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Review: 'Damages' returns tonight, just as Arthur Frobisher escapes to 'CSI'

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Damages returns tonight. It will spend its fourth season on DirecTV, and feature John Goodman as its biggest-name guest star. Meanwhile, Arthur Frobisher — a.k.a., Ted Danson — has eluded death only to take over as boss at CSI this fall.

Damages first: My admiration of Glenn Close as ruthless attorney Patty Hewes remains undimmed, even as I had the feeling, watching the first two episodes, that it was getting harder for Close and the writers to give Patty some new moods or reactions to play. I don’t think it’s my imagination that Patty seems to be drinking a lot more this season, as who would not, given the fact that Patty is now caring for her son’s child? (No spoilers from me as to how this situation occurs.)

The new huggermugger involves Goodman as the head of a Blackwater-type private security firm operating in, among other places, Afghanistan, and the unlawful acts it may have committed. Rose Byrne’s Ellen Parsons is as blank-faced-morose as ever, with the addition of a new, nice, wavy hairdo; it’s come to strain credulity that she keeps going back to Patty for advice, running the risk of having yet another Hewes betrayal-knife stuck in her back. In general, while the move from FX allows the series to use the f-word, which I always thought Patty would be the sort to throw around freely but hasn’t so far, Damages feels as though it’s suffering a bit from two things: what I assume is a reduced budget for other guest stars, and the familiarity of its organizing conceit — the fractured time-line tale that used to be intriguing, but this season comes off as somewhat obligatory. I hope that feeling disappears as the season proceeds; really, I’m just so glad Tom Noonan is back to play his eccentric, hangdog cop-turned-detective that I’ll forgive Damages a lot and keep watching.

As an ambiguously bad guy with a streak of charm, Goodman’s character is highly effective, but he’ll have some way to go before he matches Damages’ greatest evil-doer, the silver-fox charmer Arthur Frobisher. Ted Danson was superb in this role, and so admired was his performance (and in his pop-up appearances on Curb Your Enthusiasm) that it undoubtedly paved the way for his equally acclaimed entry into HBO’s Bored To Death, and a solid second act to a career that had already been enshrined in TV history with his Sam Malone in Cheers. (Sorry, was never a big Becker fan.) (I’ve been watching some of the earliest episodes of Cheers lately — boy, does that sitcom really hold up well.)

I am cheered as well about the idea of Danson moving to CSI; it’s an excellent piece of casting. Depending on whether the CSI staff can get it together to give Danson the showcase he’s proven he can handle, I can totally imagine him interacting with the present CSI crew in a way that will feel far more connected and integral than the role Laurence Fishburne was handed during his run.

In fact, Danson’s casting makes me wish Marge Helgenberger had signed on for more than a reduced-episode run on the show this season; she and Danson would seem capable of playing off each other well, and if there’s one thing prime-time could use, it would be two strong middle-aged characters behaving believably in a procedural. (As opposed to the glut of comic or melodramatic acting by good actors in shows such as The Closer and Criminal Minds).

Will you be following Damages to DirecTV? And Danson to CSI?

For more: Ted Danson takes over on ‘CSI’