Two Guys, a Girl and a TV Set

Three college friends out in the world, filling the void with television…and loving it.

Posts Tagged ‘Dexter’

“My Bad” (Dexter S5:E1)

Posted by Mr. Feeny on October 2, 2010

“I’m sorry for your loss.” – Dexter

I feel like Dexter might have been speaking to me when he said that line. He certainly couldn’t have realistically said “I’m sorry my show now disappoints you and you’re tempted to drop it from your rotation and stop watching,” but that must have been the point of uttering such a horrendous line. It couldn’t actually be what the writers’ thought Dexter would naturally say in that situation.

Dexter’s wife, Rita, had been killed by Trinity (John Lithgow). Because of a combination of self-blame (he could have killed Trinity much earlier and prevented this from happening), confusion (he’s nevert dealt with losing someone as suddenly and violently as he forces people to exit the world), and grief (Rita was the only person he truly loved, besides Deb and his father), Dexter is unable to express his emotions honestly. That’s understandable. I don’t have a problem with that as a general backdrop.

But the writers abandoned all humanity in Dexter during “My Bad.” His actual grief was barely touched upon. Instead, they made him robotic and unfeeling. That’s how Dexter was 4 years ago. That’s how he was before he married Rita, before he became a father. But over the course of the series, we’ve seen Dexter grow and realize that there actually are bits of humanity in him. He’s not just an unfeeling monster. Rita made him a better person. And though they addressed that at the very end, during his eulogy, they mostly ignored that fact throughout.

Today’s Dexter would have grieved. He would have been a little upset at least when making the 911 call. He would have tried to be fatherly to Astor and Cody, instead of repeating the cold, standard line he heard from a funeral home director. His grief would have been different from most people, but not this much.

This season premiere actually captured all the things I hate about Dexter in one 53 minute capsule. And all those things boil down mostly to one problem: the writers forgetting what their show is about. They forget that Dexter has progressed since season one. They forget that the only thing keeping Dexter going is his and Harry’s code. They forget that we don’t really care about any other characters.

Pay no attention to the blood upon his shirt...

I’ve stated often how my biggest problem with last season was that Dexter had what could have been a game-changing moment, and the writers just glossed over it. He purposely killed an innocent man for the first time ever. He sought him out and sliced him open, only to find out later he got the wrong guy. That’s the #1 rule in Harry’s code, the only thing keeping Dexter grounded and stopping him from becoming a monster. To break that rule should have sent him into some sort of downward spiral. But next episode, they acted as if nothing happened. Then, in the premiere, Dexter brutally murders a stranger. He committed no crime other than looking like a criminal and being rude. But Dexter killed him to let out his frustration. Completely ignoring Harry’s code (not just killing innocents but leaving behind no evidence. Dexter’s all over that bathroom)…but that’s never even discussed. He doesn’t even talk about the guy he just killed.

There is an opportunity for the fourth season to redeem itself. If “My Bad’s” reckless killing of another innocent actually demonstrates that Dexter has lost all grounding and has become an actual evil serial killer, then maybe I can buy last year’s sloppy storytelling. Perhaps it wasn’t a big deal to Dexter because he’s lost his sense of right and wrong. Maybe he’s abandoned the code without realizing it. That would be interesting (but, why? I could understand if it’s because he lost Rita…but then how do you explain last year? You can’t.). Especially if he kills Quinn to stop him from discovering his secret (remember that he convinced himself to kill Doakes in Season 2 before Lila did it). Now THAT would show the rise and fall of Dexter. A man with a code but no connections in Season 1. A man with no code but actual feelings in Season 5. Wouldn’t that be great?

Of course, the writers have forgotten that Dexter has emotions and feelings. So they won’t go for that great storyline. I’m sorry for their loss.

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Feeny’s Best Actors of the Decade

Posted by Mr. Feeny on December 29, 2009

I hate going last. My list is now just a hodge podge of theirs. But believe me…mine’s the definitive list. If I used emoticons, this is where I’d type 😉 In seriousness, though, I think my cohorts forgot one major actor on the list…just like they did for characters.

1) Martin Sheen (The West Wing) – Just further proof that the Emmys don’t know what they’re doing (disregard this argument for Tony Shalhoub). In seven fantastic years as President Bartlet, Sheen never once came away the winner. His costars did. Even Alan Alda did for his end-of-the-series run. But never Sheen. And that’s ridiculous. He was the best actor on the entire show. He mixed pomposity with compassion, resolve with confusion. You saw everything the most powerful man in the world must go through on a daily basis…and still thought of Bartlet almost as a friend or father. I waited on bated breath for every time he would respond to a crisis or lesser dilemma. And that was because of Sheen, not Sorkin.

