not what I was expecting at all! I am curious if the Rose Byrne character walked out of Patty's apartment covered in blood b/c she killed Patty?

I was riveted to the screen the whole time.

Rose Byrne's character is a little bland, but I think that is because she is playing the naive innocent here. All the better to see her fall from innocent to murderer (perhaps).

Anonymous said...

My DVR cut out and I missed the end! Can someone point me to where I can see it?