Thursday, February 10, 2011

Television without the Networks

It is probably not a good thing that we can now access so much television programming online. Before Steve and I got married, he spent a few Christmas vacations with his daughters plowing through an entire season of 24 in a few days, three to four episodes a night. I don't like 24, and haven't watched it after the first season (it was the body count and extreme violence against women that got to me more than anything else). However, this winter, with the kitchen renovation dragging on and the deep freeze uninterrupted, and the movie queue getting thin, we did give ourselves over to the first two seasons of Damages. We watched them two to three episodes at a time, one night even watching four.

The show pulls you in with its structure, especially in the first season. Why is Ellen leaving the apartment covered in blood only two months after she is hired by Patty Hewes? Well, the story inches forward and inches back each episode, filling in the crime and catching up to who done it. It is well-written enough that I really didn't know which of the bad guys done it until the last episode. And it was well-written enough that I didn't feel cheated when I learned who in fact done it.

The acting is also great. I'm sure Glenn Close is very good in it, although I think watching the episodes back to back like this makes her performance seem more uneven. There are some problems with her characterization. It's not possible to believe that she would have gotten away with all she gets away with for as long as she seems to have been a powerful lawyer. Her seeming altruism is so at odds with even her personality that it's just confusing. She is more like Gordon Gecko than Jack McCoy. And does she or doesn't she do anything illegal in the course of getting justice for the little guy? I have to say, I really don't know. Though I completely don't buy her as calling out a hit on someone. And I completely don't believe the fact that her baby died back when she was young had anything to do with, well, anything. I get her as a flat character, and these attempts to give her some depth are not even interesting to me. I don't have to like her.

By far the best character in the first season, and to some extent in the second, is Ted Danson's Arthur Frobisher. He is as believably conflicted, if not complex, as Patty is not. Danson is able to completely pull off the pathetic and clueless nature of this character, and it's not at all a stretch to believe he'd call in a hit.

Which is to say, I really loved this show, even as I felt like it was sucking the life out of me. Watching 28 episodes in a short period of time is not actually healthy, I don't think. It is the nature of serialized television to manipulate and lead you on, to play with your head. But only a little bit at a time. Once a week. Watching it like this can be kind of hellish. You feel a little like a junkie. And when it's dark and cold outside and you have no kitchen, well, it can feel like the winter is never going to end-- or at least, not without something really, really bad happening.


Connie said...

This is exactly what Bob and I did with The Wire. We wonted to know what all the fuss was about (having never had premium cable), and we got it on Netflix last summer. We watched it in giant gulps, one episode after another, maybe 3-4 in a row, and we became addicted to the point of experiencing withdrawal symptoms when we reached the end of the series. I keep thinking maybe I'll just watch the whole thing again next summer. In the meantime, we have Damages on our Netflix Instant Play queue and appreciate the endorsement/critique.

Susan Sink said...

Well, you should definitely watch it, but you've been warned! We did do this with the Sopranos, too, which was SO MANY seasons, but it didn't feel quite so overstimulating as this series to watch. I think it is about the level of stimulation packed into the series, and the fact that you really have to think to keep engaged with the "mystery" that left me feelings strung out and wrung out!