Dexter 605

Is it just me or is Dexter in its finest form since season 2?  I probably wont catch any flak for saying that this season tops the laughable Smitts or underwhelming Stiles seasons, but I’msure that quite a few people will point out that the Lithgow carried season 4 deserves some recognition.

The problem with season 4, and seasons 3 and 5 for that matter, is that it wasn’t really Dexter.  It was a show based on characters appearing inDexter.  The story was strong and Lithgow was a great villain, but the show had lost its magic.

Through the first two seasons Dexterwas a work of art by every aspect of the word.  It was more than jut story-telling, it was a full-out assault on all of the senses.  And it did this better than any show on TV.

Visually it was better than 99% of movies.  The kill scenes with the ice truck killer, and the artwork of the almost forgotten Jamie Murray season 2 antagonists Lila, were unlike anything else that had ever aired on TV.  But it was more than that.  The actors were aloud to show their talent more; the cinematographer was given a more creative role, and the dialogue was sharper.

During this time, saying that any show was on the same level as Dexter was ludicrous.  However, for the last three years some other serial dramas, mainly on AMC, have crept up and dethroned Dexter as the best show on TV.  The reason for this though is not because of anything they did, rather, it is the fact that after its two inaugural seasons, Dexter became content to simply tell stories.  Not exactly a wise choice since Mad Men and Breaking Baddo that virtually perfectly.  But that is why there is reason to be optimistic about this season.

Although the show is only five episodes into the season, and it is impossible to say that this season will be it’s strongest in four years, all indications do point that way.  The writing has regained some of the poetic swagger that it has been missing for quite some time and Michale C. Hall’s narration, which was growing tiresome in the previous three seasons, is back to its captivating form that made the show so special early on.

The performances of Mos Def and Colin Hanks are a refreshing reminder that you don’t have to be john Lithgow to be an effective guest star.  Not that Lithgow did a bad job, the problem was the character of Arthur Miller who ended up stealing the screen from the show’s star.

Thus far neither Hanks nor Def (that naming convention doesn’t seem right but let’s just go with it) have tried to take the show from Michael C. Hall.  Instead they have each become part of the world that Dexter observes but never fully touches.  They never break through and fully develop into characters.  This may seem like a negative thing, but I promise you, it is not.

Dexter Morgan is a strong enough character to carry the show.  The show is about him.  He’s titular.  What the show doesn’t need is more characters injecting themselves into the mix.  Dexter lacks the ability to delve into who a person is beyond anything superficial, and we should be the same.   For Dexter to work it has to be both funny and macabre, a difficult line to tread, but it also has to allow the audience to slip into the character of Dexter themselves.  If the show does not do this, it resorts to simply telling stories.

 

The Walking Dead

When The Walking Dead premiered it looked like it was going to be one of the best shows on TV.

With Frank Darabont pulling the strings, and a concept that the industry has been waiting for since Romero conceptualized the reanimated monsters in the late 60’s, plus the backing of the hottest network on TV, it seemed like The Walking Dead couldn’t lose.  But then the first season aired its other five episodes.

These episodes were not overly bad, they were just aggressively mediocre.  The characters didn’t really have time to fully develop, the six-episode season limited what it was able to accomplish, and the result was a rushed, at times, poorly written mess that looked pretty.

Transgressions of the first season aside, the second season is showing quite a bit of promise.

The self-serving hour-and-a-half premier was a little over done.  It did not need to be as long as it was, and the result was an episode that was paced for snails that only really picked up during the last half hour.  The opening monologue was painful, and with the exception of the last five seconds nothing really happened that made me want to tune in to episode two.

But then a funny thing happened, the show did the opposite of what season one did.  It got better.  The second episode toyed with people’s emotions, developed characters, and slowly built the tension to a boiling point.

If he dies tonight, it ends for him.

