Tuned In: 'Damages' finale looms with survival still in doubt

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Despite the presence of talented actress Glenn Close, I was not overly enamored with FX's "Damages" when it began its run in July. Her character, lawyer Patty Hewes, seemed a little too evil for believability's sake after she presumably had a witness' dog killed. The series came off, to me, as a potboiler that began to overflow too soon.

Then, after hitting viewers over the head with how manipulative Patty can be, "Damages" became rather slack in its mid-section (do we really care about Ellen's parents and their legal woes stemming from a traffic accident?). But in recent weeks, "Damages" revved up and began to surprise with its twists and turns. There was a gay revelation and suicide (RIP Ray Fiske, played with a cadaverous bearing by Zeljko Ivanek) and a surprise betrayal (Ellen's seeming savior, lawyer Hollis Nye, turned out to be a traitor last week).

"Damages" ends its first season at 10 p.m. Tuesday, wrapping up the case against depraved corporate titan Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson) while Ellen (Rose Byrne) enlists Patty in solving the mystery of who attacked her and murdered her fiance, David (Noah Bean).

If "Damages" returns for a second season -- more on that in a minute -- the show would do well to curb some of its more alienating traits, like the jumping through time. Maybe if the show was eight episodes -- which is really all the first-season story could bear -- the time tripping would be less of an annoying tease as it was at the start of the season. It's become less frustrating as the series has moved from past to present (or would that be from present to future?), but it felt like a long slog.

Contrary to some published reports, FX president John Landgraf said "Damages" has not been renewed.

"It's a somewhat complicated process and I would say I'm cautiously optimistic," Landgraf said in a call with reporters last week. "Still, something could derail the renewal of the show. As magnificent and creative as it has been, it has struggled from a ratings standpoint and that's made it a challenge in the form of ad sales and revenue."

FX executives may be kicking themselves for already renewing two ratings-challenged, less critically adored series ("Dirt" and "The Riches"), making it difficult to justify a third renewal for a lower-rated series in "Damages."

Producers said the "Damages" season finale, which was not made available for review, "leads very nicely and in an exciting way" into the second season, but they were coy on what traits from year one they would retain.

"The idea is to expect the unexpected," said creator Todd Kessler generically. "It's not going to be like any other legal show when it comes back, just like it was unlike any other legal show in its first season."

Kessler later said that while they don't want to lessen the complexity of the characters, producers are considering having the show follow more than a single case in season two, if it comes to pass.

As for season one, producers and Landgraf said it will offer a conclusion to the current story.

"There is an answer and a very satisfying answer to every question [viewers] might have," Landgraf said. "There are some new and equally intriguing questions that are posed that could sustain a second season."

TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.


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