Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tired of Life

On somebody’s recommendation, I overcame my aversion to network fare and started working my way through the NBC series Life.  I quit, however, after watching back-to-back episodes involving violence against (1) a homosexual, and then (2) an Iranian couple.  Both of these were set up initially as “hate crimes”.

Let’s ignore for the moment that actual hate crimes are so vanishingly rare that the Left has to invent them out of whole cloth.  What bothers me about entertainment that tries to be “topical” about crime is the complete absence of context.  The mere possibility of a “hate crime” sends us into national convulsions:  wall-to-wall media coverage about how evil conservatives are, protests and riots, Jesse Jackson, etc.  Yet in Teeveeland, all of this is missing.  It’s as if nobody cares that a hate crime has taken place – nobody, that is, except our intrepid detectives who must overcome society’s indifference.

This was the same hogwash that constituted part of the reason I couldn’t stomach Justified after the first episode.

While I'm at it, here is another series that disappointed me: Dexter. I recently found it listed among the greats and thought I'd give it a try.

While a serial killer (in the clinical sense of having a psycho-sexual urge to kill) who only acts out his impulses as a vigilante could be a compelling story, so far this isn't it. A artistically daring show would keep in audience in a perpetual state of moral conflict, at once rooting for its protagonist and horrified by him at the same time, much as we were conflicted about, say, Tony Soprano, who commanded both our admiration and disgust. But Dexter, his running internal monologue to the contrary, is too normal, too virtuous in his behavior, only killing murderers whom the audience has been rigorously convinced deserve what they are getting. The series came close to moral ambiguity with episode 5, where Dexter kills a married couple as they profess their love for each other, but here the show cheats by cutting away from the scene at the last moment.

Also, what weird casting decision decided that Dexter's sister should have a Minnesota accent, never mind that she grew up in Florida and none of her other family members has one?

Really, though, there is very little in the series that couldn't be shown on basic cable. Occasional f-bombs, maybe some blood-spattered crime scenes. Not normally what people expect from Showtime.

Seeing as how Dexter is in its 6th season, I want to ask: does it get better? I'm interested in hearing not just from fans of the show but from people who also thought season 1 was weak and that it improved in subsequent seasons.

8 comments:

Professor Hale said...

Have you seen "Life on Mars"? It is good for some old fashioned gritty 1970's un-PC writting.

Φ said...

I saw an episode of that show. I wasn't sure what to think. Living in the 70s seemed to give the time-traveller lots of opportunities to express his contempt for the police of the day.

Professor Hale said...

You don't really understand what was going on in that program until the last episode. It's American run ended suddenly so they had to slap together a quick roll up episode to explain everything.

Unlike Lost, it really does all make sense.

R. Alex said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
trumwill said...

My comment here.

Brandon Berg said...

I think Dexter has gotten better, but I thought the first season was great, so YMMV.

It gets a bit muddier later on, but to the best of my recollection, Dexter never strays into morally ambiguous territory in direct response to his urge to kill. When he does, it's usually to avoid getting caught.

For example, for much of the second season he keeps an innocent person locked in a cage because he knows too much. Much of the dramatic tension in the latter half of the season comes from the fact that there doesn't seem to be any way to resolve this without killing him.

But he keeps his urge to kill on a tight enough leash (or fed well enough) that there's never any sign of a serious struggle with the temptation to club a random stranger over the head and drag him back to his lair.

There are cases where his extrajudicial activities lead indirectly to the death of innocents, and he has to deal with that, but Dexter is really more suspense than psychological drama.

Also, there is nudity from time to time, though now that you mention it I think it was fairly scarce in the first season. It'd definitely take some editing to get down to broadcast standards.

Φ said...

Trumwill:

Sorry you're having trouble with the comment box again.

Yes, The Shield was excellent, a cold-eyed gaze into the reality of multicultural LA. And the homosexual-cop sidestory wasn't especially politically correct; if anything, the fact that he was struggling against his inclinations made it anti-PC.

I agree that, like Dexter, the premise of Life had its possibilities, especially, the central character's ongoing effort to find the perpetrators of the crime he himself was convicted for.

But as another example of political correctness in the show, there was the episode in which the female lead meets a man at an AA meeting, decides on the flimsiest of evidence that he might have raped someone years earlier, and sets about trying to create a crime where none existed. There were so many moral problems with that storyline that I can't even begin to count them.

Brandon: I guess I'm prepared to give season 2 of Dexter a try. And I'm kind of curious as to what happens to the "bad" serial killer in season 1.

Hale: Can I just skip to the last episode of Life on Mars then?

Professor Hale said...

No. It will look like a completely different story. A boring one that you don't understand.