Public Service Announcement 7 of 2014: Damages; Looking

Although television has always created its own stars, for many of them TV was just a stepping-stone to the movies, long seen as the creative and financial superior. This continued into the present Golden Age, even as it became more and more apparent that well-made TV offered unrivalled artistic opportunities. The tide had to turn, and Glenn Close was one of the first proper movie stars of the current era to head the other way, when in 2007 she starred in the first season of legal thriller Damages.

Damages was one of the very first shows we covered on Unpopcult: we liked the first season, didn’t think as much of the second, and regarded the third as a return to form. And there, in 2010, on the brink of cancellation, we left it. But Damages was revived for two more seasons, and now, nearly three years after its transmission in America, season 4 has finally found a home on UK television. (It has, I should say, been available on Netflix for a while.) Close and Rose Byrne are back, joined by John Goodman and Dylan Baker, who is one of my favourite actors. The season attracted decent reviews when shown in America, but I kind of feel as if the thrill has gone. Film stars turning up on TV is no longer a big deal – we in the UK, for example, are getting HBO’s True Detective, with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, in about four weeks – and with so much competition around, its time may have passed. On the other hand, of course, “when I am through with you…” (Monday 27 January, 9pm, Lifetime).

There is, however, another – potentially more interesting – example of TV/cinema cross-pollination the same night. Andrew Haigh managed something of a cult triumph with the charming and deceptively profound low-budget British film Weekend (2011). This brought him to the attention of HBO, and as a result he’s exec producing and showrunning Looking, an eight-part comedy-drama about gay men in San Francisco, which started a week ago in America. (Haigh also writes and directs some of the episodes.) It’s been generally well-received by US critics, and if it’s as good as Weekend it’ll be worth watching. I’ll be reviewing the first episode at least (Monday 27 January, 10.35pm, Sky Atlantic).

Also starting the same night: apparently dreadful Giovanni Ribisi/Seth Green sitcom Dads (9.30pm, ITV2). And coming very soon – to much Unpopcult excitement – The Good Wife.

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Unpopcult at the Emmys part 4: Best Supporting Actor and Best Guest Actor

As with the women, some top-notch performances are recognised in the second-banana categories.  There are also plenty of notable omissions, but there’s now so much good TV around that not everyone can be rewarded. 

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy:

Chris Colfer as Kurt Hummel, ‘Glee’

Neil Patrick Harris as Barney Stinson, ‘How I Met Your Mother’

Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Mitchell, ‘Modern Family’

Eric Stonestreet as Cameron Tucker, ‘Modern Family’

Ty Burrell as Phil Dunphy, ‘Modern Family’

Jon Cryer as Alan Harper, ‘Two And A Half Men’

Any one of the ‘Modern Family’ nominees would be a worthy winner here, and while Ed O’Neill might be regarded as unlucky to miss out I’m particularly pleased that the sometimes overlooked Jesse Tyler Ferguson gets a shout.  So with half of the nominees, the wisdom of the ‘Modern Family’ strategy becomes clear here.  Or does it?  What happens if the ‘Modern Family’ vote gets split?  Neil Patrick Harris should, of course, have won last year, and dude who did, Jon Cryer, surely won’t win twice in a row.  (Incidentally, does anyone else remember ‘Partners’?  In the UK it was shown at about midnight.  I liked it a lot.)  Personally I would give it to Harris or Eric Stonestreet, but with all of that going on I just wonder whether Chris Colfer might sneak through the middle.

