“Damages”: The end is near

Yes, the season finale of this underrated dramatic gem is Tuesday night. The bigger question now is will this episode in which all answers are revealed also mark the series finale?Close

It’s tough to say. Ratings have been disappointing, no question. Yet, that’s no fault of the writers, cast or FX, which marketed the show extremely well before the July 24 launch, splattering L.A. with numerous billboards of star Glenn Close. And there were also plenty of print ads in everything from a full page in the L.A. Times to consumer-friendly Entertainment Weekly.

The numbers have gotten better in recent weeks. Series got its highest 18-49 demo last week in over a month and it’s currently beating “The Shield” and “Dirt” in total household viewers. The 18-49 numbers over the full season, however — the ones that really count — is not what the network had hoped for.

FX topper John Landgraf said Monday morning he was “modestly hopeful” for a renewal. Not a ringing endorsement by any means, but there’s little doubt that, if he can align the stars and make it financially viable for both his network and producer Sony, Landgraf wants to make it happen.

With reviews for the most part being fairly strong, it’s difficult to pinpoint why this one hasn’t been a breakout hit. And it’s not just “Damages” that has failed to excite the masses. AMC’s masterful “Mad Men,” which just ended last week, was far from a ratings smash. The basic cabler announced a few weeks back that the series will return. Despite the small viewer turnout, a cancellation would’ve been wrong on so many levels it’s not even worth discussing.

One reason “Damages” has made for compelling TV has been the work of Ted Danson, who seems a million miles away from his days as Beantown barkeep Sam Malone. Danson got to sink his teeth into being a baddie — one of the few times his characters have been on the wrong side of the law.

“I have to say it’s been liberating to play this part because it’s so well written,” Danson said. “He’s so human, so complicated. He loves his family but is so narcissistic. He did something wrong and has been scrambling ever since, hoping not to get devoured by Glenn Close.

“He’s fully human, just making the wrong choices. He’s totally understandable to me.”Danson

While there was reason to believe Danson’s Arthur Frobisher was being unfairly bullied by Close and her firm early on in the series, Frobisher showed his true colors as the series progressed. While he hasn’t directly put the hit out on antagonists, his complicity in allowing heinous crimes to be committed is a solid indicator of his moral compass.

The New York ambience is also integral. Close, who lives on the East Coast, signed on with the contigency that the show be shot in Gotham, and it’s tough to say if the series would’ve worked as well being set anywhere else.

Danson believes the New York backdrop makes a difference not only for the storytelling but the actors as well.

“There’s an emotional rush of being back in New York. I studied and lived there for six or seven years. I’m not knocking L.A., but when your show is supposed to be set in N.Y. and you’re not, you know it. It’s a great city to shoot in. It’s not Toronto and it’s not downtown L.A.,” he said.

Credit must also be paid to brothers Todd and Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman, who co-created the series and oversaw production all the way through. Todd worked under the tutelage of David Chase on “The Sopranos” in 2000-01 and certainly the trio will attach itself to another project in the near future if “Damages” is done.

All the praise is not to say the show is perfect. There were times when the story seemed to drag a bit and while a more than professional Rose Byrne filled the bill as lawyer Ellen Parsons, I never felt all that sympathetic to her ordeal,  sometimes not caring all that much if her career and marriage were falling apart.

On the other hand, Zeljko Ivanek — dating back to his days on “Homicide” — might be one of the most underrated actors working today and Close was everything advertised, though even she seemed a bit too stifled at times. It would’ve been nice to see her leave the office a bit more.

That being said, it would be a shame to bid adieu, a goodbye that would seem premature. FX has already given renewals to “Dirt,” which doesn’t have a fraction of the smarts of “Damages” and “The Riches” is a fine show but one that doesn’t feel as relevant.

And with ratings hit “Nip/Tuck” about to come back for season five, one in which the network will certainly again make a nice profit, one would hope an arrangement could be made to make sure “Damages” could find a place in next season’s FX lineup.

Sure, money and ratings matters most, but it can’t always be the deciding factor — especially for a network known for taking risks.

— Stuart Levine