This is the first time I’ve done a double recommendation. These are two shows that not enough people have seen, and if you’ve watched one and liked it, I think you might like the other. While their settings are nothing alike—Damages takes place in a New York law firm, Veronica Mars takes place in a California high school—they have several things in common. They both feature season-long storylines. They’re both full of twists and surprises. And they both have powerful women as central characters. So, without further ado…
I started watching this after hearing a couple of people sing its praises. The first thing to know about Damages is that the less you know about it before you see it, the better. I’m glad I didn’t know too much about it beforehand, so I’m only telling you enough to (hopefully) entice you to watch. Prepare for some very vague paragraphs where I allude to events I won’t explain.
So here’s what you should know: Glenn Close plays Patty Hewes, a high-stake litigator in New York. While she’s brilliant at her job, we learn early on that she’s willing to do unethical or illegal things to win her cases. She’s ruthless and sometimes evil (and no one does evil like Glenn Close), but oddly charismatic. As despicable as some of her actions are, she’s a great character, and Close absolutely deserved the Emmy she got last year.
Rose Byrne plays her young associate, Ellen Parsons, who, in the first season, is fresh out of law school. As the show progresses, Ellen and Patty’s working relationship becomes increasingly complicated. If you’re having problems with your boss, watch this show—I think it might make you feel better.
Ted Danson plays Arthur Frobisher, the antagonist of the first season. He’s the CEO of a company reminiscent of Enron and is involved in a class-action suit by his former employees. The case plays out over the course of the first season, as Patty and her employees try to prove that he participated in insider trading and deprived his employees of their life savings.
The whole first season is like a 13-hour movie, and the narrative is non-linear. We begin with a flash-forward to six months after the story begins, and as the season continues, we get glimpses of what’s coming as the show jumps back and forth in time. And what’s coming? Well…let’s just say there’s murder, attempted murder, betrayal, and characters who aren’t what they seem to be.
Also, if you like surprises, you’ll be in for quite a few of them with this show. Towards the end of the first season especially, there’s one shock after another, and the best part is that none of them feel cheap. They’re all surprises that have been cleverly set up and make complete sense.
The first season is on DVD, and you should rent it as soon as possible. As for the second season…well, to give you fair warning, while it’s worth a watch, it’s nowhere near as good as the first season. There’s another season-long case, but the plot is unfocused and, sadly, the shock value is gone. But I’d still recommend it. It’s not on DVD yet, but I downloaded it from Amazon.
In the first season, the writing is nearly flawless, and the acting is fantastic all around. Aside from the people I mentioned, the cast also includes Zeljko Ivanek (who won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor) and Tate Donovan, and Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, and Timothy Olyphant join the cast in the second season.
One other thing I appreciate about this show is how it features a powerful woman as its central character. While she’s not exactly someone you want to emulate, Patty is a commanding, high-profile woman who’s clearly in charge of anyone she fixes her narrowed eyes on—and no one ever questions it. Her being a woman in control is never the point; it’s just accepted.
I feel kind of stupid recommending a show that’s been off the air for two years, especially since I didn’t watch it while it was still on and was therefore part of the problem that led to it being canceled. But this is absolutely worth watching on DVD.
Veronica (Kristen Bell) is a high school student in Neptune, California who helps her father Keith (Enrico Colantoni) run a detective agency. (Yes, her last name is Mars, she lives in Neptune, and she drives a Saturn. But that’s thankfully as far as they go with the cutesy “planet” jokes.) Every week, there’s a mystery to be solved—anything from cheating spouses to kidnapping to high tech rumor-spreading.
But like Damages, there are season-long plotlines that are addressed every episode as well. In the first season, Veronica is trying to solve the murder of her best friend, Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried). Prior to the start of the show, Keith was the county sheriff, and when Lilly died, he accused Lilly’s rich father of the murder. The outraged community ousted Keith in a recall election, Veronica’s alcoholic mother left town, and Veronica, who had once been popular, was shunned by her old friends. She stuck by her father and uses the resources she has available at the detective agency to investigate Lilly’s murder. Also in Season One, Veronica is trying to determine who roofied and raped her at a party and why Lilly’s brother Duncan, her ex-boyfriend, suddenly dumped her not long before Lilly’s death.
In the second season, the season-long mystery involves a bus crash that kills several of Veronica’s classmates and may or may not have been an accident. While the first season as a whole is better, the second season has an absolutely shocking ending that I didn’t see coming for a second.
The third season takes place at a fictional local college, and rather than one season-long mystery, there are two smaller mysteries, one involving a series of rapes and one involving a murder.
For those who weren’t part of the problem, this was something of a cult show—which is a weird term to use about a show that doesn’t involve anything supernatural, but one quick Google will show you how passionate the fans are. But somehow, it never managed to find a wide audience. I blame it on the show being hidden on UPN while the network still existed, because I think this show would appeal to fans of a lot of other shows. If you like high school shows like The O.C., you’ll like it for the romance and teenage gossip that are never the point of the show but are always lurking in the background. If you like any of the dozens of crime dramas on TV right now, you’ll like it for the mystery. If you like shows like Buffy and Alias that feature a woman kicking ass, you’ll like it for the smart, tough, prickly title character. If you liked Kristen Bell on Heroes, you’ll love her here. If you liked Enrico Colantoni on Just Shoot Me or Flashpoint, you’ll love him as Keith, a very well-written character—you can see how Veronica picked up aspects of his personality. If you like attractive women, you’ll love it for the gorgeous Ms. Bell. If you like attractive men, you’ll love it for the gorgeous Jason Dohring, who plays rich boy Logan Echolls. And if you like Damages, you’ll like it for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned.
One warning—Veronica Mars has the worst series finale I have ever seen. It ends on a cliffhanger, but even if it didn’t, it would still not be a very good episode. So feel free to skip that ending, but all three seasons are on DVD, so you can rent those as soon as possible. And rumor has it that a movie is in the works, so give yourself a crash course now before it comes out.