Making a successful television show isn’t easy work. Modern television competes head to head with blockbuster movies for viewers and ratings. Recent years have shown that high-end television can be just as profitable as any box-office smash. So, with contemporary audiences expecting more and more, production companies are pouring hundreds and thousands of pounds into programs that are huge in scale. HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ has become one of the most commercially successful TV shows of all time, with an episode during the third season peaking at 5.5 million viewers in the US alone. Meanwhile, AMC’s ‘Breaking Bad’ has recently finished as perhaps the most critically-acclaimed piece of programing ever, marking itself as perhaps the greatest show of all time. But just days before ‘Breaking Bad’ reached its epic conclusion; another piece of American broadcasting came to an end. After 8 seasons and 96 episodes, Showtime’s serial crime drama ‘Dexter’ bid farewell. But who was watching?
The first season of the show was largely based upon Jeff Lindsay’s novel ‘Darkly Dreaming Dexter’ but has since deviated and taken viewers on a new journey with Dexter Morgan – blood splatter analyst for Miami Metro Police Department. As a young boy of three, Dexter watched his mother brutally murdered before him and was taken in by police officer Harry Morgan. Harry soon began to discover that Dexter had taken on violent tendencies, killing neighborhood pets with an animalistic lust for blood. Fearing that his behavior would simply escalate, Harry conducted a code for Dexter, one that would keep him safe and tend to his dark urges. Harry taught his adopted son not only to never get caught, but that his victims should be killers themselves; so that some good can come of Dexter’s needs. After Harry’s death, Dexter and his adoptive sister Debra find solace in continuing their father’s work within the police department. Unbeknownst to his colleagues and friends around him, Dexter continues to murder criminals, using his employment on the force as both a front and an aid.
That explanation of the show, though brief, sums up eight seasons of work. That concept, that idea of Dexter fleeting between his life as a normal, good guy by day and a depraved psychopath by night is the chemistry that keeps the show going. It is that formula that makes the show great and at times is also the show’s downfall. The problem that the show faced is one that I like to call ‘the Superman dilemma’. Superman is not an easy character to relate to, he’s not an everyday shmuck like me. He is literally invincible. He can fly, he can lift cars, he can fire lasers with his eyes, he gets all the girls and he is always, always the hero. That’s the problem; how are we as an audience meant to relate and feel for a character when we’re so different? Sure, Clark Kent might have some social issues and be a bit lonely but at the end of day, he can fly to Jamaica whenever he wants. And also he can’t die. There’s never any real risk. And this is the dilemma faced with ‘Dexter’. Whenever there’s an obstacle thrown in his way, a murderer who knows too much or a police detective becoming a little too interested in his personal life, we know that Dexter is going to be fine. We know he’s not going to get caught because he can simply kill off his enemies or cover his tracks because he works for the police. It’s a vicious circle; one that the show struggled to deal with for much of its duration.
I guess the real question, for those of you that haven’t yet invested your time watching the show, is why should you start? For me, the series started on wobbly legs. The show began with Dexter seemingly neutral to everything, devout of emotion or feelings for those around him. His only real passion, it seemed, was taking lives of others. The show’s writers soon found that it was difficult for audiences to get behind a protagonist who showed no real emotion and so mixed things up, giving Dexter something to care about other than himself. Dexter’s relationship with Debra had always been important to him, but when combined with his new wife Rita, their son Harrison and her two children from a previous relationship, Dexter suddenly had a lot to lose. The third and fourth season of the show were where it really came into its own, with Dexter struggling to balance a family life, work on the force and his murderous urges. With the help of a superb performance from John Lithgow as a rival serial killer in the fourth season, the show fell into its own and thrilled audiences for the best part of two years. However, one thing lead to another and somehow Dexter ended up alone again except for a few fleeting romances in the last few seasons.
If you’re after some relatively easy viewing and you don’t fancy investing in something too mind consuming (see ‘The Wire’, ‘The Sopranos’ or Michael C Hall’s previous work ‘Six Feet Under’), then ‘Dexter’ could be the show for you. If you don’t like change and have a lot of spare time, the show’s perfect. But heed this warning, without wanting to spoil the show for those who haven’t yet seen it – don’t expect great things. From the heady heights of season four, the show’s final season and in particular, final episode, are a kick in teeth for fans who’ve invested their precious hours with Mr Morgan. A mish-mash of bewildering plot-twists and underwhelming performances has left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Opinions are mixed, but for me, ‘Dexter’ should have been killed off years ago. Pun intended.