A once-addictive drama has turned into pure soap.
Does anyone still watch Damages (Wednesdays, 10.45pm)? I suppose someone must, because the BBC has invested in season three of the American legal melodrama and, given the bill for Patty Hewes's wardrobe, I can't believe it came cheap. Patty (Glenn Close) practically eats trouser suits - what with all the blood that periodically gets sprayed over them - and they do all require matching handbags, preferably quilted ones with chain handles. Nonetheless, I can't think of a single person who is still addicted. The first series gripped like Fixodent. It was completely bonkers, and the regular flash-forwards made you feel as though you were drunk. Still, you wanted desperately to know what was going to happen. That you also coveted Patty's weekend retreat on Long Island - dig that minimalism - was just a bonus.
Series two stuck to the brief in terms of Ralph Lauren-style knitwear and sheer nastiness, but the plot was so convoluted that I lost interest after three episodes. Throw Bleak House in a blender with two volumes of Barbara Taylor Bradford, a dash of James Ellroy and a pinch of Tom Wolfe, and you'd only be about halfway there. Series three? On the evidence of one episode, it could go either way. The flash-forwards - there were half a dozen in the first part alone - are still headache-inducing. But Campbell Scott, an actor I adore, has joined the cast. For him, I might just stay the course.
The storyline has been refreshed in two ways. First of all, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), Patty's one-time protégée, is no longer working for her. She's at the DA's office now, where the skills she learned at Patty's Manolo-clad feet will no doubt be put to good use. What's the betting she's got a baseball bat and a wad of used notes locked in the drawer of her new desk? Second, Patty is working a new case, hard on the trail of the carefully secreted funds of one Louis Tobin, a Bernie Madoff-style figure complete with dastardly Ponzi scheme; she intends to recover this cash and return it to his victims. So far, Tobin's son, Joe (Campbell Scott), is denying all knowledge of what his dear daddy was up to. So, too, is Marilyn, his wife (a delicious part for Lily Tomlin, who looks like what you would get if you crossed Bet Lynch with East 78th Street - by which I mean big hair and earrings, but also a certain way with cashmere). But Patty is convinced otherwise, and will do anything to crack them.
Beyond this, I can't really offer any interesting insights: I'm as confused as the rest of you. The flash-forwards, thus far, make no sense at all. They involve a car crash, a tramp and a body in a dumpster that appears to belong to Patty's closest colleague, Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan). Oh, yes, and another handbag. Go figure. My head is full of questions. For instance, I would like to know why Patty wears such unflattering lipstick - it's the colour of day-old sashimi - when she is otherwise so chic. And why does she read her top-secret legal documents while sitting at a bar, drinking bourbon?
Most of all, I long to discover what's going on between her and Ellen. If I were to take you through their history - it involves the FBI, a murder plot and much control freakery on the part of Patty - you'd still be reading this when the credits on the last episode roll. So I won't bother. But, in any case, it's not the plot I'm on about. It's something . . . else. They can't keep away from one another, can they? It's like Patty has got some weird crush on Ellen. She moons round her old office, stroking her abandoned files and photo frames, and sends pistachio-coloured Chanel bags to her new place down at the DA's. If I didn't know better, I'd say a lesbian theme was on the horizon. Oh, well. Watch this space. And remember: when next some dinner-table bore starts the American-TV-drama-is-just-so-great routine, be sure to hurl Damages at them. The blouses are nice, but in every other respect, it's up there with Brothers and Sisters - still creaking along on E4 - when it comes to plot, character and all that stuff.