2) Keifer Sutherland (24) – I’d just like to once again thank Keifer for sponsoring this blog. We couldn’t do it without him. (He is the only person on all three of our character and actor lists…we are clearly on the take…thus nothing else needs to be said).

3) Tony Shalhoub (Monk) – My comparison of Monk to mashed potatoes is becoming more and more accurate. Not only did both my colleagues leave him off their best characters list, neither gave credit to Tony Shalhoub, the man behind the OCD. I guess his three Emmy awards didn’t catch their eye. I’m not saying that needs to be a qualification for being on this list….but it’s THREE! And a yearly nomination to boot. That’s not the Emmy voters just being their usual repetitive self. Shalhoub deserved it. His lovable and sypmathetic character seemed incredibly natural. Almost as if you were watching a reality show about this obsessive detective.

4) James Gandolfini (The Sopranos) – Tony Soprano would not have been the character of the decade without the superb acting of Gandolfini. He’s what made you root for the bad guy. You’d kind of like to hang out with T. That’s because Gandolfini pulled off the always difficult task of making a gangster seem human. You understood all of Tony’s motivations, from the big kills to the minor gripes. And every glance was extremely telling. Probably the best actor on my list in terms of subtlety.

5) Nathan Fillion (Castle, Desperate Housewives, Firefly) – If only Fillion were better known, or his shows lasted longer. Then you might have to call Fillion the actor of the decade. His work is always superb (and underrated, because of his goofy smile). And, he played a large part in a ton of shows. I was hesitant to include him in my Top 5, actually, until I started watching the final arc in Buffy the Vampire Slayer today. He made his appearance as Caleb and was just astoundingly great. Every word he utters is commanding…you want to and have to listen. If Buffy‘s not your cup of tea (idiots), try his season on Desperate Housewives, or the short-lived and much-adored Firefly, or Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog, or in his current hit Castle (boy does he deserve one). Oh, and if that’s still not enough proof he belongs on this list, how about the fact that he was in Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, which had two seasons in this decade. We can’t ignore our blog namesake.

Honorable Mentions

-) Michael C. Hall (Dexter) – I’ll go even further than mention Hall. Even as the show has declined, and Dexter’s character has gotten dull and repetitive, Hall’s acting has not. He’s just as believable as the normal guy forcing his way through interactions as he is as the serial killer slicing up victims. You see the true spirit of his dark passenger constantly.

-) Hugh Laurie (House) – What Laurie does so well (besides his American accent) is let you see the inner workings of House’s mind. You know how he arrives at every conclusion. Even those in his personal life. And as a testament to his work, he’s a likeable curmudgeon, unlike so many grumpy doctors on TV.

Guest Star of the Decade

Zeljko Ivanek (24, Damages, Heroes) – I had to make a special spot for this guy. I love him. One of the finest actors of the decade, without a doubt, but his lack of being a series regular kept him off the main list. I anxiously await the credits on my favorite dramas, hoping to see his name. Of course, at this point, he’s pretty much been on all of them. He was Andrei Drazen in 24‘s first season. He was a regular during Heroes’ third season. And he won an Emmy for his supporting role in Damages. But look at his lesser credits. He was Juliet’s husband (the guy killed by a bus) in LOST. He held House hostage in one of last season’s best episodes. He was even the bad guy in the series premiere of The Mentalist, the #1 show last year. Add in a role in the miniseries John Adams, some guest starring spots on programs like ER and True Blood, and reoccuring turns on The West Wing, The Practice, and Homicide/Law & Order. I’m not sure if anyone worked as much as Ivanek in television these past ten years. And he did so with such conviction. Always a pleasure. Sadly, I haven’t seen him in anything this season.

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Moltisanti will surely note the absence of Hamm. He’s probably next on my list. But I never saw the layers of Don Draper that others see. To me, he’s stiff and rather dull. I don’t see much variety in his character. Moltisanti also may wonder why Soprano is #1 on my character list with Bartlet at #3, and yet Sheen is #1 and Gandolfini #4. Tony Soprano meant more to television as a character than Bartlet did. He’s much more lasting and impactful. And I thought they were both fantastic actors. But Sheen’s portrayal of the somewhat flawed and belabored president, especially in the middle seasons, really stood otu for me.

