Sunday, 19 January 2014

Film/TV Club: Dexter, season one catchup

Been doing a lot of Netflix-catchup:ing lately. When I was younger the excuse of missing great TV shows/episodes due to work and general lack of time-availability seemed like a cheap one. However, these days I sympathise deeply.

Having fallen just short of my TV priorities over the past couple of years I decided it was time. Breaking Bad and Dexter were going to get watched start to finish and that was that. 

It's been two weeks and we're on season four of Breaking Bad. I just finished season one of Dexter. You can probably sense which show won the popularity contest at home. Nonetheless, I wanted to take a moment to properly review each one, starting with Dexter. 

Dexter first aired on Showtime (USA) back in 2006, and ran for a total of eight season (always rewarding as it means you are watching towards an already written and filmed finish, rather than a long wait for the next season post the last available cliff-hanger). 

Based loosely on the novel 'Darkly Dreaming Dexter' (2004) and following series of books written by Jeff Lindsay, it was adapted to season one for TV by James Manos Jr (wrote the pilot, has also previously received writing credits for The Sopranos and The Shield etc). 

The show follows Dexter Morgan (played by the as usually brilliant Michael C Hall), a blood spatter pattern analyst for the Miami Police Dept on one hand and a perfectionist serial killer targeting only the guilty but not convicted on the other. He views himself as void of all the usual emotional and empathic resources of most normal people, but his sense of right and wrong (however extreme and crossing of moral lines) instilled by his adopted father (a former cop) adds a strong layer of humanity and sympathy to his character. Despite this latter bit often being considered by himself an act to fit in without raising suspicion, which again makes you question those sympathies in favour of the creepy and calculated. 

It is, frankly, a brilliant basic idea. Balancing the good and the bad, the viewer sympathising with and to some degree trying to understand the logic of a character who is (and acknowledges this with no hesitation or attempt at easing his guilt) at the end of the day both a cop and a killer. A man without the ability to really empathise with others but with a sense of right and wrong as he only pursues those guilty of a crime (a sense that tests him in the finale and eventually proves he isn't just a straightforward cold emotionless avenger but his loyalties could actually be... dare we say it. Feelings?). 

Michael C Hall plays the character with just the right amount of likableness, humour, honesty and a dose of creepy due to the many moral dilemmas. Then again I've always thoroughly enjoyed his performances,  in particular as a fan of Six Feet Under. 

Playing his girlfriend, traumatised by an abusive previous relationship and trying to provide a safe and stable home for her two kids, is Julie Benz (for all Buffy and Angel fans better known as Darla the Vampire, but she's been incredibly busy since then). She puts in a nice performance balancing the frailty of Rita's character with her motherly determination and strength and a love for Dexter that would see none of the dark sides. 

However, that's where the goodness stops, rather abruptly. Other supporting characters includes Dexter's adoptive sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter, also Hall's real life wife and ex-wife during the course of the show's run) and his co-worker cops. Episode one is forgiven for the teething issues and slightly overly-excited performances but sadly I found these continued throughout the season. 

Even the finale, written full of suspense, cliff hangers and intrigue, lost it's way turning almost spoofy or comical whenever Carpenter, Erik King (Sgt Doakes) or Velez (Lt LaGuerta) hit the screen. Extreme reaction, decision making that is questionable and rash at best without serving the story in a realistic manner, acting that goes so overboard I found myself cringing repeatedly... 

The cleverness of Dexter's central storyline falters with the rest of the ensemble trying and failing to fit in and catch up, and Benz's Rita seems to be the only one who can hold their own in a strong scene against Hall. 

Yes, I did want to get to the end and see what happens and I will keep watching as I hear Julia Stiles will be joining at some point and given that it has reached cult status there must be a reason for this beyond a clever idea. Then again judging from the mostly negative google news' titles all questing the last season and the finale (no spoilers read, just very general reviews) maybe a strong lead and a clever moral dilemma really was the only thing that saw it through.

Still, perhaps season two brings a stronger team effort allowing the main story line to shine a bit, I will get back to you on that with another review in the near future. For now though, it's Breaking Bad time all the way!

For season one's score I'm going to go with two out of five kittens (close call to one and a half).


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