CHICAGO – The issue of gender identity, especially for those who are born with a vagueness as to what to call themselves between/beyond boy and girl, has come front and center in the U.S., both with the legalization of gay marriage and the callous repudiation of identity by trying to pass laws dismissing it (the North Carolina “bathroom” laws). The performance companies of The Living Canvas and Nothing Without a Company is currently staging “[Trans]formation,” which presents gender identity art by six performers, who perform most of the play in the nude.
TV Review: Rose Byrne, Glenn Close Return in ‘Damages’
CHICAGO – The second season of ‘Damages,’ recently released on DVD, was still quality television but felt like a bit of a letdown after the spectacular first season of this amazing show. Naturally, expectations are high for the premiere of season three. Will the show return to peak form, stabilize, or continue to slide? For now, it’s a hung jury.
Television Rating: 4.0/5.0
In its third year, the structure of “Damages” is familiar (and maybe too much so) - one large case throughout a season told in a chronologically jumping style, opening with a shocking moment and then working back and forth through time so the end of the season explains just how we got there. The first season featured a bloodied Rose Byrne running from an apartment building and the second her character shooting someone.
Photo credit: FX
The third season will work its way back to an opening car accident involving anti-hero Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), the tough-as-nails attorney who will go to any lengths to win a case. As we’ve learned over the course of two seasons, there’s really no line that Patty will not cross. Ellen (Rose Byrne), the woman whose life Patty both simultaneously destroyed and catapulted into the complex world of high-profile legal battles, hasn’t seen Patty in a year and comes back into her circle of chaos because of an internationally scandalous case of a businessman accused of defrauding his clients a la Bernie Madoff. A tagline of the season is “Main Street Has Taken Enough Bull” although one wonders if people haven’t moved on from the Madoff crisis, making the overall plot of “Damages” feel like something that would have played more strongly in the middle of last year.
Photo credit: FX
The financier at the center of this season of “Damages” is Louis Tobin (Len Cariou), a man with an entire family that will clearly play a role. Like Madoff’s family, the extended Tobin clan maintains innocence and works to keep secrets. Son Joe Tobin (Campbell Scott) appears to honestly want to come forward and clear his name but family attorney Leonard Winstone (Martin Short) keeps him and Louis’ wife Marilyn (Lily Tomlin) on a short leash.
Like season one, Hewes is once again working for a large group of people after being hired by the U.S. government to recover billions of dollars in assets from the largest investment fraud in U.S. history. When Ellen’s boss begins investigating the Tobin case, she gets sucked back into the Hewes-verse. Keith Carradine will also guest star and Ted Danson is reportedly returning later in the season as the legendary Arthur Frobisher.
The first episode of this season of “Damages” hints at a softening of Patty Hewes. She is hit on by someone (Carradine) at a dinner party and then gets into the car accident that will be the center of the show. When she gets out of the car, whoever hit her has fled. Just by making Hewes the victim of an apparent crime instead of the perpetrator changes the “Damages” dynamic a bit. It’s a softening that seems more prominent when she unexpectedly offers Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan) his name above the door (although, of course, there could be ulterior motives there).
It’s too soon to tell where “Damages” is going. The cast this season is typically fantastic with particularly surprising work from Short, someone completely believable as a high-priced NYC lawyer. Tomlin has always been underrated and one gets the feeling that Campbell Scott could steal the entire season. He’s always fantastic and perfectly cast here. Close, Byrne, Donovan have been great since the first episode and that’s not about to change. The ensemble is the best thing about “Damages” and one of the most talented on television.
As for the writing, the jury is still out. I think the structure of “Damages” and the way it flashes back and forth is becoming a bit of a distraction. The first season would have been dramatically resonant without it. A structure like this needs to be a cherry on the sundae, not the scoop and it feels like it’s being over-used at the beginning of the third crazy case of Patty and Ellen’s life. I suppose getting rid of it at this point would be like asking “24” to take place over two days, but they could pull back on the use of it and focus on the characters without bouncing around quite so much. I swear the first episode has a title card that says “6 Months Later” a dozen times.
Ultimately, “Damages” is one of the best shows on television because it has one of the best ensembles. Close, Byrne, Donovan, Short, Scott, Tomlin - all possible nominees as soon as this season is eligible for awards. That kind of acting must be seen, even if the writing may not be what it used to be. And with a cast this talented and a set-up this interesting, there’s no reason to believe that this won’t develop into a more consistent season than the last, one that started strongly but ended somewhat cluttered and uninspired. Like a complicated case, it’s hard to judge until we hear from the last witness. I will say that the end of the first episode features a shocking moment that will shake the show forever and make it hard NOT to watch through this season’s closing arguments.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Video
Season two of “Damages” was recently released on DVD to coincide with the debut of season three.
Official synopsis: “The second season of this Emmy Award-winning show comes to DVD! After her unprecedented victory over billionaire Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson), Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) has the legal world at her feet. Just as she’s pondering her next move, Daniel Purcell (William Hurt), a man from Patty’s past, throws her into a new legal challenge. What starts as a domestic murder case escalates into the highest reaches of government as Patty unearthes a vast conspiracy.
At the same time, Ellen (Rose Byrne) is on a mission to take down Patty. She’s agreed to act as an informant for the F.B.I., assisting them in their criminal investigation of Patty and the firm. As Patty unraveles the mystery surrounding Daniel Purcell, she must also negotiate the perilous minefields both inside and outsife her office. Also starring Tate Donovan, Marcia Gay Arden, Timothy Olyphant, Ted Danson and William Hurt.”
o Cast and Crew Commentaries (2.1 - “I Lied, Too”; 2.8 - “They Had to Tweeze That Out of My Kidney”; 2.12 - “Look What He Dug Up This Time”; 2.13 - “Trust Me”)
o Deleted Scenes
o Season 1 Recap
o Season Two: Post Mortem
o 7 Character Profiles