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama:

Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, ‘Breaking Bad’

Martin Short as Leonard Winstone, ‘Damages’

Terry O’Quinn as John Locke, ‘Lost’

Michael Emerson as Ben Linus, ‘Lost’

John Slattery as Roger Sterling, ‘Mad Men’

Andre Braugher as Owen, ‘Men Of A Certain Age’

Another enormously strong category.  We haven’t seen ‘Certain Age’ in the UK yet but Andre Braugher is always value, and anything connected with ‘Breaking Bad’ is award-bait.  Last year’s winner, Michael Emerson, was if anything even better this season, but I wonder if the Losties in the Academy might decide it’s Terry O’Quinn’s turn this time?  If so he’ll be doing well to hold off the stellar John Slattery, scene-stealing as ever in ‘Mad Men’, where it must be pretty hard to steal a scene.  (And hard luck on Bryan Batt and Vincent Kartheiser, both of whom deserve to be here.  Possibly also half the cast of ‘Lost’.  And Robert Sean Leonard.)  I wouldn’t be at all surprised, though, if Martin Short’s playing against type as sleek, amoral Leonard Winstone in ‘Damages’ could just get there – the Academy’s love for Bryan Cranston demonstrates just how much the voters like comic turns going straight.

Outstanding Guest Actor In A Comedy:

Mike O’Malley as Burt Hummel, ‘Glee’

Neil Patrick Harris as Bryan Ryan, ‘Glee’

Fred Willard as Frank Dunphy, ‘Modern Family’

Eli Wallach as Bernard Zimberg, ‘Nurse Jackie’

Jon Hamm as Dr. Drew Baird, ’30 Rock’

Will Arnett as Devin Banks, ’30 Rock’

If Jon Hamm gets this one while missing out on the big prize yet again, I will not be pleased.  I’d like to think, though, that it’s a Mike O’Malley/NPH showdown, with O’Malley probably getting it for making the very most of what could have been a relatively insignificant part.

Outstanding Guest Actor In A Drama:

Beau Bridges as Detective George Andrews, ‘The Closer’

Ted Danson as Arthur Frobisher, ‘Damages’

John Lithgow as Arthur Mitchell, ‘Dexter’

Alan Cumming as Eli Gold, ‘The Good Wife’

Dylan Baker as Colin Sweeney, ‘The Good Wife’

Robert Morse as Bertram Cooper, ‘Mad Men’

Gregory Itzin as President Charles Logan, ’24’

Now, here’s where I don’t get the whole “guest”/”supporting” thing.  Alan Cumming was in 7 episodes of ‘The Good Wife’,  Gregory Itzin was in 8 of the last season of ‘24’, and if someone told me that Robert Morse was in every episode of ‘Mad Men’ I wouldn’t be astonished; ditto John Lithgow and ‘Dexter’.  Cumming, of course was great; there perhaps isn’t more fun to be had among all the nominated acting performances than Itzin’s big, broad, President Logan; and Morse’s playing of eccentric shrewdness was absolutely precise.  Ted Danson was as good as ever in ‘Damages’, but this time round the character seemed oddly out-of-place.  I’d love Dylan Baker to get it for his ironic ‘The Good Wife’ psychopath, but although we haven’t yet seen season 4 of ‘Dexter’ I’ve heard enough about Lithgow’s performance to suggest that he’s the favourite here.  And Andre Braugher should have been nominated for ‘House’, of course.

Unpopcult at the Emmys part 3: Leading Ladies

Much like the Leading Men categories, there are certain people who always seem to be nominated for the Oustanding Lead Actress in a Drama Emmy, and that tradition continues this year with 2008 and 2009 winner Glenn Close nominated again for Damages, Kyra Sedgwick nominated again (fifth time in a row) for The Closer and Mariska Hargitay nominated yet again (seventh time in a row) for Law & Order: SVU.  I’m not sure how much these women’s performances actually matter; maybe they’re brilliant, maybe they’re not, but I always expect to see them nominated, regardless.  As does everybody else. 

However, I usually expect to see Holly Hunter and Sally Field in there too, and this year they’re not.  Instead, Connie Britton and Julianna Marguiles have made the list for their astonishing work on Friday Night Lights and The Good Wife, respectively, and I’m delighted for both of them.

