Monday, October 29, 2007

Dexter: bloody, funny and bloody funny

Just finished watching the first season of Dexter on DVD, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'd seen the first couple of episodes before and loved the premise, but hadn't quite been gripped. But watching all twelve episodes in the space of a week gave the show much more impact and momentum. It's the story of a serial killer who's been given a moral code to only kill killers. The fact is also a blood spatter forensic expert for the Miami police just adds to the fun and games. Lots of mordantly dark humour, and it pulls off The Sopranos' trick of making you root for a murdering sociopath.

There are some TV dramas that seem to work best when watched in batches, a feat most easily achieved with a DVD boxed set. They tend to be heavily serialised shows, the likes of Lost, 24, Heroes and indeed Dexter. I was finding it impossible to watch Heroes when transmitted weekly by the BBC. I was always missing episodes even with them repeated on a seemingly endless loop, something we'll be getting more of with the Beeb's money worries impacting the programming schedule. But importing the DVDs of season one from the US meant I could watch it all in clumps, slotted in around my mapcap schedule of recent weeks.

I'd never even try to watch 24 except from the boxed set, ditto Lost. Standalone procedurals like CSI can be watched as and when they appear. [Well, they could if I could get Five on my TV aerial.] There's not a lot of heavy serialisation on British TV dramas, outside soaps and other continuing dramas. When there is, the shows in question tend to have much shorter runs than their American counterparts. The stunning series Five Days earlier this year got a lot of power and resonance from its particular format, showing five different days from a missing person case that stretched over several months.

Perhaps I'm being spoiled the way DVDs make entire seasons of a show available for gorging. To get that experience, you have to wait until several months - sometimes nearly a year - after the season have finished to buy the boxed set. But that's less of an issue when you're waiting on a US series that doesn't get showcase transmission on this side of the Atlantic, as happened to the stunning Friday Night Lights. That got buried on ITV4, a channel not available to schlubs like me who only get four terrestrial stations, no cable, no digital, no satellite.

There's an analog for this situation in comics. It's known as waiting for the trade. Most new comics are published as monthly pamphlets, with 22 pages of story inside. Many stories are now published in multi-issue arcs, building up into a complete tale told over four, six or even twelve issues. Only that story is complete, it's republished as a graphic novel collection - much the same way as a complete season of Heroes, CSI or Doctor Who are collected in a DVD boxed set. [Let's not get into the annoying habit of some UK companies to split DVD collections of the most popular US TV series into two parts, the worst kind of bait and switch tease.]

The problem in comics is plenty of people have given up buying the original, monthly comics because they know it will be reprinted as a trade paperback five minutes after the last issue of the story arc sees print. As a consequence, monthly comic sales are struggling. There's certain companies who published their monthly titles at breakeven levels or even a loss, knowing sales of the trade will bring the gravy. The pamphlets are empheral, the book version can be kept in print for years. The monthly comic acts as a loss leader for the trade. [Let's not get into why original graphic novels don't work economically, that's another ball of wax.]

Now, I can't see DVD boxed sets ever replacing original broadcasts. But the surge in TV on demand and online broad[band]casting is making the original transmission less and less important. The rating for that initial broadcast are shrinking, but the overall numbers for popular shows will remain high - if they can be measured accurately. Across the Atlantic the ratings people are struggling to find the best way of measuring total viewers, bearing in mind time-shift viewers who use Tivo and other recording devices to watch a show when they want. Add online viewing and it gets even more complicated.

Anyway, I recommend Dexter if you enjoy bleak humour and a good mystery. Not just funny, not just bloody, it's bloody funny.


Dylan said...

You're right there David. I love the Wire could possibly be the best TV series ever, but I'm not sure I would have stuck with it watching it an episode a week with 15 mins of ads there too. Same goes for Heroes on Sc-fi I gave up after a few, it's been better watching it on BBC 2 though.

Simon Fraser said...

Dexter Season 2 is turning out to be just as good if not better than Season 1.
Also check out 'Mad Men' when it hits DVD.
Too much good stuff to watch right now.

Grant said...

I think series premiering as DVD sets could work, but I think you'd be looking at much shorter seasons - 6 episodes, maybe.

W. R. Logan said...

thought Dexter was the best thing on telly for ages.
between that & reruns of the west wing it was the only thing on my sky+ box