Back before Ted Danson was Sam Malone on Cheers, he was a versatile up-and- coming actor, a little weird but certainly not the charming bartender for all time as we came to know him. This year, Danson is re-emerging as the freak that he obviously is, playing himself on Curb Your Enthusiasm but more important, as Arthur Frobisher on the addicting FX show Damages.
Danson’s Frobisher is one of the nastier male characters on TV lately, but mostly that’s because the characters almost always go nice as the ratings climb. The Desperate Housewives are now nice to each other and self-actualized. Only Edie remains as vindictive as they all were once upon a fairy tale. Jeremy Piven’s Ari Gold on Entourage now seems to have grown a heart. Can’t they stay mean and still be likable?
Either way, Frobisher will never be likable because he’s a true monster, and Danson nails the part, chews through it like a newly gassed lawnmower. He’s not above murdering people to keep them quiet, bribing witnesses, and knocking people around with his bare hands. He also has the added bonus of wanting to be liked by “the people,” which leads him to do all sorts of humiliating things like hiring a writer and expecting the writer to focus on all of the good things in his life.
Danson is brilliant in the part, as he tries to act cool while his world threatens to crumble around him. There was a scene early on in the series where he ended up in the back of a car sleeping with a girl half his age and snorting illegal substances the very moment he made the decision to off a potential witness. That, my friends, is bad.
Although Glenn Close is the real star of the series, Danson is every bit her match. The show would be just as successful if it revolved around Frobisher rather than the messed up but efficient lawyer, Patti Hughes.
Meanwhile, on Curb Your Enthusiasm he plays a version of himself, most recently the anonymous charity donor upstaging Larry, who used his own name for the endowment. “Danson,” as he is called, is just a little too chatty with his wife. Even in these relaxed scenes, Danson’s oddness reveals itself and you wonder, where did he put it all those years he did Cheers? Why does he suddenly seem too bizarre?
This could be a major career shift for the actor, especially if Damages continues to be as popular as it is now. Like Lost and 24, it doesn’t really matter where the story is going, but the fact that it keeps us guessing about what might happen next is the reason we stay hooked. In the end, the conclusions often feel anti-climactic, but the second they’re back on the air, we’re back in our seats watching, waiting, wondering.
Things are probably not going to go well for Arthur Frobisher, as the producers of Damages have said that when this season ends so does his storyline. Glenn Close and co-star Rose Byrne will be back. But Danson will have to move in a different direction, after having benefited greatly from having the opportunity to let his freak flag fly high. Like Larry David, he probably has enough money to live comfortably for the rest of his life without ever having to work, so the work he does will be work he wants to do, not work he has to do. Welcome back, Ted.