I hope I never need a lawyer badly enough to even think of hiring Patty Hewes. Patty will stop at nothing to win a case: she'll lie, cheat, steal, or have a friend cut a dog's head off. It's all in a day's work for her. There's no stopping Hewes, the legal beagle who is played to perfection by Glenn Close at the focus of the FX network's Damages. Indeed, the entire series is crackerjack entertainment, mixing intrigue, an outstanding script and great acting to create a show that's so good it ought to be illegal. There's so much right with this show, it's hard to know where to begin in singing its praises. In fact, those joining mid-series might find it hard to determine just what's happening, especially with a program that flits back and forth between past and present, but where it's the past rather than present that's the most mysterious. The series opens with a barely dressed, bloodied young woman stumbling out of a New York apartment building elevator. Eventually she's picked up by police, but she's non-communicative and has no ID except for the card of a counselor the cops think is either her john or her lawyer, or both. Flashback six months earlier, and the same woman, Ellen Parsons, is interviewing for a law firm. Realizing he's bidding against hotshot Patty, the firm's chief partner Mr. Nye reluctantly lets Ellen pursue that offer. Soon we learn why Ellen's so interested in working for Patty, who's not above bending the truth to win her high-profile cases. "If you were a man, I'd kick the living shit out of you," says one lawyer Patty's just outmaneuvered. "If you were a man, I'd be worried," Patty snaps back. From there, the plot not only thickens, it coagulates. At first it seems that Ellen won't get the job, since her interview's scheduled for the same day as her sister's wedding, but then Patty shows up at the affair and before you know it, Ellen's working against Arthur Frobisher, accused of Enron-like insider trading, with she and Patty representing his former employees. Jump back to the present, with detectives visiting Ellen's apartment, where they discover a bloody, ransacked mess, her fiancÃ©e lying dead in the bathtub. Back to the past and Ellen's working hard on the Frobisher case, meeting Patty's top assistant Tom (Tate Donovan, The O.C.) and even Uncle Pete, that office master of all trades. But Frobisher's got some muscle working for him, too: a shady lawyer named Ray (who goes by other names too, when the situation demands it). In a wonderful bit of casting, Frobisher is played by Ted Danson - as far from Cheers and Becker as he can be. "If she's got a pulse, she's got a price," says Frobisher to his lawyer, adding: "whatever it takes, fix this." Fixing is what Ray does best, even if he has to open a new restaurant for Katey, the sister of Ellen's fiancÃ©e David - apparently because she knows something about Frobisher. When some goons start hanging around outside, however, Katey comes clean to Ellen about her Frobisher connection. Ellen decides to tell Patty about what's happened. Only problem: Patty's known about the whole thing all along, and she'll go as far as it takes to beat Frobisher, using a seemingly bottomless bag of tricks. Close is great as Patty, playing the tough-as-nails lawyer who still has a soft side. When she's called in to his school to help keep her son from being expelled, she tells Ellen: "Do yourself a favor, Ellen - don't have kidsâ€¦ Kids are like clients - they want all of you, all the time." When Ellen insists that Patty obviously loves her son, Patty replies: "Love's nothing - they come out of you, you love them. What you do after - that's the hard part." Ultimately, Ellen finds herself drawn much further into the case than she ever expected to be. Did she kill her fiancÃ©e? Is Forbisher's gang behind it? Or did Patty call in Uncle Pete to take care of some dirty work? And what does the mysterious Mr. Nye know that he's not telling? FX has signed up for another two seasons of the show, so we should have a ball finding out. Zeljko Ivanek (24, Oz), is great as Ray, and the hand of Todd Kessler, a former producer with The Sopranos, is also clearly evident in the outstanding acting and writing. And we loved the very fitting lyrics at the end of the first episode: "I think I smell a rat!" If legal battles fought literally to the death is your thing, you ought to be seeking Damages. Damages is being offered on Xtra HOT Thursday nights at 10 p.m.