[07/24/07 - 12:04 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Damages" (FX)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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The network's description: "FX's new original drama series Damages premieres on Tuesday, July 24 at 10PM ET/PT. FX has ordered 13 episodes for the first season. A legal thriller set in the world of New York City high-stakes litigation, Damages follows the turbulent lives of Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) the nation's most revered and reviled high-stakes litigator and her bright, ambitious young protege Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne). After Patty handpicks Ellen to be a first-year Associate at the high- profile law firm, "Hewes & Associates", life will never be the same for either one of them. Ellen, newly-engaged to her boyfriend David Connor (Noah Bean), is thrilled to join the ranks and be trained under Patty and Patty's trusted Senior Associate, Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan). But Ellen soon realizes that the price of success may be much higher than what she's willing to pay. Currently, the focus of "Hewes & Associates'" attention is a class action lawsuit targeting the allegedly corrupt Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson), one of the country's wealthiest CEOs. Patty, on behalf of her clients, is attempting to bankrupt and personally destroy Frobisher. As Patty battles with Frobisher and his attorney Ray Fiske (Zeljko Ivanek) Ellen Parsons will be front and center witnessing just what it takes to win at all costs."

What did they leave out: Look for a cameo by Fox News's Greta Van Susteren as herself. Plus, be sure to pad your DVR - the premiere runs about six minutes long.

The plot in a nutshell: A dazed, nearly naked woman (Rose Byrne) stumbles from her New York City apartment covered in blood. Cut to six months earlier and we learn said woman is Ellen Parsons, a promising young law school grad who's being recruited by infamous high-stakes litigator Patty Hewes (Glenn Close). Nevertheless, it's far from a slam dunk - a spurned law partner (Philip Bosco) warns her about Patty's soul killing reputation (even going so far as to have her "sign" a business card saying as much) while Patty's own number two Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan) gives her a similar lesson about Patty's almost inhuman bullshit detector. Making matters even worse - her interview has been moved to the same day as her sister's (Miriam Shor) wedding, a fact she begrudgingly resigns to. Curious to see who had the stones to turn her down, Patty herself turns up at the wedding and the two find themselves to be kindred spirits. And so, Ellen is hired and thrown to the wolves in the form of her latest case - a class action civil suit against Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson), an Enron-esque CEO who got his employees to invest their retirement funds into the company only to sell their stock short for a profit. The crux of their case then is to find if and when Frobisher met with his broker during a particular weekend in Florida. Also factoring into the picture are Ellen's doctor boyfriend (Noah Bean); his sister Katie (Anastasia Griffith), an aspiring restaurateur; and Ray Fiske (Zeljko Ivanek) as Frobisher's slimy defense attorney. To say any more would spoil the fun but suffice it to say by the end of the two episodes provided for review, backroom deals will be made, people will be fired and someone will be dead. More importantly, you'll find out nothing is as it seems.

What works: An all too rare serialized thriller that lives up to the hype, "Damages" is both intricately constructed and brilliantly executed - the former of which becomes even more clear after multiple viewings (for instance, pay close attention between the first phone call between Patty and her husband, played by "The O.C.'s" Michael Nouri). It's a show that purposely doles out dots you can't help but connect, only to pull back and show you something completely different. Leading the charge is the always pitch perfect Close, who's something of a mix between the unpleasable iciness of Miranda Priestly in "Devil Wears Prada" and the unfettered machismo of Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street." The same goes for Ted Danson, who manages to actually be both likeable (he genuinely fears his wife will leave him over the scandal) and despicable (conversely he'll just as easily ask his lawyer for the cold hard facts about what happens if she does leave him). In fact, it's the central Hewes/Frobisher struggle that provides the show's best moments. Is Frobisher the type of guy who would really rip off his own employees? Or is he a good guy forced to do bad things to protect his family? Is Hewes fighting the good fight because she believes in her clients? Or is she a rule breaker who will do anything to get what she wants? It's those facets - particularly in Frobisher's case - that give the show the type of depth you've undoubtedly come to expect from an FX show. Kudos are also much deserved for director Allen Coulter and co-creators Daniel Zelman, Glenn Kessler and Todd A. Kessler - not a scene in the pilot is wasted (there's little to no establishing shots, just bang, bang, bang, scene after scene) and any rough edges turn out to be well placed seeds in retrospect.

What doesn't: The second episode doesn't have the same "full speed ahead" feel of the first as it's only in the final minutes - or seconds actually - does the overall "what turned Ellen into a bloody mess" mystery move forward. That being said, there's no reason not to stick with the show.

The bottom line: Far more than a summer diversion, "Damages" is the real deal.

  [july 2007]  


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