06 July, 2007

Preview: "Dexter"

"Dexter is based on the compelling novel "Darkly Dreaming Dexter" by Jeff Lindsay. Orphaned at the age of four and harbouring a traumatic secret, Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is adopted by a police officer who recognizes Dexter's homicidal tendencies and guides his son to channel his gruesome passion for human vivisection in a constructive way - by killing those heinous perpetrators that are above the law or who have slipped through the cracks of justice.

A respected member of the police force, a perfect gentleman and a man with a soft spot for children, it's hard not to like Dexter. Although his drive to kill is unflinching, he struggles to emulate normal emotions he doesn't feel, and to keep up his appearance as a caring, socially responsible human being."

Dexter is second only to Heroes in terms of quality for new shows last season and even then I'm wondering if maybe it isn't actually better. But they are so different. Heroes and the ultimate anti-hero.

You had the same amazing characters and gripping storylines but most of all the frustrating wait for the next week's episodes. The cliffhanger is a fine television tradition but it should be banned. Or rather it should be kept but shows should be shown not weekly but in blocks so you would have the whole series in a day. No, that's not 'a stupid idea'. You watch Dexter and tell me if you don't feel the same way.

Dexter is on FX which is only available on Sky but I find it hard to believe the free to air rights haven't been snapped up yet.

Actually, come to think about it, the show is disturbing. It's not too graphic but it's about pathological disorders and death although there is dark humour running throughout. It was actually scheduled for spring when a real life serial killer was in Ipswich and I suspect that's why it was moved to summer.

I found myself identifying with a serial killer and wanting him to get away it. For my own peace of mind I'm putting that down to the quality writing and performances and not to any potential killer instinct I might have. Although that is perhaps something buried deep inside all of us, in some deeper than others.

Look how this is done, everything is set up in the first twelve minutes. There is narration in the book and the series has it too. Instead of just seeing what Dexter is doing, we're hearing his thoughts and making us identify with him.

The conflict in my head is played out in the show. Do even killers deserve to be tortured and killed? Do wanting nonces and murderers dead in fiction the same as wanting them dead in real life? Are they equally morally wrong?

Whatever. It's just so clever and funny and thrilling. Highly recommended.

Chapter 1 of the novel

FX, Sunday 8 July, 10:00pm


Lucy said...

Interesting. Cos I saw the ads and thought: "how on earth are we supposed to empathise with a serial killer as a protag, how daft". Yet now I want to see it. Hope the show's makers have given you a big fat cheque for that, Robin?

Jaded and Cynical said...

You have to love the ambition of at least some US programme-makers.

They're willing to trust the audience with a difficult concept like this. And they are prepared to gamble that the talent will make it work.

One of the things I admire most about Heroes, to take another example, is that one of the major strands of the story is conducted almost entirely through Japanese, with subtitles in English. Again, what a bold choice. And that's a mainstream, top-ten network show.

What a contrast with the unrelentingly safe, bland and largely unwatchable rubbish that UK broadcasters churn out.

Robin Kelly said...

Lucy - It wasn't a fat cheque but it's the going rate, which isn't too bad

Jay - Funnily enough, I was thinking the exact same thing. Maybe writers and networks (and audiences) need to take more risks here.

Good Dog said...

Seen it already. Bloody excellent.

Lucy said...

I think it's easy to denigrate other place's efforts in favour of another's... I don't like DOCTORS for example but I've lost count of the number of writers I've spoken to who've told me how hard it is to "crack" various shows and their "house style". I'm sure writing for DOCTORS is difficult. Is writing for HEROES easier, more difficult, the same? Who knows? I don't write for any of them... And I would take any of them, whether I like them or not. Which is why they get made of course, but even if writers said, "Hey! We only want to write cool stuff" it would still get made, because there's a demand for it. And I'm glad there's a demand for programmes set in the UK, whether they're bland or not, because as good as HEROES et al are, they are American. And we don't live in America. Philosophically speaking, I think there's a danger of certainly young people, teens mostly, forgetting that because of this media imperialism.

Good Dog said...

It doesn't matter about which country it's from, good drama crosses all boundaries.

When you get into Dexter you'll realize the focus isn't on him being a serial killer. The same way that Heroes has a shit load more to it that people with super powers. All this is merely an adjunct.

