I also watch too much television

October 6, 2008

I was watching the DVD of the first season of Dexter over the weekend, and I enjoyed it for the most part. I like the way the writers and producers have opened the story up for serialization, and I like some of the character work. I think TV Lt. LaGuerta is interesting in a different way. Her perniciously incompetent persona of the book was amusing but not sustainable, and the learning curve the TV writers have given her works better in the long run.

I’m now fully convinced that I’m supposed to hate Dexter’s sister, Debra, though I hate her TV incarnation for different reasons than I did book Debra. In the book, she’s whiny and entitled and selfish. In the TV series, she’s whiny and lethally stupid and the actress reminds me of Lori Petty, and I thought we flushed that thespian trend out of the entertainment industry in the early 1990s, because Lori Petty was so damned irritating. Michael C. Hall is just right as Dexter, as I expected, though there really isn’t anything he can do to patch over the holes in the character’s conception aside from be creepily charming. TV Doakes talks too much, and he ends up reminding me of about 275 other hard-assed cops.

Julie Benz is fine as Rita. I think I was in the minority in liking her work on Buffy, and I think her undercurrent of crazy really works for this particular character. Unfortunately, the scenes with Rita play out like mid-level Lifetime movies about single moms coming off of an abusive marriage and/or being deceived by the new men in their lives, and there’s a weird contrast between those scenes and the show’s crime content. I’m sure there’s supposed to be, but it’s contrast instead of counterpoint. The violence and the domesticity don’t interact so much as they just sort of sit side by side.

And I noticed something about the set design that’s probably too nitpicky to even mention, but that’s never stopped me before. There’s always a design sensibility in evidence in every set the show employs. Instead of looking like Rita’s house, Rita’s house looks like a designer’s idea of what the home of a single mother coming off an abusive marriage would look like, if that makes any sense. At one point, a character says about a set that “You can tell a bachelor lived here.” And no, not really, but you can tell that a designer wanted very badly for you to think that a bachelor lived here and strenuously employed an aesthetic towards selling that, which isn’t the same as evoking a space that makes you think a bachelor lived there.

I’m not quite sure how a designer could subtract that sensibility from his or her work, to be honest, but I’ve seen it happen enough. It was a weird thing to notice, to be honest. It wasn’t too distracting, but it stuck with me.