“All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again” seems to be the guiding philosophy of Damnation, a new USA drama debuting tonight at 10. (I’ve seen the first four episodes.)
The series is on the surface about a farmer’s strike in a small Iowa town in the 1930s, and the two men — activist preacher Seth Davenport (Killian Scott), and mercenary Creeley Turner (Logan Marshall-Green) — on opposite sides of it. But creator Tony Tost (Longmire) is using this pulpy and violent Great Depression yarn in part as a commentary on the current state of class conflict in these united states, and how the wealthy and powerful in any era are inclined to do whatever’s necessary to keep the wealth and power for themselves.
But just as Damnation insists on showing how conflicts of our distant past continue to echo in our present, so too is it insistent on showing how TV storytelling cliches of the more recent past can echo into series made in the present, and be bent and shaped to fit any kind of story, with any setting.
It’s beautifully shot, and it has some compelling performers, often given meaty material to tear into. But it’s also Cable Drama’s Greatest Hits, now with added Thirties flavor.
There are inconvenient corpses to dispose of, brothers who come into combat with one another, and elaborate montages accompanied by thematically-resonant monologues. There’s a scene where one character draws a gun in mid-coitus to point it at a rival, which is Peak TV Bingo right there — and if it’s not, then the moment where Seth intones, “I’ve done wicked things in this world, and every day I’m trying to make up for that” is.