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?