DAMAGES created by Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler and Daniel Zelman, with Glenn Close, Ted Danson, Rose Byrne and Tate Donovan. Premiers Monday (February 18) at 10 pm on Showcase. Rating: NNNN
Hard-dicked bitch. That’s how Glenn Close’s character is described in the first moments of Damages, a slick new ripped-from-the-headlines thriller that unfolds over 13 episodes like a good John Grisham novel. This is a show that will help you get through the writers’-strike-decimated winter season but will do nothing to help the legal profession’s shitty reputation.
Close has played hard-dicked bitches before, and played them scarily well, from Fatal Attraction’s deranged bunny boiler to Dangerous Liaisons’ cruel puppet master to The Shield’s hard-nosed top cop, sly alpha dogs all.
Here, Close plays Patty Hewes, a high-stakes New York litigator who never loses. She’s all charming smiles belied by sinister, glinting eyes. Cross her and she’ll cut you down and devour you. Even her name, Hewes, alludes to her ability to dissect, dissever and draw-and-quarter her enemies.
Her prey – the bunny ripe for the pot, as it were – is silver fox Arthur Frobisher (a very un-Sam Malone-like Ted Danson), a corrupt multibillionaire CEO along the lines of Enron’s Ken Lay or Conrad Black accused of some sort of corner-cutting criminal malfeasance. Frobisher is that particularly gnarly bit of old-growth forest preventing Patty from putting up a parking lot.
Thrust into the fray is Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), an earnest young legal eagle Patty hires as her latest pawn. Byrne (Sunshine, 28 Weeks Later) has one of those delicate faces that seem more suited to costume drama because of their ability to subtly convey every emotion, and her scenes opposite the fantastically icy Close are terrific.
For all Damages’ twists and turns, it would be easy to dismiss the premise as The Devil Wears Prada with lawyers. Close’s performance is easily as delicious as Meryl Streep’s malicious magazine maven. And there is something familiar about the proceedings, yet not in a Law & Order kind of way.
In fact, the seduction – potentially the corruption – of a promising and very pretty young mind by power and success is a common scenario. And Damages does bring to mind the tug-of-war played out by the win-at-all-costs Gordo Gekko and young gun Bud Fox in Wall Street.
But nothing is quite so straightforward in this series.
Most legal dramas make the same mistakes: too much time spent in a courtroom watching lawyers orate in entirely unbelievable fashion. Exhibit A: “You want the truth?! You can’t handle the truth!!” And not enough time spent examining both sides of the case to make the verdict seem truly suspenseful.
Thankfully, not a single moment is spent in an oak-panelled courtroom in either of the first two episodes of Damages, and the lawsuit against Danson’s Frobisher is only a small part of the puzzle.
The first episode opens with Byrne’s Ellen stumbling through the streets in a trench coat soaked in blood.
Somebody’s definitely dead, but exactly who, how and why… well, that’s what the series is really about.
And the series deftly uses flashbacks – going back as far as six months prior to the murder – to let the story unfold, giving us only a smattering of clues as to where events might lead. Who’s dead? What’s that got to do with corporate fraud? Why does Tate Donovan keep lurking about? How do these lawyers not get disbarred?
The characters are so crafty, their motives so ambiguous, their morals so questionable, I’ll just have to keep tuning in to find out.