Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Fall ’08 Season TV Blitz, Day 7: Third Down for Dexter and Friday Night Lights

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 7, 2008

(Sunday, 9:00-10:00 PM, Showtime)

New Cast: Jimmy Smits

Where We’re At Now: After finishing up with Doakes, Lila and all the unpleasantness from season two, Dexter Morgan is a new man, at peace in his relationship with Rita, his past with his father, and his controversial predilections. His idyllic frame of mind is disrupted when, on a routine mission at the house of a murderous drug dealer, he finds the drug dealer struggling with a man he does not know, and Dex ends up killing the man in self defense while the drug dealer escapes. Turns out the man is not your typical scumbag at the end of Dexter’s knife, but the cop hero brother of the assistant district attorney (Smits), who does not take his brother’s slaying lightly. Meanwhile, Rita has a surprise announcement waiting for Dex…

Thoughts: More than any of the returning shows this season (well, of the decent ones anyway), I questioned the need for another season of Dexter. Season two avoided the sophomore slump and then some, making for some of the most scintillating TV of the decade at its peak. But it ended conveniently, unsatisfyingly and extremely uncovincingly, and with Dexter’s true nemesis of the first two seasons sadly out of the picture. Meanwhile, Dexter seemed pretty conclusive about not fighting what he is anymore, and to see him perpetually waffling on that would’ve been about as compelling as whether or not Meredith and McDreamy end up together at the end of this season of Grey’s. Unless the show was willing to have him get caught–an idea it toyed with tantalizingly last season, but ultimately didn’t have the stomach for–it seemed like there wasn’t much more of Dexter Morgan left to see.

Give the show credit, then, for throwing two potentially interesting wrenches into the mix. The show nearly forced Dexter to confront the possibility of having murdered an innocent when he didn’t know what to do with Doakes at the end of last season, but allowed Lila to off him without permission while Dexter just tut-tutted at her and pretended not to be glad for her assistance. We don’t know yet exactly what the deal with Dex’s latest victim is, but given his uneasy rapport with Smits (who still looks pissed off about Cane not becoming the next Sopranos), clearly the pangs of conscience might be getting to him for the first time. Meanwhile, the idea of there being a little Morgan running around in nine months is certainly one rife with possibility–can Dexter stand to take responsibility for another life, when he’s taken so many of his own? Cheesy, I guess, but provocative nonetheless.

Still Hot / Worth Sticking With?: Too early to call, but for there to even be a possibility of forward progress after exhausting so much in the first two seasons is another credit on the show’s eventual Hall of Fame resume.

Friday Night Lights
(Wednesday, 9:00-10:00 PM, DirecTV)

New Cast: None Permanent

Where We’re At Now: Coach and the Panthers is forced to go into a quasi-rebuilding year after the injury to Smash Williams eliminated them from title contention the year prior. Smash attempts to get back to full-strength for college, while Riggins takes over his role as starting tailback and Saracen fights off pressure from the school’s hot new freshman QB prospect, and his rich, manipulative father. Landry and Tyra are on a relationship break while the latter frets about getting into college and not ending up like her mom and sis, and Tim and Lyla are back in full effect, but Lyla worries about displaying it in public. Meanwhile, Tami has taken over principal duties at school, and discoveres that taking care of the whole school isn’t so easy, especially when so much of the time, energy and money is devoted to the Panthers.

Thoughts?: I might’ve thought that Dexter shouldn’t or wouldn’t come back, but I figured there was no way that Friday Night Lights would even have the possibility of coming back. After NBC politely ran out the clock on the season and two-thirds of the show that they ordered to air, despite perpetually sub-mediocre ratings and a truly mystifying lack of Emmy consideration, it seemed inevitable that the channel would wash its hands of the show, which would collect its consolation prize of Brilliant But Cancelled cult status. So sure did the show’s demise seem that I even prematurely Eugooglized it last February. But in a comeback even more improbable than the Panthers’ come-from-behind State victory in the S1 finale, in comes the DirecTV channel (which I’m still not convinced even exists beyond this show) to resurrect the show’s third season, freeing it from the commercial burdens and expectations of a major network timeslot in the process.

So it’s hard to be too picky about a show where, from here on out, every episode is pretty much a bonus. Not that there’s too much to be picky about in the first place, though–going back to Dillon in the fall is like all the great parts about going back to school (seeing your friends and acquaintances again, catching up on the summer gossip) without actually having to go back to school. Most things are pretty status quo at the moment, though Tami as principal is certianly going to lead to some interesting splits on the unified Taylor front, as she continues to fight for school supplies and education benefits to the detriment of Coach’s team (and brings up the question, for maybe the first time in the show’s run, of just how important High School football really should be in Texas).

The show comes into trickier territory for the first time with regards to the graduating class of ’08–namely, Jason Street and Smash Williams. Street was nowhere to be found this episode, after spending last season quititng the Panthers and then knocking up a waitress in a semi-immaculate conception, but Smash is still in the picture (albeit only as a guest star now), with coach helping him try to regain his speed and his confidence after last season’s potentially career-ending injury. Keeping Smash around for the time being isn’t necessarily a problem, but once characters start hovering around a show when they have no real reason to be there, that’s when a show is closer to its end than its beginning. Here’s hoping the creators realize this soon enough, cut the cord with Jason and Smash, and start to rebuild around a new crop.

Still Hot / Worth Watching?: Most definitely. With the official retirement of The Wire, Friday Night Lights is rivaled only by Dexter and Mad Men as the natural heir to the Best Drama Alive throne, and season three shows no sign of slippage thusfar.

One Response to “Fall ’08 Season TV Blitz, Day 7: Third Down for Dexter and Friday Night Lights”

  1. Eric said

    Smash and Jason are each getting four-episode mini arcs to “finish their stories”, and then they’ll be gone from the show. So no risk of not being able to cut the cord, unless that changes.

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