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Damages: The Complete First Season (2007)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/29/2008

All Ratings out of
Show: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/24/2008

Why do you watch your favorite television show? That may seem like an odd question, but it's a fair one. Is it because of the story? Is it the actors? Is it simply the only thing that's on at that time? What is it about the show which keeps you coming back? In some cases, that may be difficult to answer, but not with Damages. This show is constructed in a way which redefines cliffhanger. Even if you aren't overwhelmed by a particular episode, there will be something at the end to make you come back for the next one. Damages: The Complete First Season has now come to Blu-ray Disc (and DVD as well).

The first episode of Damages opens with a bloodstained woman bursting from an apartment building and running down the streets of New York City. Clearly, something terrible has happened to her. The story then goes back in time six months. We learn that the woman is named Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne). Ellen has just graduated from law school and is seeking her first job. She has a successful interview with Hollis Nye (Philip Bosco), but she accepts an offer from Patty Hewes (Glenn Close). Patty has a reputation for being a very tough and successful attorney and her practice specializes in class action lawsuits. At present, Patty is in the middle of a case involving billionaire Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson), who has been accused of profiting from the collapse of his company, which left his 5000 employees jobless and with no benefits. Patty and her associate Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan) immediately put Ellen to work on the case, and she suddenly finds herself swamped with work, which barely leaves her any time to see her fiance, David (Noah Bean).

At first, Ellen is excited and engrossed in the work, as she's doing what she's always wanted to do. But soon, she learns that the legal world is much more complicated than she ever thought. Both sides of the case have secrets and things to hide and it soon becomes clear that neither Patty or Frobisher are willing to back down. When two titans like this go toe-to-toe, someone is going to get hurt...or even killed.

I must admit, I've never been a big fan of "lawyer shows". While I enjoy a good courtroom drama (Runaway Jury comes to mind), these shows always seem to focus more on the screwed-up lives of the lawyers rather than any interesting cases. Thus, I wasn't all that excited about watching Damages. After the first few minutes, my mind was changed.

Now, to be quite honest, Damages is guilty of focusing on the indiscretions of the lawyers and those involved in the case, often allowing the particulars of the case to linger in the background. But, that's OK, as it's nothing like those other shows out there. Damages is all about style. This is a daring show which takes the kind of storytelling techniques used in films like Pulp Fiction and applies them to a TV show. As noted above, the show starts with a flash forward. The opening of the first episode shows that the main character has suffered a great tragedy. The show then jumps back in time to tell us what lead up to that event. This trend continues throughout the series as these two stories, the present and the past, constantly intertwine. Each episode lets us know a little bit more about what happened to Ellen and we then see how events lined up to get her there. This continues until the end of the season, when the two timelines coalesce. This may sound like a comedian telling the punchline and then relating the joke, but trust me, it works.

This approach works due to the fact that Damages is a big tease. It teases us with plot points and character personalities. At several points during the season, characters are told to trust no one. That is excellent advice for the viewer as well, as every character here has at least one hidden agenda and their actions are sometimes shocking. Damages does an excellent job of convincing us that a character only works within certain parameters and then blindsides us with a shocking happening. These behaviors typically drive the show’s stories and the unpredictable behavior of the characters leads the show in many different directions. And these new directions are typically revealed in the last moment of an episode, resulting in a cliffhanger. If there was ever a show which was tailor-made for home video viewing, it’s Damages, as you’ll find yourself going on to the next one, no matter what your schedule is.

Along with the superb writing, Damages also features an outstanding cast. Close, Danson, and Byrne were all nominated for Golden Globes for the show, with Close winning. Close and Danson certainly deserve the kudos for their performances. Both are playing extremely damaged people who are still three-dimensional characters. Patty fights for “the little guy” and loves going after “bullies”, but she is also a ruthless who will do whatever it takes to win her case. Frobisher is a man who is drunk on power and has no qualms about using his wealth to cover his mistakes, and yet he cares very deeply about his family and friends. Both of these characters dwell within a grey area, and our love/hate feelings for them fluctuate throughout the show. Byrne holds her own against these veterans and is excellent as the show’s link to the audience. We are right there with the naive Ellen as she encounters first-hand the ethical and moral challenges which face her colleagues every day. As her life becomes more and more dangerous, Ellen begins to change and Byrne plays this very well.