Ok, Margulies’ nomination was a pretty sure thing, and Mad Men’s January Jones rounding out the six wasn’t unexpected either, especially as co-star and 2009 nominee Elisabeth Moss dropped to the supporting category this year (to make room?). But Britton’s inclusion has been such a long time coming that most of us had stopped believing it could ever happen, so it’s a shock, if a lovely one.  I’d love to see it happen, but a Connie win seems too much to hope for, though.  I think it’ll be Julianna’s year and, if so, it’ll still be richly deserved.

Meantime, the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy category also has its usual suspects, with last year’s winner Toni Collette, the oft-nominated Julia-Louis Dreyfus (five times in a row for The New Adventures of Old Christine, seven times for Seinfeld) and, of course, unpopcult fave Tina Fey making repeat appearances this year.  As for the newbies – Edie Falco was always going to join them this year for Nurse Jackie, and a lot of people seem very pleased about Amy Poehler being nominated for Parks and Recreation. 

The only one of the nominees I’ve seen in action this season, however, is Lea Michele in Glee, and, perversely, her nomination is the only one in this category that’s surprised me.  Not that I don’t think she’s good – I love her to bits – but unless they actually do adopt my Matt Morrison scoring system and give extra points for her musical performances, I don’t think she’ll come out on top of this particular group. I reckon Edie Falco will.

Unpopcult at the Emmys part 2: Best Supporting Actress and Best Guest Actress

As I think I’ve said before, I don’t quite know the point at which a recurring “guest” actor becomes a “supporting” one.  (Yes, I know it’s something to do with how they’re designed in the credits, and in what category they submit themselves for consideration.)  So I’ve lumped these categories together.

Starting, then, with the nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy:

Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester, ‘Glee’

Julie Bowen as Claire Dunphy, ‘Modern Family’

Sofia Vergara as Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, ‘Modern Family’ 

Kristen Wiig as Various Characters, ‘Saturday Night Live’

Jane Krakowski as Jenna Maroney, ’30 Rock’

Holland Taylor as Evelyn Harper, ‘Two And A Half Men’

‘Modern Family’ is one of the big winners in the 2010 noms, and either Julie Bowen or Sofia Vergara would be worthy winners, but this time round I reckon it’s Jane Lynch’s to lose.  I would like to have seen the sublime Merritt Wever in here, but there we go.  Jane Adams of more-of-a-drama-if-you-ask-me ‘Hung’ might have sneaked in too.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama:

Sharon Gless as Madeline Westen, ‘Burn Notice’

Rose Byrne as Ellen Parsons, ‘Damages’

Archie Panjabi as Kalinda Sharma, ‘The Good Wife’

Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart, ‘The Good Wife’

Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris, ‘Mad Men’

Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson, ‘Mad Men’

A very strong category, this one:  five potential worthy winners and Rose Byrne.  I’m sorry, but I just don’t see what Byrne does as “acting”, in any meaningful sense of the word.  As for the others:  the noms give me yet another opportunity to bore on about my love for ‘The Good Wife’.  In my review of the season-ender I hoped for a bit of Emmy love for the supporting cast, and I’m delighted to see two of them get a shout here.  Archie Panjabi and Christine Baranski turned in two very good performances in their own ways: personally I thought Panjabi was better, but Baranski’s ability to steal scenes might count in her favour. 

I wonder whether ‘Mad Men”s third season was so long ago in America, and so routinely brilliant, that voters might lose sight of just how good it remains.  I’d be cool with the terrific Elisabeth Moss winning, although it might be argued that Christina Hendricks actually did her chances more good by dropping in and out of the last few episodes, thus heightening her impact.  And, of course, she was in the hospital waiting room scene with Jon Hamm, which justified the existence of TV all by itself.  As for Sharon Gless – why not?  And it’s good just to see ‘Burn Notice’ edge its way onto the slate.

Notable omissions: no-one from ’24’ (Cherry Jones apparently declined to put her name forward), no-one from ‘Grey’s’, no Lisa Edelstein. But it is a very stong category.

