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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Why Damages Can Get Away With Murder

I watched the season premiere of Damages, and it violated one of my cardinal rules on writing about the law. The main character, Patty Hewes, had a meeting in her office with a women she knew was represented by another attorney in the same matter. Yet a lawyer can never meet with someone they know is represented without that other lawyer’s permission.

Why didn’t I throw a shoe at the TV or write the show off completely? Here’s why the Damages writers can get away with (legal writing) murder.

1. Glenn Close. Okay, this has nothing to do with the writing. But c’mon. They have Glenn Close. She’s always worth watching.

2. We know from prior episodes that Patty Hewes has no ethics. We know she tried to have an associate murdered. When we see her breaking the rules, we’re not surprised.

3. We also know from prior episodes that she will do anything to win. Her firm has been well-written. Her character has been written to slowly build up to an expectation that she has no boundaries at all. The writers started her looking like a heroine, and have chipped away at that veneer over time.

4. We’ve seen her suffer the consequences of her bad behavior. She’s been the subject of criminal investigations and attempted murder because she breaks the rules. We know that she knows she’s breaking the rules.

5. Instead of focusing on the legal maneuvering, the writers mostly focus on Patty’s dastardly plots, and the attempts being made to thwart her. It’s not a courtroom procedure show. They don’t try to sell us that we’re getting an inside peek on how things work in the courthouse.

In short, the writers didn’t break their pact with the viewers to make the story believable. They’ve done their homework. They get the legal stuff (mostly) right. When they have a character break the rules, we know that they did it on purpose, and not just because they didn’t bother to research. I’m willing to watch a show about an evil lawyer we’ve grown to love as long as the writers prove to me I’m safe in their hands.

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