06/21/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Damages : Is This FX Drama too Good for Television?

Throughout its three seasons, FX's endlessly engrossing and unashamedly adult legal thriller Damages has continuously raised the bar for television drama. This has been especially true of its meticulously plotted season finales, in which its multiple-storylines excitingly collide in a combustible mix of unexpected twists, turns and startling surprises. The season-long glimpses of future shocks -- a signature narrative device since Damages made its debut -- come into full focus as the present (and sometimes the past) catches up to them. (It is in some ways like Lost, except everything in every timeline on Damages makes complete sense by each season's end.)

This week's breathtaking season finale was the series' best yet. A detailed description of all the action therein would make little sense to anyone who hasn't watched the show, would ruin the great fun to be had for anyone planning to watch it on DVD and would be totally unnecessary for anyone who experienced the thrill of it all on Monday night. All I can say is that Glenn Close is assured her third Emmy nomination (and possibly her third win) for her portrayal of lethal litigator Patty Hewes, a chillingly complex character with so many layers that even after three years the writers still aren't finished peeling them away. (The final reveal in Monday's episode explained much of Patty's behavior not only in Season 3 but throughout Season 1, as well.) I also expect a second Emmy nomination for Rose Byrne, who as Ellen Parsons, a young lawyer caught up in the malevolent madness of Patty and others, more than holds her own opposite her formidable co-star.

And then there are the dazzling supporting performances, including four of the very best on television this season: Sure-fire Emmy nominee Lily Tomlin as Marilyn Tobin, the emotionally fragile and surprisingly evil matriarch of a family at the center of the largest investment fraud in history; Campbell Scott as her deeply conflicted alcoholic son Joe, who wants to make things right for the victims of his family's nefarious actions but only if he can do so while maintaining great personal wealth; Ted Danson as disgraced and depraved businessman Arthur Frobisher, busily salvaging his career and his reputation though still a creep deep down; and the extraordinary Martin Short as Tobin family attorney Leonard Winstone, a devious and manipulative yet pitiful man with a king-sized secret of his own. I would predict not only a nomination but a win for Short as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series at this year's Emmys were the competition for recognition in that category not so extraordinary: John Lithgow in Dexter, Aaron Paul in Breaking Bad, John Noble in Fringe, Michael Emerson and Josh Holloway in Lost, Zach Gilford and Taylor Kitsch in Friday Night Lights, John Slattery in Mad Men and Short's own co-stars Scott and Danson.

We're now facing the most harrowing Damages cliffhanger of all: Will this always rewarding but maddeningly low-rated series survive for another season? Will series creators and executive producers Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zellman have the opportunity to continue crafting this extraordinary series of crime novels for television? Or will FX, faced with rising production costs and falling audience levels, be forced to do the unthinkable and cancel one of the smartest shows on television?

There are all kinds of rumors out there about the possible fate of this show, from FX renewing it and continuing to enjoy lavish critical praise and all-important industry recognition, especially at Emmy time, to the network partnering up with another entity and sharing the expense and the glory. It's much the same situation NBC was faced with two years ago when it teamed with DirecTV to save the struggling Friday Night Lights, another standout series that never found a large audience. (I sure hope the low numbers for Lights and Damages reflect issues with audience measurement rather than those of audience taste.)

If Damages must end, I'm glad that Kessler, Kessler and Zellman had the chance to so skillfully wrap up every major mystery and plot point from all three seasons, simultaneously bringing their story to a close while setting the stage for fresh drama to come, should they have the chance. They certainly deserve it. This may be the Golden Age of Television Drama, but it will lose some of its luster without this one of a kind show.

In closing, here's a thought: If Damages must leave television, wouldn't it make an amazing movie? The role that brought Close two Emmys and counting might also lead to her first Academy Award. She has certainly been doing Oscar-worthy work on this show, hasn't she?

This column was originally published in the MediaBizBloggers section of

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