“Dexter”: The TV show vs. the books

Posted: November 21, 2011 in Books, Pop culture, TV shows, Uncategorized

I just finished Season 5 of Dexter on Netflix. Wow! I’ve got friends who are working their way through the series, so I don’t want to give away any spoilers. And since I don’t have cable and do all my TV-watching via Netflix, I’d appreciate if you’d return the favor should you currently be following Season 6 on Showtime. Tell me anything about it and I’ll pack my tools and plastic sheeting, seek you out and … No, I won’t do that. But I will be a trifle miffed.

Suffice it to say that I thought the show would never be able to top Season 4. Yet it did.

Which got me thinking about the books by Jeff Lindsay that inspired the show, and how they compare. Simply put — there is no comparison.

Yeah, it always makes me feel like kind of a Philistine when I say that movies or TV shows are better than the original book or books on which they’re based. Because usually, they’re not. But this is a case where the TV show isn’t simply better. It blows the books out of the water.

As you’ve no doubt gathered by now, I’m a fan of Dexter. My introduction to the series came when I picked up the second Jeff Lindsay book, “Dearly Devoted Dexter,” from the library on a whim.

I thought it was … OK. The premise, a new twist on the Miami noir sub-genre of crime fiction,  and the gleeful amorality of the whole enterprise made for a perversely enjoyable read. I thought it could have been better. But I enjoyed it enough to pick up the first book in the series, “Darkly Dreaming Dexter.” Again, I found it entertaining enough, but nothing to rave about.

Then came the series. Man!

It took a lot of raw material from the first book — many of the same characters, the same basic premise — and took it to far more interesting and rewarding places. The TV series was challenging, suspenseful and psychologically complex, while losing none of the playful archness of the books. It worked on so many levels, too. Police procedural. Ruthless deconstruction of the vigilante hero trope. A coming-of-age story made all the more unsettling by being weirdly touching.

What I admired most was the way the show relentlessly f**ks with you, the viewer. You find yourself helplessly rooting for Dexter, even as you wonder what’s was wrong with you for doing so.

Don’t get me wrong. The show’s not perfect. There’s a lot of filler. I mean, does anyone really give a shit about the romantic lives of Dexter’s co-workers? Other than a few glitches, though, the show’s still maintained that level of quality through five seasons.

But the books? I’ve read two more. And they both royally sucked.

After that first season of shared genetic material, the books and the TV show have gone in completely different directions. Characters dead in the books are alive in the show, and vice versa.

The book “Dexter in the Dark” added a goofy fantasy element. Dexter’s “dark passenger”  is no longer part of his twisted subconscious, but a demonic entity derived from the ancient god Moloch. Say whaaat?

The next one I read was “Dexter is Delicious.” Lindsay, wisely, dropped the whole Moloch subplot by then, but I still wasn’t impressed.

An element that bothered me about “Dearly Devoted Dexter” became more pronounced in the subsequent books. Basically, Dexter ended up a bystander and a victim. Throughout the books, he talks up his own ruthlessness and brilliance.Then he ends up with the (more evil) villains getting the drop on him, passively waiting for someone else to come in and save his ass. In light of his apparent overestimation of his own gifts, he comes across as a self-deluded braggart. And kind of a wuss.

Given Lindsay’s obvious fondness for alliterative titles, I suggest the following for his next book. “Dexter: Damsel in Distress.”

Now I’m counting the days until Season 6 is available on Netflix.

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Comments
  1. Carlette says:

    Once again Tom, we share something in common. I too am a Dexter fanatic and since I don’t have cable this season, I have found a site that I downstream it in the current season. There are 8 shows already seen in this season and as of last night, I’ve watched 5,This is how I watched True Blood also. Let me know if you want the link. The episode is usually available the next day.

  2. Sure! Send me the link. But I might wait anyway. The reason being because now that I’m used to Netflix, I don’t know how people can wait a week before the next episode of something like Dexter. Season 5 ratcheted up the suspense so much that I was in an agony of impatience during the three days it took the final episode to show up in my mailbox.

  3. Carlette says:

    Tom, Dexter threw me for such a loop last week that I was thinking about it ALL week. The writing is amazing. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything for you but you must let me know when you’ve caught up in season 6. All I can say is WOW.

  4. Cool! I start every season with mild trepidation. “Is this the one where Dexter jumps the shark? Will he move to the West Coast and open a pizzeria frequented by a cast of zany regulars, including Ted McGinley and a sassy waitress who will be the basis of an extended ‘will-they-or-won’t-they’ storyline?” Glad to see I’ve got at least one good season left. Here’s hoping for many more.
    By the way, that weekend of the seance is looking more promising. Is it too late to take you up on that?

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