As for the others on their lists: Will Arnett’s probably the best actor on Arrested Development, but it’s too much of an ensemble show for me to select  just one. And while I think Kyle Chandler’s acting is fantastic in Friday Night Lights, it doesn’t quite match up to the others on this list.

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Dexter: A Season Deferred

Posted by Mr. Feeny on November 17, 2009

Last month, I reviewed Season 3 of Dexter and took a decidedly different stance than most of the other critics I follow. While they thought Showtime’s hit drama about a “good” serial killer had jumped off the tracks, I saw its third season just as entertaining and compelling as its first two. The overarching conflict — can Dexter open himself up to others? — combined nicely with the practical dilemma — should Dexter train another killer? Add in Jimmy Smits’ excellent portrayal of Miguel Prado, and this was a fantastic season. Not as good as the first two, but it didn’t miss the mark by much. While other critics were calling for Dexter to be canceled, I insisted that it was still at its height.

I defended Dexter. I stuck my neck out for Dexter. And what do the writers do? They take a blade to my cheek and show the me the errors of my ways. Dexter has overstayed its welcome…just a season later than most others thought. The plots don’t make sense, motivations seem to have disappeared, and this year has the worst supporting storylines yet. Batista and Laguerta in love? Ugh. Quinn’s a dirty cop sleeping with a reporter? Who cares. Debra in pain because of a relationship…AGAIN. Tired. I just find myself bored with much of each episode.

An Emmy-worthy performance by Lithgow

The one saving grace this season is John Lithgow. Like Jimmy Smits, Lithgow’s character is compelling and heavily layered. All of the writers’ energy seems to be focused on the Trinity Killer’s storylines. Only here is the writing crisp, suspenseful and intriguing. SPOILER ALERT: For the first few episodes, I truly believed Trinity was a lone madman roaming the country finding victims. I was as shocked as Dexter when Lithgow turned out to be a stable family man. That possibility never even crossed my mind. So clearly, the writers still know how to do certain things well.

Then, they return to trying too hard. Throughout the series, if Dexter needed to learn something from one of his victims, it only took an episode. He’d study his victim’s behavior, maybe befriend them long enough to buy a minivan, perhaps ask an important question at their most vulnerable time on his table. But then, at the end of the episode, he’d kill them. No dragging it out. Whatever Dexter needed was just an episode arc. That’s how serials should work. Each episode needs to feel like something happened and something was resolved, even if just partially. That’s why I didn’t like the episodes I watched of The Wire. It seemed like every episode was just advancing that main story without achieving anything smaller.

But in this season, Dexter is taking much too long to kill Trinity. He feels like he has more to learn. But I don’t buy it. He never needed this much time to learn before. And what he supposedly needs isn’t that important. Balancing killing and family? Please. Dexter’s spent his life hiding his night job from everyone else in his life. Having a wife and kids makes it more difficult, but he doesn’t need an extended lesson from Trinity to figure it out. It seems like a lame attempt to drag out this season and get more screen time for Lithgow (not that I have a problem with that part of it). We’ve already seen Dexter confess his crimes to someone. Does he need to go through that experience again with Trinity? I get that Trinity could be a mentor of sorts. How to be a better serial killer. But any attempt at that seems contrived.

Enough talk. Kill him already!

I like that Dexter got married and had a kid. It’s a solid character progression and made sense based on what he’s been through for three seasons. It flowed. This season does not. After 8 months, Rita feels like they need counseling? Their marriage is that bad off because Dexter’s keeping a few secrets? Doesn’t make sense. Not a well-thought out decision. Just like having Dexter kill an innocent man. His research got sloppy, he took shortcuts, and rushed to get his brand of justice. But by ignoring the code, he killed someone who didn’t deserve it. At the end of that episode, Dexter seemed completely distraught. The one thing that had held him together was broken. This should have been a pivotal moment of the series.

Instead, Dexter practically shrugs it off and plans on killing Trinity. He blames that for distracting him and just moves on. The writers seem to have forgotten that Dexter has a passion for killing. All he’s ever wanted to do was kill. Harry created the code to make sure his kills were justified. This innocent murder should have sent Dexter spiraling. Turned him into an even eviler Dexter. Set off a chain of events. Or maybe, make him want to go cold turkey on killing. Either way. This is a BIG deal. And yet the writers brushed it off between episodes. All that followed was an examination of remorse. Using Trinity to look at it. Questioning whether he’s human. Same old, same old for what should have been a game-changing, series pinnacle event.

