“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.