Look for FX drama 'Damages'

The battle of late-night TV

Leave it to Entertainment Weekly to break down the numbers in the current late-night battle, tabulating total viewer numbers since September 2009 for a snapshot scorecard in late night. Here's what they found:

Jay Leno

5.4 million viewers nightly (down 30 percent from the same time last year).

David Letterman 4.2 million.

Nightline 3.9 million.

Conan O'Brien 2.5 million (down 50 percent from Leno's numbers last year).

Craig Ferguson 2 million.

Jimmy Fallon 1.4 million.

Jon Stewart 1.4 million.

Colbert Report 1.1 million.

It's got 14 Emmy nominations, seven Golden Globe nods and a cast packed with bona-fide showbiz stars, including Glenn Close, Ted Danson and new additions Lily Tomlin and Martin Short.

But I'm still not sure I can endorse FX's convoluted legal drama Damages.

It's a sleek enough operation, featuring Close as a Gloria Allred-style, high-powered attorney with a knack for crawling into sprawling cases with lots of bigwigs doing awful things.

Each season unfolds like an onion peeled; with characters and subplots wrapped around each other in a sprawling story line jumping around in time. As the third season opens, Close's Patty Hewes is trying to recover billions from a Bernie Madoff-style financier fraud while inexplicably mourning the departure of her traitorous associate, Rose Byrne's Ellen Parsons.

It's not quite appointment TV for me, but awfully close. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you sort through the premiere episode, airing at 10 p.m. Monday on FX.

Martin Short and Lily Tomlin aren't going to be funny — and that's good. The two renowned comedians score by staying serious here, with Tomlin playing Marilyn Tobin, matriarch to a family accused of swindling billions, and Short as the Tobin family attorney Leonard Winstone. "Carrot Top is the next (actor up for the show)," Short cracked to TV critics. "You play characters in a sincere fashion … so even if you're playing Franck from Father of the Bride … if you sincerely play him as this eccentric person, you're basically acting the character."

The coolest faces here may be the actors you don't know so well. Damages is also stocked with character actors you've seen 1,000 times but don't know by name. Tom Noonan was the Tooth Fairy killer in Michael Mann's Manhunter; here, he's a nosy detective. Flashdance hunk Michael Nouri is divorcing Close's Hewes; and Murder She Wrote alum Len Cariou is this season's Madoff, Louis Tobin. And Keith Carradine, from Dexter, surfaces here as Julian Decker, mysterious architect attracted to Hewes.

Lost ain't the only TV show that likes playing around with time. A Damages hallmark is telling stories in two different moments in time and watching the story lines converge. This season, we're flashing between the early stages of Hewes' efforts to figure out where Tobin stashed his cash and a time six months in the future when one of her closest friends might be trying to kill her.

It feels good to see a Madoff-like schemer get his comeuppance. The best element of this new story line is the series' ability to show us the torture and pain faced by a guy who cheated investors out of billions. Creators say Madoff wasn't their only inspiration, but watching disgraced Tobin family members scurry around Manhattan in baseball caps, facing irate victims on the street, feels almost as good as watching Madoff get shoved around by paparazzi for real.

TiVo

Caprica, 9 p.m. Fridays, Syfy: Yes, it debuted on the channel last week, after an odd pre-release campaign on DVD, online and pay-per-view. But Syfy's stylish Battlestar Galactica prequel, about how humans came to invent the artificial intelligence that evolves into the murderous, mechanical Cylon race, really takes off this week. The show's computer genius (Eric Stoltz) has unknowingly installed a perfect copy of his dead daughter's consciousness in a robot soldier. Meanwhile, lawyer Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) frets that his family and cultural ties to crime will corrupt his son, who will grow up to be Galactica's commander William Adama. Mind blowing in all the right ways.

Ti-No

La La Land, debuts at 11 p.m. Monday on Showtime: British comic Marc Wootton lampoons Hollywood by pretending to be three characters, each of whom interacts with unsuspecting real people. So he's Brit actor Gary, insulting a cabdriver; arrogant filmmaker Brendan, confusing a talent agent by pitching a "revolutionary" documentary about sharks; and Shirley, a psychic who admits she considered having a girl killed when she foiled a prediction by turning up alive. It's almost funny stuff that confirms what we know about La La Land; it's filled with a lot of stupid people.

Look for FX drama 'Damages' 01/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 23, 2010 9:26pm]

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