Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Can We Talk About Damages ?

My general rule of thumb is that I don't talk about television on this cinema blog unless...

a) I can't help myself (Glee, Buffy)
b) it is connected to cinematic interests (Mad Men, Sex & The City) or...
c) it involves major film actresses

For today's small screen detour, we're talking "c". I watch Damages semi-religiously but I don't love it -- I curse you DVR! you made tv too easy for me -- and I think I've finally pinpointed why. The show is completely intimidated by its Star Actress.


Not that "two-time Oscar winning Gle"-- sorry, uh, "five-time Oscar NOMINATED Glenn Close" is not an intimidating force. She absolutely is. Have you seen what she can do to bunnies, dogs, and pfeiffers?

But Damages creative team seem to live in mortal fear of crossing her path. Every scene and plot development seems to tiptoe up to some big risky "in-your-face-Patty!" throwdown before it scampers away frightened. The way they construct both its rogues gallery and its elaborate plots boils down to the often non-riveting fact that Patty Hewes is an indestructable all-knowing amoral demi-god and everyone else is mere mortal.

For all of Damage's timidity in giving Hewes a true antagonist. -- Rose Byrne's "Ellen" has her moments but doesn't totally work when positioned this way -- you'd think the show would be more terrified to stare directly at Close's Medusa gaze. To make the show as riveting as it thinks it is, they need to focus on this fact: for all the staring matches, they have not yet turned to stone. Glenn Close will not destroy them if they fuck with her a little.

Last week's Close's strongest scene backs up my assertion. The actress nearly found a new note to play when confronted with a disturbing fact (involving her son) that her character was unaware of. Patty, you see, is never The Last To Know. The gap between what Patty always projects (absolute power and relentless determination toward End Goal) and Patty deciding what to project and how to get there without either of those fallbacks was delicious. The show needs a lot more of these gaps in its personality constructs.

Glenn Close is not going to be ignored... but neither, I don't think, would she mind a worthy acting opponent. I hoped, when I first heard that Lily Tomlin would play the Tobin matriarch that they'd make her Patty's arch-enemy. Instead the role, to this point, has been merely an above average take on a teary entitled widow.

I've included an entirely unrelated photo of Lily with Meryl just to make sure you're still reading. Aren't they cute?

I don't think Glenn Close has an equal in the intimidating factor -- unless they really thought outside the box and recruited someone foreign / frosty like a Isabelle Huppert type -- but drama doesn't need its protagonist and antagonist to be total mirrors. That's just one way to do it. Season 2 nearly found the right formula. The blithe carnality of Marcia Gay Harden (see previous post) was a smart, intriguing and non-reflective match for Close's blunt dominance. How, after all, would Patty stare down an opponent that wasn't staring back but checking her hair and talking in hushed sensual tones to everyone but Patty? Strangely though, the show decided not to truly pit the opposing councils against each other. Such a shame.

Should Glenn get another crack at Damages (a 4th season is up in the air), who should take a crack at her gorgon lawyer? Do you share my concerns about the show's imbalance... or do you merely despair that so many great actresses bolt the large screen for the small?
*

27 comments:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Am I the only one who thinks Meryl looks like Glenn sometimes (especially in that shot above)?

Anyhow, yes you're about right. They're a bit too afraid of her. But who wouldn't be? I do wish they'd sustained Marcia's role. Sigourney Weaver comes to mind immediately when i think of someone who can out-intimidate Glenn (and La Bening, too).

Volvagia said...

So, moving off women, would Peter Capaldi be a good fit? The Close character seems to be, from your description, a slow, calculating speaker. In In the Loop, Capladi showed he could bury people in intellgent dialogue. With less profanity, he could play an excellent, dramatic, counterpoint to a cautious, calculating speaker.

CVhristine said...

Am I the only one disappointed that you haven't commented on the blog about "RuPaul's Drag Race" (a.k.a "The Best Reality Show of All Time")? I mean, you've twittered about it, but putting it on the blog gives it an extra sheen of respectability.

Stefano said...

I absolutely love Damages, I think it's possibly the best show on tv. I live in Italy, so I've seen only the first two seasons so far, but they're both exceptional (especially the first one).
Anyway, Marcia Gay Harden's character could have been a very strong nemesis for Patty last season. I don't know much about the "villains" in Season 3, but I also would like to see Patty going head-to-head with a powerful adversaire... let's see what happens!
PS: Glenn Close is ASTONISHING in this tv series... surely her best role & performance since Madame de Merteuil!

ClaudeMedwenitsch said...

What do you think about Toni Collette in United States of Tara?

;)

Jose said...

Ugh yes, I kept waiting for that big Gay Harden vs. Close showdown last year and it never came (it vanished somewhere with Marcia's Emmy...)

I've never thought Rose is good enough for Glenn. The woman needs to act more human, even her sad scenes are forced and she still can't do what Glenn does with a smirk.

Girl knows how to pull off a pantsuit though, I'll give her that...

billybil said...