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy:

Christine Baranski as Beverly Hofstadter,’The Big Bang Theory’

Kathryn Joosten as Karen McCluskey, ‘Desperate Housewives’

Kristin Chenoweth as April Rhodes, ‘Glee’

Tina Fey as Host, ‘Saturday Night Live’

Betty White as Host, ‘Saturday Night Live’

Elaine Stritch as Colleen Donaghy, ’30 Rock’

Jane Lynch as Dr. Linda Freeman ‘Two And A Half Men’

I haven’t seen half of these, but based on buzz it looks like Betty White’s year: apparently she was terrific, and she’s the only one left…

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama:

Mary Kay Place as Adaleen Grant, ‘Big Love’

Sissy Spacek as Marilyn Densham, ‘Big Love’

Shirley Jones as Lola Zellman, ‘The Cleaner’

Lily Tomlin as Marilyn Tobin, ‘Damages’

Ann-Margret as Rita Wills, ‘Law And Order: SVU’

Elizabeth Mitchell as Juliet Burke, ‘Lost’

I haven’t seen half of these either, and I’m not over-enthusiastic about the ones I have seen.  So, y’know, whoever.  Maybe Elizabeth Mitchell.

Damages s3 ep 13

Miles better than season 2, not as good as season 1, the third and (apparently) final season of ‘Damages’ came to an end with this episode, in which just about all of the season’s mysteries got sorted out, together with an answer to the question about Patti and that mysterious tombstone from season 1.  It could be argued that almost too much happened in this episode, particularly given that some of the other storylines this time round seemed oddly unnecessary: Ellen and the adoption?  Her drug-dealing sister?  The return of Arthur Frobisher and Wes Krulik (Timothy Olyphant doing a double shift that week with ‘Justified’, presumably)?  The ghosts of Ray Fiske and whoever-the-hell-it-was Keith Carradine was playing? 

Glenn Close continued to deliver as Patti; admittedly, she can’t see a piece of scenery without at least having a passing nibble at it, but she sure knows what she’s doing.  Cameron Scott is always worth watching (in this and in ‘Royal Pains’, where he carries that show’s only real hint of menace and mystery).  And arguably better than both was a remarkable and revelatory performance from Martin Short as enigmatic attorney Winstone.  On the other hand, Rose Byrne’s blank style of acting seems to have mutated into a form of indifference; in the last couple of episodes, she was like a petulant teenager who couldn’t even be bothered to hold her sulky eyes open properly.

Still, this season was well-plotted and held my interest, the time-shifting narrative kicked off with a genuine shock which kept me watching, and I’ll be sorry to see ‘Damages’ go.  Some sort of resurrection strikes me as possible, though, even if only as a mini-series or one-off; it’s a strong brand, and decent parts for women of a certain age don’t come along that often, sadly.  For now, however, Hewes & Associates is closing its doors to new business.

Damages s3 ep 2; s3 ep 3

Season 3 has started very promisingly, with a satisfyingly knotted plot and plenty of twists.  Then again, so did season 2 before going spectacularly off the rails, so we’ll see.  As well as the reliable Glenn Close and Tate Donovan particular credit goes to guest stars Campbell Scott, playing the enigmatic possible villain role filled last time out by William Hurt; and Martin Short, playing serpentine attorney Winstone with considerable relish.

I’m not intending to review every episode this time, but this thread will be open for comments.

Damages s3 ep 1

It’s come to something when you’re kind of hoping that a programme will be rubbish, because there’s just so much on that you don’t have time to watch it all.  I thought ‘Damages’ was a cert to be a flop: although season 1 was terrific, season 2 lost me badly.  On the evidence of the season 3 opener, though, ‘Damages’ might have relocated what made it so special.  There’s a Ponzi scheme plot ripped from the front pages and a stellar supporting cast – of which Campbell Scott looks like the best so far.   Rose Byrne seems to have upped her game, oh, 100% or so, and Glenn Close remains one of the most compelling female leads on TV.  Add the usual labyrinthine but compelling structure, and a heart-stopping ending, and it looks as if ‘Damages’ has reeled me in again.  Damn.