Archive for the ‘TV shows’ Category

I’m making my way through Olivier Assayas’ miniseries “Carlos,” a fictionalized account of Carlos the Jackal’s life and career. I’m impressed. I think it does a good job in its presentation of Carlos. The series shows him for exactly what he was — a murderous fanatic with a knack for self-promotion. But actor Édgar Ramírez manages to convey the personal charisma that led apparently sane people to team up with him.

One thing I found interesting is the evocation of the 1970s, and the widespread atmosphere — at least in the circles where Carlos traveled — of “radical chic.” This is a milieu where people try to one-up each other with the extent of their commitment to revolutionary causes, and spit out the term “petit bourgeois” like it’s the vilest of  insults.

I was a kid in the 1970s, and grew up in a decidedly unhip suburban setting. If anybody in Marlton, N.J., was having marijuana-fueled discussions on Marxist theory late into the night, I was never invited to those parties.

My knowledge that something was afoot came mainly from the movies I’d watch on the portable black-and-white TV set I’d lug up to my bedroom. From the late 60s through the 70s, subversive subtexts were as ubiquitous as big sideburns in movies.

Some movies easily stand out when you’re looking for examples. “All the President’s Men.” “Z.” “The Parallax View.”

But how about “Star Wars?” You don’t really think of Star Wars as a subversive film, simply because it was so financially successful. George Lucas practically invented the summer mega-blockbuster, which is the very antithesis of radical film-making.

Still, the first movie in particular — and the next two sequels to a lesser extent — was very much a product of the 1970s.

The good guys were rebels and criminals, taking down an imperialist empire. They get assistance from indigenous people carrying out a guerrilla campaign on their home turf, using primitive but deadly weapons fashioned from materials occurring naturally in their terrain. (Describing Ewoks in that fashion makes them sound a lot more badass than the annoying little teddy bears that actually appeared onscreen.)

So did Star Wars represent a kind of stealth radicalism, sneaking into our collective consciousness in the form of a seemingly innocuous science fiction movie? Or am I reading WAY too much into this?

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.