Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dexter Lite
The writers’ strike is finally over, and the networks find themselves with a glass more than half empty. When CBS announced earlier this month, with much ballyhoo, that they were breaking new ground by airing the first season of the acclaimed Showtime series Dexter, I was less than enthused. The subtle shadings of the series, colored in psychosis, vulgarity, sexual innuendo and dark humor couldn’t translate to a mainstream audience, I reasoned.

I was only half right.

People had heard of Dexter, and were curious about it. They didn’t get Showtime on their cable networks. I frequently received emails from people bemoaning the fact they weren’t subscribed to Showtime, and in my daily life, acquaintances frequently pestered me for recaps about a series they’d never seen. Dexter quickly become a pop icon, sight unseen.

To paraphrase Dexter’s inner monologue, tonight’s the night that it’s going to happen. At 10 PM ET/PT, CBS airs the premiere episode that started it all, with a pledge to broadcast the entire 12 episode first season over the coming weeks. Don’t get too excited, though. As I predicted, the CBS version is heavily edited. This may not bother newcomers to the series overmuch, but longtime devotees may find it overly safe. It’s like skimming a Cliff’s Notes version of a classic, and expecting to ace an exam. It can’t be done.

That being said, the CBS version of Dexter, hobbled as it is, nonetheless manages to limp into a new phase of network programming. It makes unnecessary concessions to a larger audience, such as deleting original opening credits sequence (a macabre masterpiece of satire that sets the tone for each episode), and it clumsily edits the potty mouths of Deb and Doakes (be prepared for an over-abundance of the word “freakin”). Even with those concessions, Dexter emerges as an antihero unlike any other.

Whether all twelve episodes of the first season will actually air on CBS is a matter of debate. In its early days, Dexter episodes were self-contained, with the Ice Truck Killer subplot serving more as a teaser than a plot device. It wasn’t until the third arc that he became an integral part of Dexter’s adventures. The question arises, then, will mainstream viewers follow his killing sprees for more than a few episodes?

I honestly don’t think so. Without the nuances of character, both the good guys and the bad guys, Dexter becomes another silly show with the troubled Cold Case leading it into a Sunday night audience. I really hope Dexter will garnish enough ratings to make the networks rethink their strategies. It would be really cool if Dexter broke down barriers during its CBS tenure. I’d love to see Weeds crossover to the mainstream. But we know that won’t happen. We may be ready for serial killer heroes, but a pot dealing suburban single mom?—that’s really stretching credibility.

It’s a moot point, anyway. Dexter’s pitted against a talking Mustang tonight. Guess who wins that battle.