RARA-AVIS: Darkly Dreaming Dexter vs. Dexter (on Showtime)

From: sethharwoodpodcast ( sethharw@sethharwood.com)
Date: 05 Dec 2007

I'm wondering how many of you guys have been watching the Dexter series on Showtime.

Though I hear discouraging posts about posting on movies and am sure this applies to TV shows, I KNOW that the subject matter of Dexter and the handling of it has to appeal to many of us on the list. Fact is, I've thought since the first season that Dexter is one of the best shows around and --at the very least--picks up where Sopranos left the bar for a series: the highest level. This is absolutely crime fiction on the screen and I actually think that the additional time in episodes that the series format allows makes for a much more complicated, developed and intricate plot line than a movie or a couple of movies could allow. Actually, I think it makes the TV series even more complex than the books.

The two big factors in how a twelve-episode series season excels over a two plus hour movie are that more plot threads can be developed and, with this, more characters can be developed in greater detail. Ultimately, I think it's the character development as a result of the added time to work things out that I think makes this series much more than just good tv. And the character development comes from leaving Dexter's head and exploring different scenes that take place even when Dexter's not around. This is a freedom that even the book doesn't give itself.

Aren't these two factors, multiple threading and a more complex social network of characters, much more than just good TV? I'd even say (and I've seen others post about this here) that the series is even better than the books. On the most basic level, the books never leave Dexter's head. Sure, we can really get into his stream of consciousness and how he thinks about what happens, but I think the added benefit of having the characters around him-Doakes, LaGuerta, Deb, Lundy, Rita and Paul, Angel-developed into much more than flat types, into real feeling three-dimensional characters that we can sympathize with makes this series so much more. Take Sgt. Doakes for example: though he's a major antagonist in the second series, we've spent enough time around him to see his strong points and good qualities as well as his single-minded pursuit of Dexter. He's a character part of us needs to root for.

The strength of the book comes in how we can root for Dexter, even as he's a serial killer. In the TV series all the characters are crucially flawed, and ALL of them are worth rooting for on some level (Ok, well most of them). In the first book, LaGuerta is really pretty flat. Even as she changes a bit at the end, she's still two dimensional. In the series, she's got a lot more to offer, particularly as her connections to Doakes become more involved and ultimately get questioned.

In any case, it strikes me as very interesting here that the TV series has gone so much further than the book. This seems like new ground, to me at least. If you think of a great book and then the movie, usually there's a lot left out, or at the very most it'll bring in most of the elements of the book. I can't think of many cases where a movie-definitely not any case of a tv series-doing it better, adding more complicated development to what was in the book.

But this is definitely happening with Dexter. I'm curious how many others of you are watching it, and what you think of its complexity. The series makes me think more of Pride and Prejudice in how the characters are all thoroughly explored then it makes me think of Jeff Lindsay's books. Certainly leaving the head of the main character has enabled a great deal here.

Full disclosure: I've been rereading and thinking a lot about Steven Johnson's Everything Bad Is Good For You where he analyzes contemporary TV (not Dexter) and how much more complex it's gotten in the last 20-30 years. It's got me doing a lot of thinking.

Seth Harwood

PS: If you haven't watched Dexter and don't have cable, I'd recommend renting the first season on DVD and checking it out. It's available.

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