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Should I Stick with 'Dexter' and 'Rescue Me'?

January 16, 2013|Stephen Markley

Perhaps I’m about to reveal too much about the massive amounts of television I watch, but when you have Netflix, you really don’t feel like you’re getting your money’s worth unless you’re hitting about five hours of solid programming a day.

Obviously, I have my “big” shows and my “backup” shows. My big shows are all the top-notch stuff I can’t wait to see on my queue: your basic “Mad Men” or “Breaking Bad” or “Homeland” or “Game of Thrones” or “Boardwalk Empire.” It’s all the stuff that’s usually only on disc and takes forever to get in the mail. Therefore, you gotta supplement your big shows with a smattering of backup shows.

This led me to watch season 1’s of both “Dexter” and “Rescue Me,” and I have to say, I’m pretty skeptical about continuing either. “Rescue Me” strikes me as overwrought and trying too hard to be funny, while “Dexter,” for all its twists and turns, has few interesting characters and feels plodding in working towards its eventual paint-by-numbers revelations. When I threw the question to Twitter, I got a totally unhelpful split decision. About half of those who responded told me not to bother while the other half said to stick with both, they get better, Lithgow is great in season 3, etc.

This also got me thinking a lot about how far television has come in the last decade. When both of these shows began they were seen as fresh, innovative, creative properties, and yet even in the approximate decade that has passed, the television serial has grown so much more complex and intricate and daring that these two shows show their ages at the seams.

Maybe that’s overthinking it, but when I stack an average episode of “Breaking Bad” with its literary flourishes and superb dialogue against the likes of “Dexter” and “Rescue Me” (understanding, yes, that they are different creatures), one seems the product of an novelistic brain while the others call to mind a high schooler writing and directing his idea of the reimagined serial killer or the troubled firefighter. Admittedly, it’s not quite as bad as turning on network TV or, God forbid, basic cable channels like TNT or USA. The big innovation in televised storytelling has been to move away from the network model, which requires that episodes stand alone, so that they can be syndicated, and that they’re written with a certain rhythm so that each commercial break has a minor cliffhanger. Moral ambiguity and narrative complexity are also basically brand new to TV in the last decade—or for shows that did attempt these things, a cohesive vision of where the story was headed (see the pile of dogshit that was “Lost”).

Having said that, finding a new backup show seems like a lot of work. I’m not sure I can dip a toe into “Downtown Abbey” and the entire notion of becoming a “Nashville” viewer would probably mortally wound my masculinity in ways that the “perineum exercises” (otherwise known as “kegels”) the yoga instructor had us doing the other day did not manage.

So I’m open to suggestions (for shows, not for more perineum exercises).

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