2 November 2012

What TV's Damages does right


I missed the boat with this excellent TV series when it first came out and only discovered it last week. Fortunately for me it means I can mainline the entire series in a glut of DVD watching. As a legal thriller goes it's managed to innovate some well-trodden ground:

- Unlike 99% of TV legal dramas it's about a class action and not a murder trial. This is already fresh and interesting in terms of what's at risk, the types of characters we meet along the way, how the legal manoeuvrings play out.

- Also refreshing is it focus on pre-trial strategy and manipulation rather than the over-played courtroom drama. Not only is this is representative of actual class actions, where so much of the work takes place prior to trial, but it allows for interesting character development through domestic and personal scenes.

- It knows when to pursue legal realism and when to ignore it for a more interesting narrative. For example, the key conceit that a junior lawyer would have regular access to the head of the law firm is unlikely in the real world, but makes for an engaging mentor/protégée dynamic.

- Less a legal drama consideration, but definitely worth mentioning, is that the two leads are women. I could do with a bit less of Rose Byrne fretting about her impeding wedding, which is hardly breaking any feminist ground, but Glen Close's Patty Hewes is a excellently realised, uncliched character.

I suspect there will be a lot to learn from Damages in terms of new interesting ways to handling well-trodden material, so I'm glad I came to it between novels. Now that's all that left to do is catch up on all those other critically regarded series that I've put off doing for so many years. Number one on that hit list is, ahem, The Wire. Obviously a major oversight and one I hope to remedy through a few well-placed Christmas gift hints.


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