So, I’ll admit it: I pre-judged Damages and I’m very glad that I gave the show a chance. This is one of the best dramas that I’ve seen in a long time, and the fact that I breezed through the first season in record time is a testament to the addictive nature of this show. This one gets its hooks in you from the very first shot and doesn’t let go until the end. The plot-twists are difficult to see coming and the way in which the story progresses is pitch-perfect. I haven’t heard any announcements concerning Season 2 of the show, but trust me, I’ll be there.

(A word of caution, Damages is rated TV-MA and the Blu-ray Disc is labeled “unrated”. For a TV show, there is certainly some strong material here. There is nearly constant profanity, bloody violence, and at least three sex scenes (albeit without nudity).)

Damages: The Complete First Season files a motion on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. This three disc set contains all 13 episodes from the show’s first season. The show is letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the disc features an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 22 Mbps. Overall, the transfer is very good, but the image fluctuates in quality. Please don’t be alarmed at first, as the flash-forwards are shot in a very dark and grainy fashion (where things are often tinted slightly red). The flashbacks have a more normal look and there are some exterior shots here which are incredibly clear, showing an incredible amount of depth. (The scene in which Gregory and Katie meet on her front porch looked amazing.) However, some of the interior shots show some notable grain and some shimmering. But, for the most part, it looks good. The colors are excellent, and exclusive of the flash-forwards, the image is never dark. Skin tones look realistic. Aside from the issues above, there is no distracting artifacting or video noise. The disc sports a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and averages 1.5 Mbps. This is a solid track which delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. Music plays a big role in the show and the score sounds fantastic. The music is very detailed and we hear the individual instruments in the front channels. The street scenes and exterior scene in particular exhibit some nice surround sound. Bass tones are fine, but save for some action scenes, not very relevant.

The Damages: The Complete First Season contains a few extras. The most important one is a unique “Play All” feature which will remember where you left off if you need to stop the disc. Even if you take the disc out, it will note the last stop. This system isn’t infallible (as I learned), but it is a neat idea. Three featurettes are found on Disc 3 (although they are listed on the menus of all 3 discs). "Willful Acts: The Making of Damages" (23 minutes) contains comments from the actors and the show's creators. They discuss the characters and the tone of the show. There's an in-depth look at the dynamics between the characters and the morals/ethics of the show. In "Trust No One: Insight from the Creators" (13 minutes) Kessler, Kessler, and Zelman (which sounds like a law firm) discuss the ideas behind the show and the characters. They talk about their initial goals for the show, and why they chose to set it in the world of law. They also talk about the design of the show, and how the two timelines interact.
"Understanding Class Action" is an interactive piece where the viewer can choose from several different options to learn a great deal about class action lawsuits. We are treated to comments from legal experts. The episode "I Hate These People" (Disc 3) features an AUDIO COMMENTARY series creators/executive producers Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler, & Daniel Zelman, and actor Zeljko Ivanek. “Pilot” (Disc 1) has a commentary with Kessler, Kessler, Zelman, director Allen Coulter, and Glenn Close. Both of these commentaries are very informative as the creators talk about their story ideas and goals for the show, and the actors relate their experiences. The following episodes feature DELETED SCENES with the number of scenes in parentheses: “Jesus, Mary & Joe Cocker” (1), “And My Paralyzing Fear of Death” (1) (Both Disc 1), “Do You Regret What We Did” (2), “We Are Not Animals” (1), “She Spat at Me” (1) (all Disc 2), “I Hate These People” (2), “There’s no ‘We’ Anymore” (1), “Because I Know Patty” (1) (all Disc 3).

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long