Serial killers have always been there. It just took a while for them to be the favorite figures of our popular pulp entertainment.
Ed Gein, the pride of Wisconsin, inspired no less than three of the most memorable and influential movies ever made: Alfred Hitchcock’s immortal “Psycho”; Tobe Hooper’s not-exactly-immortal “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (see all those remakes and sequels); and Jonathan Demme’s version of Thomas Harris’ novel “Silence of the Lambs” (whose character “Buffalo Bill” was very loosely based on Gein). You wouldn’t necessarily expect that from a backward fellow who used to dance in the moonlight wearing a vest made from female human anatomical parts. But when you’ve got Hitchcock and reporter-turned-novelist Harris on your team concocting culture-changing fictions about your psychotic life, your immortality is assured.
Somewhere along the way, very real monsters were domesticated into fantasy pet versions on television.
Which brings us to one of American entertainment’s two favorite serial killers: Dexter Morgan, who returns to Showtime at 9 p.m. today to begin his final season of extremely compromising behavior as a blood analyst for the Miami Police Department; and America’s other favorite fictional serial killer, of course, is Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, whose first season on his own independent, hourlong drama was successful enough in its first season to be picked up for another beginning in the fall.
I don’t know about you but I’m awfully tempted to vote “no” on both.
When Dexter first came to us, his claim to fame was that he was the ultimate vigilante. He was Ted Bundy crossbred with Bernhard Goetz. He was the serial killer who got rid of other serial killers; he was the ultimate fire with which to fight fire.
None of that time-wasting legal rigmarole for Dexter Morgan, just some quick and drastic plastic-wrapped surgery in his private chamber and a moonlight boat ride out to his favorite oceanic dump site and society was improved. Another monstrous life was subtracted from the monster population of Dade County.
Yeah. A great TV show could certainly be made of novelist Jeff Lindsay’s creation.
And it was. Was it ever. James Remar played the ghost of his father, who kept showing up in Dexter’s deeply disturbed mind to make sure that his adopted son’s “dark passenger” was always headed in a socially beneficial direction.
But there was always an essential weirdness about Dexter that threatened to ruin the party. And as loyal as I intend to be while I keep on watching, that’s where we are this year.
The essential weirdness came from that habitual supplier of flies for any salubrious ointment – life itself. In what we laughingly call real life, “Dexter” star Michael C. Hall was briefly married to Jennifer Carpenter, who plays his adopted sister Deb on the show.
Now right there, I submit, we had a circumstance that was eventually going to make the Dexter/Deb relationship a giant problem.
And that, to me, is where we are now. Not only has she already revealed herself to him as harboring feelings of decidedly unsisterly love, but as we left the show last season, she blew their mutual boss to kingdom come to protect her brother’s extremely eccentric nocturnal life.
And now tonight she tells him she may have killed the wrong person – in other words, maybe she should have turned that gun on the adopted brother whose “dark passenger” keeps taking ill-advised detours from the righteous path Dad put him on.
One of the nicer wrinkles this year is that the majestic Charlotte Rampling will be around as a shrink to explain Dad a little. But still I’ve got nothing but doubts.
I’ll keep watching, mind you. But I deeply disliked the “Hannibal” season finale, too, where the suave cannibal psychiatrist is in ascendance and poor schlemiel FBI “empath” Will Graham is behind bars for Hannibal’s crime.
Allow me to express myself about both as if I were in the bleachers here: BOOOO!!! (Obscenities to follow.)
I’m still in the stands, mind you. And watching avidly. But I don’t like at all the plays that the coaches are now calling for some of the most vivid quarterbacks on the tube.
I’m with Dexter, his sister Deb and his Dad and his dark passenger until the very end, for certain, but I’m not a happy “Dexter” watcher this season.
What needs to be said, nevertheless, about this evening is that it’s one of the bigger DVR festivals of the year. Along with AMC’s terrific new season of “The Killing” (full of serial killings) – “Dexter” is back and is followed by perhaps the most promising cable show of the year, “Ray Donovan.”
Just as serial killers have crept their way into their current position as a staple of our national pulp fantasy lives, we are slowly catching on to another first-rate fantasy figure in our pulp world, The Fixer.
Remember Tony Gilroy’s terrific movie “Michael Clayton” in which George Clooney played a law firm’s designated fixer, the guy assigned to clean up all the bigger and more immediately problematic messes of clients and colleagues both.
Our first prime-time TV fixer was Olivia Pope on “Scandal,” who’s modeled on the very real Judy Smith, the woman hired by the newest public celebrity to fall headfirst into the muck, Paula Deen. Extricating Deen from whatever it is she’s currently swimming in is a job for a professional public relations plumber if ever there was one. (Don’t try this at home.)
“Ray Donovan” seems a different breed of fixer from what we’ve seen – the Hollywood kind. (For the most famous Hollywood fixer in history, look up MGM’s Eddie Mannix on the Internet.)
Let’s just say Ray Donovan is hands-on. And that his father is a Boston mobster.
And now let’s talk pedigree, which is where “Ray Donovan” already hit the jackpot and then kept on going up.
It was created by “Southlands” show-runner, 61-year-old Ann Biderman, who grew up a neighbor of Leonard Cohen and in a family whose friend was Allen Ginsberg. She won an Emmy for “NYPD Blue” and she somehow managed with “Ray Donovan” to put a show on the air where Liev Schrieber and Jon Voight play father and son.
That, it seems to me, is as close to genius as it gets in the art of mounting a TV show.
Schrieber alone, as a tough guy dramatic TV star, is brilliant casting. He has never quite seemed to me a movie star but, at the same time, he’s much too tough and authoritative an actor to ever fade into the background of any screen he ever inhabits.
Putting him front and center on a very clever show on premium cable is the EXACT right place for Schrieber in the whole landscape of movies and television.
Getting Voight as his wildly unlikely and troubling father is almost as clever as casting Buffalo’s Nancy Marchand to play Tony Soprano’s mother Olivia.
If your eyes aren’t on “Ray Donovan,” your DVR jolly well should be – or your “On Demand” station at the first opportunity.
Sunday TV rules – again.