Lunchtable TV Talk: How to Get Away with Murder is Damages

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As I tuned in for the much-anticipated start to the sophomore season of How to Get Away with Murder, hot on the heels of a deserved Viola Davis Emmy win, I was struck by how a lot of TV is about placement and timing. See, How to Get Away with Murder is basically Damages with much more diverse cast and much better promotion.

Damages had a worthy rival to HtGAwM’s Annalise Keating in a strong, ruthless and tightly wound Glenn Close as Patty Hewes. Both women are conniving, bright, cutthroat and lethal in their own often twisted pursuit of their own definitions of justice. Both have done insane and questionable things. And most of all, both women have very little control over – and are practically unhinged in – their personal lives. It’s in their personal lives that things come apart. The story comes from those cracks in the power-hungry, driven veneer they project. And both stories are compelling and revealed key pieces of information in fragments, so you might think you knew – sort of – what was going to happen later in the season based on glimpses of things you had seen earlier – but not until the final episode would the entire story have unfolded.

The difference… Damages got short shrift, at least from viewers. Damages was intense and critically praised, but never found an audience. It was technically cancelled, in fact, after FX decided to get rid of it after three poorly performing seasons. It was given a two-season reprieve via a deal with DirecTV (which also revived the loved and lauded Friday Night Lights after NBC wanted to cut it short). With the way it moved around, it certainly never found its footing, and was gone too soon despite stellar casting and tight stories for all five of its seasons. In addition to the formidable Glenn Close, Damages featured Rose Byrne, Timothy Olyphant (the one and only from both Deadwood and Justified), David Costabile (increasingly visible all the time in all manner of shows, from Flight of the Conchords to Breaking Bad, from Suits to the rather irritating and cancelled Dig, from Ripper Street to Low Winter Sun), Janet McTeer (love her and sad her recent show, Battle Creek, was cancelled so soon), Ted Danson, Lily Tomlin, John Goodman, William Hurt, the ubiquitous
Željko Ivanek, Ryan Phillippe and the leader of the John Hannah School of English Elocution, John Hannah.

When I binge-watched the compelling first seasons of HtGAwM, it felt familiar in many ways because it covered a lot of the ground Damages had already tread. It was still fresh because it has its own story and feel, but it made me feel regret that Damages was so little seen during its original broadcast (hopefully people are picking it up on Netflix). None of this takes anything away from the magnetic nature of How to Get Away with Murder, but instead, it’s worth stating that if you like it, maybe you will also like Damages.

Netflixization of Entertainment

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“Look in your heart” – “What heart?” –Miller’s Crossing

In keeping with the me-me-me nature of society, entertainment has grown to be more and more personalized and on-demand. Technology enables a lot of things – and watching what you want whenever you want is a big part of that. I’ve been loving Netflix for a long time – as far back as the beginning when a subscription entitled the subscriber to virtually unlimited DVD rentals through the post. I became a convert during a period of unemployment and great sadness, watching four or five movies per day. Netflix enabled that obsessive-compulsive behavior even before the ubiquity of high-speed streaming overtook my life.

Streaming has made things even more “at my fingertips”, more addictive, more dangerous and full of mind rot. I can feel my brain becoming less able at massaging language now – words and constructions that flowed more easily when I was a more dedicated and avid reader. Reading is really where it’s at, but like everything in the fast-food, self-serve, instant-gratification culture and environment I live in, I feel too much impatience when I read. It requires so much concentration – and I am an impatient multitasker.

Streaming Netflix, even more than its DVD subscription alter ego, or even the marathon viewing of box-set DVDs, has spawned a culture of binge viewing. It has also become the decider* for me, telling me what to watch next, mostly based on what is set to expire from Netflix (due to licensing issues). Plenty of things have been sitting in my queue for ages, and I would probably never get around to watching them except that Netflix posts a bright red, emergency-style date warning next to the item in the queue, warning of its impending disappearance. Most recently I ended up watching Miller’s Crossing, Children of a Lesser God (someone please tell me why anyone hires or likes William Hurt) and Pane e tulipani (Bread and Tulips – surprisingly, it made Venice look almost appealing, but Italy is still NOT fooling me).

*I laugh every time I hear or see the word “decider” because it reminds me of George W. Bush and the ridiculous way he phrased things: “I am the decider!”.

I noticed that classics like The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas are also set to expire from Netflix on January 1. Oh, forgive me, Dolly, but your films mostly leave so very much to be desired. In the 80s I watched a lot of shitty movies because, being a little eclectic music-junkie child, I loved Dolly Parton (to the point that I dressed as Dolly for Halloween in third grade) and Olivia Newton-John. Apart from Parton’s turn in the entertaining 9 to 5, neither woman could be said to have great acting talents or particularly rich decisionmaking in their choices. Rhinestone? Xanadu? Two of a Kind? Please.

Also expiring is Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins – one of those films my brother recommended to me during our childhood. Who doesn’t love Fred Ward!? “Just remember – I won it. He’s mine.”