Category Archives: Dexter

Season Premiere: Dexter – “Living the Dream”

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“Living the Dream”

September 27th, 2009

“It’s already over.”

I have always made the argument that Dexter, slowly but surely, has turned into the pay cable equivalent of 24. However, until watching “Living the Dream,” I had always considered it a sort of referential shorthand for me to say that I’m not amongst those who consider the show in the same league as more complex cable series. After watching the show’s fourth season premiere, however, I’m now convinced that the show is intent on proving me right.

It is a show driven by a single lead character whose personal struggles form the basis of emotional investment. It is a show where each season features a different “threat” that the lead character needs to respond to. It is a show where the supporting characters are interesting when interacting with the lead, but mind-numbingly boring and pointless when left to their own devices. And, perhaps more importantly, it is a show where the similarities between seasons begin to feel repetitive, resulting in its negative qualities becoming that much more apparent in subsequent seasons.

I would be fine with formula if I felt that the formula was actually resulting in a show that made good on the first season’s premise of a vigilante serial killer coming to terms with his morality and engaging with “The Dark Defender.” However, the fourth season is shaping up to continue the trend of the third season, drawing most of its interest from an implausible scenario whereby a national serial killer happens to have originated in Miami, just as every terrorist attack seemed to happen within driving distance of Los Angeles on 24, than from what that means for Dexter.

And while Michael C. Hall will continue to be fantastic in a storyline played more for laughs and convenience than anything else, the show feels as if it is rebooting every time they start a new season. And for a character once defined by the haunting of the past, and by a complex set of characteristics I do not feel have been significantly examined to be undermined, to have only as much past as the show decides he should, is to find a show moving further away from a complex character study and closer and closer to a serialized action thriller with a strong central character and nothing else to show for it.

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Going Through the Motions (with Style): John Lithgow cast for Dexter Season 4

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Going Through the Motions (With Style):

John Lithgow and Dexter Season Four

I am, without question, a Dexter contrarian. I like the show, don’t get me wrong, but when everyone was jumping up and down at the end of its second season I was frustrated with a lack of finish. When the third season was ramping up and getting everyone excited, I was observing a few too many similarities in the way that Jimmy Smits’ character, Miguel Prado, mirrored Season 2’s primary focus of Dexter’s attention, FBI Agent Frank Lundy. By the time they got to the Season 3 finale, I had more or less given up on ever liking the show as much as ever, and penned what I consider to be the definitive statement of my frustration in my review of the episode.

In that review, I conclude the following:

“But what “Do You Take Dexter Morgan?” reminds me, against my will, is that this is a show with limitations, one which in the introduction of Jimmy Smits shed more light on its weakly developed supporting cast, and in its slow start made us stop and think “what other directions could this show be taking that would be more dramaturgically interesting” for a few episodes too long. In those moments, I know exactly why I jumped on that drunk, hungry, and entirely innocent TV viewer: Dexter could be a better show than it is, and the third season was filled with warnings that the show seems unaware of its recurring problems.”

So with news that John Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun, Harry and the Hendersons) has been cast in a key role in the upcoming season which begins on September 27th, and that a particular familiar face will be returning (I’ll leave that beneath the jump as it’s a bit more of a spoiler), I can’t help but feel that Dexter is just going through the motions, repeating patterns that give us a single strong character dynamic while robbing the show as a whole of a chance to actually develop into a show on the level that the series aspires to.

[Note: the below post spoils who his character is, and the basic plot of Dexter’s fourth season – if you want to be surprised, stop reading.]

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Season Finale: Dexter – “Do You Take Dexter Morgan?”

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“Do You Take Dexter Morgan?”

December 14th, 2008

I was minding my own business one night about a month ago when a (drunk) resident in my building asked if I would like to join a game of poker. I declined, planning on getting some work done that evening, but he saw that I had a fair amount of food in my room and asked if he could have a sandwich. I obliged, as it falls within my job description as a Resident Assistant to on occasion feed the inebriated folks who wander the halls.

The reason I bring this up (I swear, there’s a reason) is that we then got into a discussion about popular culture, and eventually we got into an argument about Showtime’s Dexter. He said he liked the show, which wouldn’t ellict an argument under normal circumstances, but then he proceeded to single it out as “one of the best written shows on television.” And, maybe it’s that my patience for drunk people goes out the window during food preparation, but I immediately scoffed at this remark. He demanded I name him some better examples, I listed off the usual (Wire, Mad Men, BSG, Lost – you read the blog, you know what I shower with praise), and eventually he went off to play his game of poker, no longer in danger of alcohol poisoning.

But that conversation has stuck with me, primarily because I don’t think I had ever been quite so quick to undersell Dexter as something below the level of the shows I just listed. Admittedly, I was more down on the second season than most people, but even I couldn’t argue against the palpable tension the show created. However, while I would never question the performance of Michael C. Hall who remains as fantastic as ever, something happened at the end of the second season (mainly Lila) that the third season wasn’t able to rectify in my critical mind.

Since then, Dexter’s been my favourite punching bag, perhaps unfairly: I even trotted it out while recording a podcast about The Wire, which is something that really isn’t fair to any show. The third season had a lot of elements that certainly helped the show: the introduction of Jimmy Smits to the show has given it two Emmy-level acting contenders for the first time, and the season’s slow start paid off in the end by allowing them to ratchet up the momentum at the right time instead of about three episodes too early.

