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Damages—The Complete First Season

(2006) *** Unrated
581 min. FX.

As early as the 1920s, a trend in movie titling began. There was The Son of Tarzan, Son of Zorro, Son of Sinbad, Son of Dracula, Son of Kong... In watching FX's recent first season of Damages, I couldn't help but think of it as "Daughter of Murder One." That's a complement, as the 1995-1997 ABC series was a breakthrough legal thriller that dared to tell one core story (a murder trial) in a season-long arc (hit shows like 24 would follow the lead; Lost is practically a series long arc of one core adventure). Though Damages comes in the shortened cable form of a thirteen-episode season (like British television's more concise, focused and economical model), it too focuses on a single season-long trial and its immediate repurcussions.

Damages is a star vehicle for Glenn Close, who previously garnered Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for starring in Season Four of FX's The Shield. Damages resulted in a Golden Globe win for Close in her tailor-made character of Patty Hewes, a high-powered civil litigator. Like Murder One's Richard Cross (Stanley Tucci), Hewes is a slippery one, devious to be sure, but not all bad and usually acting from her own moral justifications (when not, she's not immune to guilt). Close does riveting work that's both credible and unique; she makes Hewes the charismatic, intimidating "star" of the New York City legal scene that Close is to the New York acting community.

Like Murder One, Damages is as much a mystery melodrama as it is a thriller. The pilot infamously begins with young lawyer Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne of Troy), bruised and bloodied, fleeing the scene of a murder. Immediately flashing back to the day Parsons seizes an interview opportunity at Hewes and Associates, the series soon settles into alternating timelines: one telling the story of Parsons learning the ropes during Hewes' class-action case against corrupt, Ken Lay-like CEO Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson), and one following Parsons' incarceration and murder defense. Eventually, the past timeline meets up with the present timeline, and the story races to its climax.

Close gets great support from Byrne and Danson (the guy is at the top of his form lately), as well as a host of familiar character actors: Zeljko Ivanek, Tate Donovan, Philip Bosco, Peter Riegert, Michael Nouri, Garret Dillahunt, Casey Siemaszko, and fresher faces like Noah Bean, Anastasia Griffith, and Peter Facinelli (Can't Hardly Wait). In terms of the plot, that would be telling; series creators Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman put a premium on giving every episode at least one major plot twist, and though the season loses a bit of steam in its last leg before the big finish, it's generally a satisfyingly suspenseful ride made juicier by its willingness to take its characters to the darkest of places.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 3

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

Street date: 1/29/2008

Distributor: Sony Home Entertainment

Sony's DVD presentation of Damages—The Complete First Season serves up a solid transfer over three discs; the soundtrack trumps the at-times soft picture quality (try the Blu-Ray for a sharper image). The set also offers some very nice extras, beginning with two commentary tracks: writer/creators Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman join Glenn Close and director Allen Coulter on the pilot, "Get Me a Lawyer" and the Kesslers, Zelman and Zeljko Ivanek on "I Hate These People." A total of ten deleted scenes are included, as well.

The centerpiece of the bonus features is "Willful Acts: The Making of Damages" (23:18), a documentary that provides behind-the-scenes access to the series' creation. Also included is "Trust No One: Insight from the Creators of Damages" (12:37), with interviews more focused on character depth and themes. Both are presented in anamorphic widescreen.

There's also an expository interactive guide to class-action lawsuits that provides significant context for a legal thriller that doesn't slow down gently to guide its audience through the judicial thicket. Last up are a teaser trailer for the final season of The Shield and trailers for Rescue Me, Across the Universe, The Jane Austen Book Club, We Own the Night, This Christmas, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Ultimate Edition. In a rare move ("helped" by the writer's strike), Damages Review gear:

Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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