Damages: Season 1 (Kessler, Kessler, Zelman, 2007)

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Have we now reached the point where American Television provides consistently better acting and storytelling than home-grown feature films? Possibly, but it might be better to point out that the sheer dynamics of a television show has a key advantage over film. Great shows like The Wire, Deadwood, and Dexter spend multiple years developing characters and plot-lines, ultimately allowing for a deep audience connection throughout a meticulously crafted process. Also, quality television shows sometimes create a fascinating bridge between literary and cinematic devices, as in The Wire, transcending expectations and genre for a more substantial, crucial vision of our modern day world. For these reasons, Television has made itself indispensable again, and I’m keen to explore the many possibilities on the airwaves today.

Damages, a gripping legal thriller from F/X (now in it’s second season), takes themes of deception and manipulation as its key thematic pair, deconstructing scriptwriting expectations at every turn from the Pilot on to the gripping first season finale. But maybe more so than any other modern show, Damages depends on the potency of performance, and the nuance of cinematic acting. Glenn Close plays high-powered NYC attorney Patty Hewes, a woman of great intelligence and influence currently embroiled in a civil suit against a corrupt CEO played to sleazy perfection by Ted Danson. By the end of the Pilot, it’s clear Patty isn’t your normal heroine, and the show’s creators go to great lengths to complicate her brutality and rage. But Damages is so fascinating because of the character trajectory of Hewes’ foil, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), a young lawyer whose entanglement in the case sets of a dynamic chain of narrative events that structure the entire first season. The battle between Ellen and Patty becomes the core mind game within show a stricken with betrayal. The casualties of this bloody and verbose war make a lasting impression, and like in all great television, keeps you invested during the long, painful wait for next season.

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