But what “Do You Take Dexter Morgan?” reminds me, against my will, is that this is a show with limitations, one which in the introduction of Jimmy Smits shed more light on its weakly developed supporting cast, and in its slow start made us stop and think “what other directions could this show be taking that would be more dramaturgically interesting” for a few episodes too long. In those moments, I know exactly why I jumped on that drunk, hungry, and entirely innocent TV viewer: Dexter could be a better show than it is, and the third season was filled with warnings that the show seems unaware of its recurring problems.

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Season Premiere: Dexter – “Our Father”

“Our Father”

September 28th, 2008

Michael C. Hall has crafted one of television’s most memorable characters in Dexter Morgan, a fascinating psychological enigma who lives and kills by a code handed to him by his father. But after two seasons of murder and the inner turmoil of living with having murdered all of these people, one would have to think that Dexter Morgan would have grown out of his situation, could emerge from the weekly murders to something closer to approximating a real life.

And, the show’s third season premiere finds Dexter as close as he’s ever come: he and Rita are as happy as can be, he’s pretty much a father to her children, he’s more aware than ever about the true purpose behind his murders, and generally speaking his relationship with everyone around him is at last “normal.” Of course, in the world of Dexter nothing is ever that simple: in order to attain this normalcy, he has largely given up listening to his father’s teachings, shunning his sister and turning his back on that chapter of his life in favour of crafting his own code.

The problem with “Our Father” is that it is becoming clearer by the day that there isn’t enough of a series surrounding Dexter for this to feel as natural as it needs to be. Perhaps it’s that this is my first experience watching Dexter after watching The Wire, but this show is falling into a dangerous pattern that cheapens whatever deeper character drama they plan on investigating within the title character. It’s not that the show is failing to deliver on what it promises, but rather that the second season’s urgency and driving force feels lacking, and what we’re left with is a cheap provocation that feels like a show admitting that it doesn’t have the supporting cast or the foresight to develop something bigger or less reactionary.

It’s not just that it’s repetitive, but rather that it feels like an unnecessary intervention: Dexter has largely reformed himself, and as long as the show keeps poking the bear it’s going to (despite Hall’s incredibly strong performance) feel like we’re going through the same motions for the sake of contrivance as opposed to observation.

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10 Shows to (Hopefully) Watch in 2008 – #4 – Dexter

Since I’ve got these put together, I figure I’d keep the content coming for the new year – It sets a nice precedent, after all. This is a piece that is really part of a series of larger rants I have regarding the second season of the show in question, but I’ll forget my concerns for a moment and focus more on the series’ intriguing future. Check back for #3 tomorrow, and the Top Two will follow over the weekend.

There has been a lot of talk about Dexter’s second season, and due to time constraints and an unfortunate inability to be able to watch the series live I wasn’t able to review it as often as I would have liked. Oddly, I remain somewhat ambivalent towards the series, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. I love Michael C. Hall’s performance, the concept of the series is as strong as ever, and there was a great deal of potential realized this season with a blistering series of episodes in the latter half of the season that were amongst the best on television this year.

And yet, every week I would watch Dexter on a strange schedule: I didn’t desperately watch it the second I had time, but would really only do so when I became bored. It sat unwatched for quite some time, and only when the action truly ratcheted up did I begin to actually anticipated what would happen next. I never stopped liking the series, but I can firmly say that I wasn’t loving what I was watching.

Despite these reservations, however, Dexter is most certainly on Cultural Learnings’ list of Series to (Hopefully) watch in 2008. Not only is it a potential strike replacement strategy for CBS, who plans to repurpose episodes by editing them for network audiences, but it is also at a creative crossroads heading into a third season with something to prove.

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Season Finale: Dexter – “The British Invasion”

“The British Invasion”

December 16th, 2007

I don’t quite have time for a complete analysis of Dexter’s 2nd season finale, but I was going to be making this argument anyways and felt that it would be best served here. In short, Dexter’s 2nd season was a strongly-conceived second season which features more fantastic acting from Michael C. Hall and a continued commitment to suspenseful television. Unfortunately, I was not wholly pleased with how the potential foreshadowed early in the season was lost.

This is not to say that “The British Invasion” was bad, but rather that it did nothing to resolve the problems with one key storylines, or make me feel like another decision was necessary to the development of the season. While it may have been visceral, Dexter’s second Season Finale ultimately lacked the complexity and depth of its first.

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Dexter – “See-Through”

“See-Through”

October 21st, 2007

The second season of Dexter is based on a basic irony: its title character walks through Miami while people offer opinions of the Bay Harbor Butcher without knowing he’s right in front of them. I’m glad that in this episode Dexter finally admitted how annoying it’s getting, because I would tend to agree. It was engaging for one episode, maybe, but now it’s simply getting repetitive.

Actually, a lot of things are getting repetitive with Dexter. La Guerta’s replacement remains a true incompetent, almost becoming a parody of herself in her quest to reveal her husband’s indiscretion. Deb continues to face her Ice Truck Killer hangups, and Rita continues to be socially awkward with relatives or anyone other than Dexter. I worry that the drug addiction parallel is already getting repetitive after just a single episode, as the sponsor’s speeches were almost groan inducing.

This is not to say that Dexter is losing all of its quality: certain elements of the show remain intact. But the concern right now is that in providing us a greater window into Dexter’s mind, beginning to have other characters relate to him in new ways, the show is going for the easy kill as opposed to the subtle development.

[For more results and Cultural Observations…]

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