I know I make some people crazy but I do not think Close was the right woman to play Madame de Merteuil! That role should have been played by Kathleen Turner. She has the brains and the warmth to make the role soar (the way it was played in the stage production). Brilliant as she is, Close was just too obvious a fit to make that role as interesting as it should have been.

Glenn said...

I haven't watched Damages since season 1 because they took it off free-to-air tv here, although I considered purchasing season 2 since I saw it quite cheap.

Her season 4 combatant should be Michelle Pfeiffer. Can you imagine that?!?

vg21 said...

I totally agree with the disbalance, in the 3rd season, I am missing a character that could have as much integrity as Patty, who would not be so easily corruptible and messed up by her. To me it seems that ALL the characters turn out to be really flawed and they give in to Patty without even trying to disregard her games. Ellen may be the only - and not total - exception.

Glenn Close is undeniably perfect, I can't wait to see her in every episode, but the writers should develop the other characters so that the show doesn't become too predictable - and annoying.

Also, I hope Glenn will finally get her Oscar with her new film she is also writing:). Fingers crossed.

The Man Behind The Curtain said...

I think television is ahead of cinema in respect to actresses. To me at least, some of the best-written roles are coming in TV series, not in films. That's not to say there are not good cinematic roles for actresses, but its hard to ignore the sheer quality of them on TV. I'd say that has to be a factor in why so many phenomenal actresses are bolting to the small screen now.

Alex said...

I really want to see Debra Winger take Glenn down on Damages. That would maybe be the best thing ever.

par3182 said...

maybe patty could do some pro bono work for a group of angry actresses that didn't win an oscar in the 80s - weaver, pfeiffer, turner, winger - in a class action against meryl streep?

Anonymous said...

OMG, Isabelle Huppert would be so hot! She completely intimidates me and she's very sexy to boot. I would also love to see Helen Mirren go up against Patty. That would be a badass showdown.

As far as the writers being afraid of Close's power ... I don't know. You can't show Patty screaming and throwing things in every single episode. That would turn her into a campy caricature and it would get boring really fast.

I agree that Rose isn't the most versatile actor around, but she does seem to have a special quality (one blogger described it as a "smoldering coolness") that I enjoy. Glenn's acting is so over-the-top and Rose's is so reigned/mysterious ... I think they have a unique chemistry together.

NATHANIEL R said...

anon... i don't think they're afraid to show her power, i just think they're afraid to let anyone else on the show have similar power.

NATHANIEL R said...

par3182 -- you've just pitched my new favorite movie of all time.

alex -- EXCELLENT casting suggestion. i hadn't even thought of that one.

Vinny said...

I think its valid considerations concerning many antagonists Damages that do not seem to get a content from the writers of the series, but in recent episodes, the character of Martin Short has proved a pleasant surprise with a great turning point in your past. In the eighth episode, he starts to behave as the antagonist of this season. I have many hopes on this fact.

Vinny said...

And in my dreams, actresses such as Jane Alexander and Faye Dunaway would be great options for Patty Hewes confront face to face.

The Jaded Armchair Reviewer said...

Maybe Damages can borrow from Buffy and do a Slayerfest episode where all the actresses who've been neglected by Oscar and taken refuge with Emmy and Tony will converge to intimidate Glenn off of her tv show throne?

Marsha Mason said...

This to me nails the biggest problem with this show (of which I've only seen season 1): nobody can go up against Patty. Anybody tougher than Patty would be a caricature and anybody weaker is instant roadkill.

On the other hand, if we're going to do a slayerfest with Oscar overlookeds, ole Marsha sure knows how to swing a bat!

troyhopper said...

Two words: Angela Bassett. Clearly, no one's memories of her talents stretch far beyond "What's Love Got to Do wit It?," but I nearly come undone every time I see her on the small screen -- which is usually the only time one can see her.

ShoNuff Lives said...

i love damages. its nice to see a tightly wound show that's all about the unraveling, and to have strong, varied female archetypes in play. i also think they reason they have a hard time setting up a worthy opponent for close is that people are afraid to go head-to-head with her. i mean, did you see her monday night just eviscerate ted danson (again)? without so much as an effort showing. just outstanding.

given that they usually cast new york actors (i do love seeing theatre people pop up), here's my wish list:

- jeffrey wright as a replacement for tate donovan
- kerry washington as a competitor/foil for ellen/rose byrne
- bebe neuworth as a divorcee running amok
- elizabeth marvel as, well, anything
- ethan hawke as the opposing attorney
finally, my casting coup that would make the buzz for the show so insane, it would finally get some decent ratings:
- michael douglas as neuworth's ex husband who plays the target (some sort of bad guy)

and i'll second troyhopper's call for angela bassett...the woman needs to WORK

Janice said...