I’ll of course finish watching the season. But I don’t see any way the writers can fix this and make it compelling again. If killing an innocent person doesn’t change Dexter, then nothing will. And then there’s no real reason to watch every week. You don’t expect Monk to change. But Monk‘s funny. I expect some evolution in my drama characters. As we all should.

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Dexter’s Third Season Actually Enjoyable

Posted by Mr. Feeny on September 28, 2009

This is your only warning. If you haven’t seen Season 3…or any season really…of Dexter, there will be a lot of SPOILERS in this post. None, however, on the Season 4 premiere.

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I haven’t had the opportunity to watch the first episode of this season yet, but I wanted to make a little comment about the third season. Since I started Dexter two months ago, I kept hearing that the third season really took a dive. The quality really dropped off. My favorite TV critics were saying how Dexter should just stop now and that Season 3 was nearly unwatchable.

What the heck are they talking about?

Sure, it’s not as good as Season 1 or Season 2. There were definitely some problems. But I still thoroughly enjoyed it, and will now be adding it to my Top 10 Current Shows List. It didn’t lose anything. It progressed Dexter’s development along and provided a good degree of excitement.

The main criticism I heard going in was that we didn’t learn anything about Dexter. That everything just remained static. Although Dexter is basically the same person at the end of the season as he is at the beginning (plus a wife and kids), that doesn’t mean he didn’t take a big inner journey. He just came to the same conclusion with which he started.

Dexter’s conflicts are easy to trace. Season One: How does he fit in and how does he value the people in his life? Season Two: How much does he value the code and his own freedom? And now, Season Three: How much can he trust friends and how much responsibility is he willing to take? To make it even simpler…the first season is about figuring out where he belongs, with help from his serial killer brother. The second season is about honoring the code, even if it means getting caught. And the third season is about letting someone into his life, but recognizing limits to that friendship. What a clever idea, to have Dexter open up to his first real friend, train him to kill, and then be forced to eliminate him. Brilliant.

How can you say Season 3 didn’t cover anything new? We never got to see Dexter really have a friend. We never got to see Dexter teach someone how to kill. And, with the possible exception of his brother, we never got to see him kill someone who meant something to him. Miguel was his best man!

That’s the one problem I have with this season, and why it ranks third for me. The pacing was very odd and unbalanced. In the early going, it dragged on and on. The first three or four episodes went no where. It just built up this friendship with Miguel. But the last episodes were too rushed. How long have they known each other and Dexter decides to make him Best Man over Angel? And the same episode Miguel makes his first kill, he goes on to secretly kill Ellen Wolfe? There was no progression or development. How did Miguel gain that much sudden confidence and skill? So the beginning was too slow and the ending was too fast.

But boy, oh boy…that middle. One of the best scenes in all of Dexter was the end of S3:E5. When Miguel reveals that he was setting Dex up to kill someone. Not only did Miguel know Dexter’s true nature, but he embraced and encouraged it. That threw me for a loop. But it made sense. That’s why Jimmy Smits was in every other scene. That’s why their friendship seemed so sudden and almost forced. Miguel was playing Dexter. He wanted to get close to him. That one scene redeemed a lot of those first episodes.

It’s also not a huge leap to think Miguel would support Dexter’s killings. His brother was just stabbed, a serial killer is on the loose, and he’s watching time and time again as guys he’s tried to convict get off. While his outward appearance might seem respectable, underneath he was seething. And just dying to get out. Much like Dexter. But Dex plays by the rules. Miguel couldn’t. Dexter kills to feed a need. Miguel kills out of passion. Which could justify why he went to kill Ellen so quickly (though I still think that was sloppy). But it fits his character.

And that’s why this show is one of the best on television. Including the third season. The characters are incredibly well defined. Smits did a stellar job as Miguel and should have gotten a supporting actor nomination (rather than guest actor). Especially when he flipped into the villain. Who knew he could play cold vicious criminal so well? The side stories, about Debra’s informant and Dexter’s marriage and Angel’s relationship. I could care less about that stuff. Maybe to some it weighs down the story. But I only care about Dexter and his bloody realm. And that was spotless, as usual.

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