Intermission II: Horror on TV

For years now, I’ve managed to survive without DVR, content to catch up to shows when they come out on DVD, or Netflix. Sometimes I remember to follow them, sometimes I don’t, and I’ve enjoyed the sense of liberation that comes with not being tied to the TV.

However, as a longtime fan of Dexter, and having been impressed–for the most part–by the first season of The Walking Dead, and with American Horror Story new to cable, I felt, given my hectic schedule, that it was time to become a slave to the small screen once more.

So the DVR has returned, and for the most part, I’m glad.

The past few weeks have seen the premieres of all three of the aforementioned shows, and below you’ll find my impressions of them, excluding another show I’m very much enjoying, the terrorist-drama, Homeland, because while it could be argued that it’s as much a horror show as the others, it nevertheless feels out of place here.

First up, Dexter. As I write this, we’re two episodes in and both have been equally good. The decision to introduce the religious/spiritual element in this season was a great one, as it seems a natural progression for a serial killer who believes his purpose is a noble one, despite his compulsions coming to him courtesy of an inner darkness. It’s not something that has been touched on so far, and will help avoid the sense of sameness that was beginning to creep into the series. Dexter is not a man who has faith in anything but himself, so when confronted with questions theological, he has no response. His natural curiosity, however, demands he learn more, if only to aid him in deciphering the mystery of who and what he is.

And of course, how better to kick off this journey than by introducing a pair of serial killers whose crimes appear to be spiritually motivated. The casting of Colin Hanks (a veritable clone of his famous father) and Edward James Olmos as the “Big Bads” of the season, was inspired. A more disparate pairing you’d be hard-pressed to find, but they work well onscreen, with Olmos taking the role of father figure/cult leader to Hanks’ quiet, uncertain, but eager acolyte. Their ultimate goal is unclear so far, though it seems they believe themselves nothing short of messengers, or perhaps harbingers, of the apocalypse. I am intrigued to see what Dexter learns as he pursues them, and what they believe they have to teach the world.

The final shot of the second episode–a very public reveal of their latest crime–is nothing less than horrific.

In keeping with the apocalyptic theme, the season premiere of The Walking Dead aired on AMC on Sunday night, and after the ratings monster that was the first season, expectations were high. After the ousting of showrunner Frank Darabont–a mistake no matter which way you look at it–even the show’s detractors probably tuned in to see if their claims that the show was going to self-destruct were justified. There’s no evidence that that’s the case, though it’s too early to tell, as apparently Darabont wrote much of the first episode. Let’s not forget though, that creator Robert Kirkman is still on board, and as much as I’m sad that Darabont is no longer involved, one director/co-creator does not a show make. It might indeed suffer in his absence as the show goes on, but at it’s heart, The Walking Dead is the story of a band of survivors struggling to make their way to safety in the wake of a zombie plague. There is a lot that can be done with such a simple premise, if those at the wheel remember that it is the characters who drive it and not endless scenes of zombie-splatter and the mauling of stock-standard humans, something Darabont clearly knew. If the balance developed by Kirkman and Darabont is mantained, I see no reason why TWD couldn’t have a very long and successful run.

Finally, to my least favorite of the shows, American Horror Story. To be fair, it hasn’t been on long enough for me to decide whether or not I’ll actually like it, but thus far, it’s an odd creature. You probably already know the story. It’s hardly different from any other haunted house film made over the past sixty years: A dysfunctional family moves into a house with a bad history and soon weird things start to happen.

There you go.

We’re two episodes in, and while the second episode was a marginal improvement on the first, there are still some things that bother me about the show, namely the familiarity of it all. Homage is one thing, retread is another, and, much like my issues with the recent remake of The Thing, I can’t abide lazy screenwriting, or the insulting assumption that painting over a classic and waving it in our faces will be enough to sate us. In other words, thus far I’ve seen nothing new, and the creators’ claims of “a scare a minute” have yet to bear fruit. And while I like the Lynchian weirdness of it all, and absolutely adore Jessica Lange’s character–who positively chews the scenery as if it were made by Wrigley’s, and may be the only reason I’m still watching it, I’m still waiting for the “a-ha!” moment where I’m finally convinced the writers have a unique avenue to explore. Because right now it looks like a rather dull mixture of every haunted house movie ever made (particularly The Shining and Rose Red), and while this may be startlingly scary and new for people to whom horror is usually a dirty word, the rest of us demand a lot more than hoary old ghosts carelessly dressed in modern costumes and then filmed with a camera attached to a paint-mixer. I’ll keep watching for now, in the hope that they have something up their sleeve that hooks me, but I’m not hopeful. In the meantime, I’ll keep tuning in to watch Jessica Lange vamp her deliciously insidious way through the cardboard cutout cast.

Push the envelope. Give us something original, and we’ll love you for it. Subject us to weekly reruns of The Amityville Horror by way of Twin Peaks, however, and you’ll lose all but those who find comfort in the security blanket of familiarity.

So what are your verdicts on these shows? Are there any shows I’m missing that I should add to the viewing list (please omit such insipid fare as True Blood and The Vampire Diaries, because you’d have to drag me naked and screaming over a field of broken glass before I’d agree to be subjected to them)?

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4 thoughts on “Intermission II: Horror on TV

  1. I have to say, I’m really enjoying this season of Dexter so far. That show never ceases to grab me hook, line, and sinker. It’s my idea of what television should be. I’ve only seen a few episodes of The Walking Dead here and there, but it looks like a good show. American Horror Story is currently on my list of shows that I watch. I do like the feel of it, though I worry that there are just going to be too many questions that they won’t address in a timely manner, which could be offputting. I’d at least like to know a little of what’s going on. But I’ll definitely keep watching. Looks like horror TV is making a bit of a comeback these days. Of course, the underdog of the genre, Supernatural, is already in its 7th season and, while it’s lost much of its old charm, it’s still holding its own.

  2. I tried watching a couple of episodes of SUPERNATURAL and just couldn’t get into it. Not sure why, because the premise appeals to me.

    And I agree, DEXTER is superb viewing.

    AMERICAN HORROR STORY has the stink of cancellation all over it, so answering questions in a timely manner might be advisable.

  3. DEXTER has been fantastic so far (especially the latest with the Tooth Fairy Killer), the first WALKING DEAD of season 2 was okay, but to me it seemed to be more of the same. Hoping it picks up the pace. I didn’t care for the first AMERICAN HORROR STORY, seeing way too many other “influences” within it, but I gave it another chance and thought the second episode was much better. We’ll see how the 3rd goes this evening…

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