Exactly what type of show is FX’s new series, Damages? Is it a murder mystery? Is it a legal thriller? Is it something more personal? After watching the premiere episode, it seems unclear; I am not even sure that the producers could tell you.
It all starts off simply enough, with artistic shots of a dead man, in a pool of blood, on the floor in a bathroom. He is found by the police and a murder investigation begins. But then the series jumps backward six months, and we see the dead man at a birthday for his girlfriend. One of the women at the party is upset about something to do with a restaurant she wants to open. What’s going on? Who knows.
Soon, the haze clears and it boils down to this: the birthday party was for Ellen (Rose Byrne), the dead boyfriend is David (Noah Bean) and the woman with the restaurant problem is David’s sister (though if they state that in the episode I completely missed it), Katie (Anastasia Griffith). It turns out that Katie can’t get the restaurant opened because the money is coming from Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson) who wants Katie to sign a confidentiality agreement that would cover goodness knows what. You see, Rose’s boss at her law firm, Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), thinks that Katie can give her information about Frobisher that will help her destroy him in a lawsuit Hewes is pursuing about Frobisher’s bankrupting his own company and selling out his workers.
Sorry, I said the “haze clears” and it really does not, does it? It is all so convoluted and makes little sense after seeing only one episode. And, as the episode flips back to the investigation of David’s death, one can only assume that you have switched the channels and started watching a completely different show. The deadpan discussion among the cops in the bathroom is hugely over-the-top, and is capped with the umpteenth derivation of Jerry Orbach’s Lennie Briscoe, with one of the detectives stating “good looking boy” as David’s body is wheeled out and the scene ends.
Like so many serialized dramas, the premiere of Damages asks many more questions than it answers. Sadly though, most of the questions, and how they are asked and shown, fail to entice this viewer. All that is left then in deciding whether or not to watch a follow-up episode are the characters. Are they interesting? Are they well portrayed and well written?
Certainly Glenn Close is fun to watch as Hewes, though she is, just like the story and plot, way over the top. The same is true of her current nemesis, Frobisher. Close and Danson seethe and boil over and play it cool and close to the vest an astonishing number of times.
It can be fun to watch, but the nonsensical questions put forth to the viewer are simply too distracting. The viewer has been dropped into the middle of the second act and the middle of the third act at the same time. There are simply too many dangling threads (and assuredly red herrings).
The premiere episode of Damages is an overly-serialized piece of work. It appears as though it will be absolutely crucial to watch each and every episode if one wants to hope to understand the machinations behind what is taking place. The odds that a viewer could pick it up in the middle of the season and understand the story are slim.
While there are shows that are written in this manner, and some succeed, Damages, in its premiere, fails to provide a sufficiently enticing hook to bring the audience back. There are certainly intriguing questions, but there is also the sense that they will all tie together in some overly convenient and terribly silly way just in time to start a new mystery at the tail end of the season finale. And, as I do not care terribly much about this mystery, I am just not sure I want to stick around to find out about the next one.