At the heart of both these shows is human drama.

It's the series that are based on an utimately unsustainable high concept that fail. They come down with a thud far harder than bland, unadventurous drama shows.

Robin Kelly said...

In Spain they tried to impose quotas to combat US media imperialism but the public protested. If Spain isn't going to provide enough good drama then the audience will go to the US to get it.

It's the same with all things in life. Once this dealer gave me some dodgy coke, god knows what was mixed with it, was I really supposed to stick with him because he's British or go to the French dude my ex-girlfriend recommended?

Lucy said...

It depends what you think IS human drama though. Whilst Heroes and Dexter sound cool and groovy, ultimately they seem like boys' dramas and not as interesting to me as say, something like CSI which *seems* more universal - to me. I can't get them anyway.

At the end of the day, we're talking about different perceptions of a very muddy subject. For example, I would imagine some of the "unadventurous" shows you speak of would include something like HOLBY CITY. Now, I enjoy Holby City. I am not unintelligent. It is not a case of my needing not to be challenged of an evening. I absolutely like to be challenged by my TV drama. So whilst you might think a programme like this is pap - and that's absolutely your right - you must surely appreciate that there are people in the world who think this is a reflection of human drama as well. There are characters in it that are interesting to me; there are storylines that I think are fun and yes, sometimes challenging. And sometimes they have very interesting experiments with narrative structure: Tony McHale wrote one recently that was particularly good I thought, drawing a domestic abuse storyline and a bombing together very well. However, if all you see is a bunch of nurses shagging doctors when you think of it, that's your privilege.

Robin Kelly said...

I think it's important to recognise, as writers, good and bad writing, no matter what the genre as it helps us with spotting our own good and bad writing.

When I used to watch Eastenders I could tell when Tony Jordan or Tony Mchale were writing it because of their voice and because they were generally so much better than the others. There were one or two other writers I liked as well but not enough for me to invest two hours of my time every week. The same with Holby City in that I used to watch it every week as well.

American shows rarely have that problem and are consistently good. You get the occasional dip in quality between writers but it's never so far that it's unwatchable.

It's not that we're being seduced by the glamorous Americans and their fancy ways but that the partner at home has let themselves go and become complacent and won't give us any. We love the partner and want them to do well and will patiently wait until that happens but until then we have needs.

Most commentators consider CSI the ultimate "boy's drama" so much so that Five has difficulty getting women to watch the channel because all the police procedurals are off-putting.

As well as Heroes and Dexter I also watch Army Wives which is about army wives. Sure, it doesn't give my manly action which only men watch - while drinking lager, singing football songs and scratching our balls - but it's good drama. Whatever the gender it's aimed at or the country of origin.

Lucy said...

CSI for boys? Interesting. I've always thought of women as being just as avid consumers of crime drama - though that's based on the completely unscientific approach of being female, loving crime drama - any crime drama, I love WITHOUT A TRACE et al too - and knowing loads of girlies who have the same addiction.

Robin Kelly said...

Exactly, Lucy. So perhaps with shows that you're not liking because they're "boy's dramas", you're actually not liking them because you don't like them.

It's nothing to do with genre, and I hate to be boring about this, it's about characters we can identify with.

We find it easier to identify with characters who are physically like us, in terms of the bits and bobs and dangly bits but also who we can relate to psychologically.

Heroes has several major woman characters, including a single Mom just trying to do the best for her kid. Dexter has three prominent female characters, one of whom is a high ranking cop facing sexism from her boss, another living with the damage of severe domestic violence.

While this is about shows we want to watch, it's also about characters we want to create, in that rather than boxing characters into stereotypical gender roles we need to think outside the box.

Lucy said...

Well that's why I said they *seem* like boys' dramas. The crucial thing here is, I can't imagine liking a drama about super heroes. Why? 'Cos I'm a mum who has to pick spiderman action figures off the floor all day and listen to his exploits and a thousand others in a colourful riot of children's cartoons. Argh. The difference between men and women there? My husband will play spiderman with my son, ergo he'd probably like Heroes. That one is just a hard sell as far as I'm concerned.

Dexter however could be another matter - didn't like the ads and still don't Robin, but if it comes out on freeview, whilst I am reminded of AMERICAN PSYCHO (yawn) you gave it such a good sell Robin I'll prob give it a go.