Then there was tonight’s episode.  It was the best in the series since it premiered.  The dialogue was much sharper than it has ever been, and the characters actions seem to have relevance.  This is interesting because they are not working towards anything.  In the first season there was a goal, an end in sight.  Strangely this plot device crippled the characters’ ability to advance as people.  Now that the ultimate goal is surviving each day, the show is filled with a new invigoration that should leave viewers hopeful about its future on AMC.

The characters who were once as shallow as the zombies they were fleeing, have become complete human beings.  This is true of all the leads, but it is especially true of Shane (Jon Bernthal who looks eerily like How I Met Your Mother’s Josh Radnor).  With this episode in particular, Shane has become a character whose fate no longer garners ambivalence.

The show does still have some glaring shortcomings.  For instance the only character that represents the show’s main demographic of 18-25, Glenn (Steven Yeun), is criminally under used.  There were shades of this being rectified in tonight’s episode, but he is still virtually kept reeled in.

The most improved aspect of the show though is the conversations.  Previously they were nothing more than characters reminiscing about how bad the world has gotten.  The dialogue has now developed depth.  The characters have developed souls, and suddenly the show is worth the attention it has garnered.  That being said, we still haven’t moved past the episodes that Darabont produced before his very public split form the show.  When that happens, that will be the real test.

 

Community 305

It’s Thursday!  Do you know what that means?… Of course you don’t, today is my first day.  But from now on, if you’re following me (which I’m positive everyone is, hence the pretentious blog title), Thursdays will be my day to talk about NBC’s Community Intro over.

Tonight was one of those special episodes of Community, one that, since the start of the year, has garnered much anticipation.  Every year Community has a special Halloween episode.  Last year George Takai narrated an episode that featured the central characters fleeing zombies, a product of bad military rations, to the soundtrack of the school dean’s all ABBA iPod.  Naturally topping that this year was going to be difficult.  Tonight’s episode did just that though.

The scale was not as grand as last year’s episode, actually, now that I think about it, it was a bottle episode, but the writing was sharper.  The story focuses on Britta, a character that, due to the fact that she is no longer a love interest of the shows leading man, has become the group’s punching bag.

After making the ill-advised decision to declare herself a psych major, and subsequently subjecting her study group to a series of psychoanalytical testing, Britta has become convinced that a member of the group is plagued with homicidal tendencies.  Naturally, instead of letting the group know about this, Britta throws a pre-Halloween-party party with the soul purpose of having the group tell ghost stories so she can put her two weeks as a psych student to good use and figure out who in the group is secretly a killer.

What ensues is a mess of stories, some perfectly structured, and some not so much, but all possess their own unique charm, and all reflect beautifully the characters that are telling them.

What is amazing about this episode is that, much like the previous episode, Remedial Chaos Theory, the multiple stories allowed the show to play out completely straight one second, and beyond over-the-top the next.

Ultimately the stories turn out to be meaningless.  As it turns out Britta Britta’d (a verb the group created to describe ineptitude) the test results by putting them through the machine the wrong way, and instead of one member of the group being crazy, all of them are.

This episode builds on what the rest of the season has started and that is creating a character for Britta.  As alluded to earlier Britta, played masterfully by Gillian Jacobs, has never been aloud to really develop as a character because, as far as the main character had been concerned, she was just a sex object.  Now that she has been replaced in that area by Allison Brie’s Annie, Britta is able to steal the jokes that otherwise would have gone to Chevy Chase’s senile, racist, season two villain Pierce.

Sure this episode was not the most original Community, but the beauty of Harmon’s satire is that is doesn’t matter.  The show is so meta that even if it blatantly were to rip off an episode of Boy Meets World, it wouldn’t matter, because the willingness to remind us all of what we’ve already seen, and subsequently spin it into a quick witted half-hour masterpiece, is what Community does.

This episode, and the show itself, is a perfect example of a piece of art, matching it’s medium.  The thirty-minute sitcom was made for shows like Community.  Small allusions to continual story arcs partnered with predominately self-contained stories has never been done better than by Community, and episode 305, was no exception.

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