Regarding your last question, Nathaniel - I just watched season 1 of United States of Tara, and I was just happy to be able to watch that much of Toni Collette (in terms of time, not skin.) And I had no idea that Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married) was in it as well. Granted, "Charmaine" is a variation on "Rachel" in a sense (both the overlooked sisters of a woman with dramatically fucked-up issues); and I'd love to see DeWitt and Collette in meaty big screen dramas - but there are really not that many good roles for women in the cinema anyway. If my favorite actresses can't find good work - let alone ANY work - in the movies, I'd rather be able to enjoy them in well-written TV roles than not be able to see them at all. And, United States of Tara, for instance, isn't exactly "slumming it" - not compared to some of the crap that gets the go-ahead for cinemas.

I think having TV shows on DVD now is almost becoming a bit of a leveler - movies and TV shows tend to look pretty much the same when you watch them at home anyway.

Glenn Dunks said...

I'm so sad about Laura Linney having to move to TV to find good work. First in miniseries and now an entire series, The Big C.

The Emmy/Golden Globe best TV actress categories are looking far better than Oscar's comparative lists these days. Collette, Close, Hunter, Falco, Sedgwick, Fey and now surely be adding Linney to the list.

NATHANIEL R said...

Janice -- i agree that i'd rather have them on a tv series than not at all. It's just that i am a cinema guy so i'll always have that preference. and there is still something that is sort of mythic about being a film only actor (like Streep & Pfeiffer... not that both of them haven't done a couple of tv things but for the most part, it just never happens) that i appreciate.

for example: it'd kill me to see Michelle Pfeiffer as a regular on a tv series UNLESS it was her show and it was a phenomenal show like a MAD MEN quality or something. But i can take seeing her in bad movies?

okay i'm weird.

Anonymous said...

Brace yourself nathaniel cause NBC is actively courting Julianne Moore to star in the Prime Suspect remake. And by actively I mean, they postponed the pilot to see if she agrees to do it.

Btw, this prejudice of your is ridiculous. Of course movies are more glamorous and mysterious, cause we don`t see the characters weekly or the actors on red carpets and stuff, but the writing on TV shows nowadays can be much better than on film. Ranging from dramas of all kinds to sitcoms, TV is my fave entertainment vehicle.

Even CBS caught me off guard this season with The Good Wife. It`s a procedural, but it has all of its characters fleshed out and it not only works as a lawyer show, also working with the workplace drama and relationship angle. After winning 2 years in a row, Glenn Close will pave the way for another lawyer cause Julianna Margulies is simply astounding. What she does by just changing her voice or moving her eyes, needs to be seen and studied by some film actresses.

Of course there`s always the bad apples. While Glenn Close can scream from the top of her lungs, Patty Hewes works the best when reacting to something unexpected, as you pointed out, or giving facial clues to what she`s thinking. There`s also the aforementioned Margullies and the ever awesome Showtime trio of Edie Falco, Toni Collete and Mary Louise Parker. Then there are the over the top, award winning duo of crime procedurals, Mariska Hargitay and Kyra Sedgwick. They are awful, confusing emotion with over emoting. Sedgwick is barely watchable on her show, given all her ticks, accent, movements. It may be the most tiring job ever and people confuse that for good. LOL.

My point being, there`s the good and there`s the bad. You can have Meryl Streep in Adaptation but then you`ll also have to stand her in Doubt. This TV prejudice makes no sense and to prove you wrong I hope Michelle Pfeiffer agrees to do the most dreadful David E. Kelley(and oh boy, he can deliver a bad show, coming soon Oscar winner Kathy Bates in Kindreds) show ever, just to spite you and these baffling thoughts.

billybil said...

Actually I think Ms Mason has a great idea. She is exactly the sort of actress I think would be fascinating and very effective as the power that equaled Close. This is the same reason I would have preferred to see Turner in Les Liaisons... Having an excellent actress who initially "reads" a certain way be powerful and evil is always more interesting than someone like Close who I think is too obviously powerful and evil most of the time. That's why when Close plays the softer, warmer roles I think she's marvelous. And the thing about Mason is that she isn't as obviously against type in such a role like Pfeiffer would be - Mason's subtle and real and therefore all the more fascinating. That's why I don't really care to see Weaver in tough, evil roles either - too obvious. And if Turner isn't grounded in her sensuality then I'm not that interested in her power side either. I mean, wouldn't Marsha Mason in a powerful, evil, sensual role be the bomb?? I'd cast Close in the Julianne Moore roles - now that would be fascinating!! And that's probably why I like Pfeiffer best in the everyday, average, down trodden roles - cause it's so against her aura. And maybe we should give Debra Winger a chance to do COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA or maybe some of Geraldine Page's roles. That could be sweet. And Weaver is the one I would glamorize - let her do some of the roles Annette Bening has done like BUGSY and the English actress one. I'm rambling here but I do love it when the less expected choice is made!!

Sam said...

You know who's intimidating and would work well with Glenn? Michelle Forbes. Best known as Helena Cain from Battlestar Galactica and as Maryann in True Blood. She can be scaaaary.