FX’s new legal series, Damages, can best be compared to a long, tedious, unsatisfactory phone call to your cable company: You look up an hour later and wonder why something so simple can be so very, very complicated. Nothing on this Glenn Close drama comes easy, or even sensibly. Among the many ludicrous scenes, my favorite unrolls early on: Young lawyer Ellen (Rose Byrne, 28 Weeks Later) sacrifices the chance to interview with the cutthroat firm of legendary Patty Hewes (Close) in order to attend her sister’s wedding. At the reception, Ellen goes to the washroom, and out from one of the bathroom stalls strides…Patty, grasping a cocktail, a wry look on her face: ”Well, if it isn’t the maid of honor,” she smirks. To which I might say something like: ”Well, if it isn’t my creepy potential boss who tracked me down at my sister’s wedding, rather than call my cell, and then didn’t actually talk to me but hid in a bathroom stall for an hour, drinking bourbon and thinking up entry lines. Security!”
But then no one in Damages acts logically. (This is the kind of drama in which characters are constantly explaining themselves: ”It’s highly unusual for us to be speaking like this,” says one lawyer, who’s apparently as dumbfounded by his actions as we are.) The series opens with young Ellen, beaten and bloody, at a police station, her fiancé murdered. We then backtrack six months to see — pause for a yawn — how this came to be. In extended flashbacks, we learn that Patty is bringing a huge-bucks case against billionaire Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson) for screwing his stockholders. Turns out Ellen is key to the case. Or is peripherally, possibly semi-key in a roundabout way, which is the Hewes way. Machinations and subterfuge and dead dogs are all part of Patty’s MO — her strategies are supposed to feel intricate and twisted, but instead they feel like a lot of work. How did this woman become the most feared lawyer in Manhattan when she spends so much time taking needlessly secret meetings with Tate Donovan (her loyal No. 2)?
Close, so snappy on FX’s The Shield, gives Damages a decent amount of zest, although given the absurdity of Patty’s actions, that spark sometimes feels like madness. But at least she’s trying: Poor Byrne, playing good girl Ellen, has either been instructed to seem deliberately bland, or she’s attended the Natalie Portman-Queen Amidala School of Acting. ”You know what I like about you?” Close says, studying Byrne’s totally inexpressive face. ”There’s always something going on.” Now certainly, Patty is supposed to be a manipulative liar, but that’s too much to believe. Like pretty much everything about this show.