Monday, September 27, 2010

Thrilling New Shows and Seasons

The new television season starts out with a bang with the welcome return of an old favorite, a stunning debut and the anxiously-awaited premiere of a new series that could bring zombies to the home screen in a big way.

Last night's opener of Dexter (Showtime) started off where last season's shattering finale left off—with Dexter (Michael C. Hall) coming home to discover wife Rita's body in the bathtub and his infant son crying and sitting in a pool of blood, exactly the same way he'd been found years before. Without Rita's warming presence to guide him, he is incapable of displaying his usual pretense of human emotion. He tells the police who arrive on the scene, "It was me," meaning, of course, that it was his fault—but they're quick to interpret his comment as an admission of guilt.

Even when he must deliver the shattering news to his now motherless stepchildren, Astor and Cody, all he can do is ape the words a funeral director said to him: "I'm very sorry for your loss." Sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) is willing to cut him some slack, assuming that he's still in shock, but when he won't snap out of it, even she begins to lose patience.

Worst of all, the guiding spirit of his father (James Remar) seems to have abandoned him as well, and Dexter feels truly alone—and for the first time, he doesn't want to be. He's furious at himself for not taking care of Trinity before he could get to Rita, but he's even more angry that he was unable to stop his Dark Passenger from spreading its poison into his family life. A flashback reveals that it started on their very first date—Rita meets Dexter at a restaurant, but he quickly excuses himself when he sees a victim he'd been stalking and hurries out to finish his business. With both the FBI and his fellow officers regarding him with suspicion, he decides to destroy the evidence of his past and take off on his beloved boat—the "Slice of Life" (I love that). I was worried that it was going to become a serial killer road trip, which would have been a shame since the characters surrounding him have been so painstakingly developed, but fortunately Dexter returns to Rita's funeral to deliver her eulogy and face the music.

Last season, with the outrageously evil (and Emmy winning) John Lithgow as Trinity, was dynamite, but this one has all the makings to be a real zinger too. Never before has Dexter felt so exposed and unsure of himself, and Deb is coming closer than ever to finding out what he really is. Speaking of Deb, she's quite the little tramp, having a kitchen floor quickie with partner Quinn (Desmond Harrington) after they clean up the murder scene(!). And Lieutenant LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) and Sergeant Batista (David Zayas) are now married, but it looks like their relationship is gonna be a bumpy ride, too.

Hall is playing Dexter with his usual reserve, but it's breaking down. This season's storyline could bring some real jolts and surprises...and perhaps finally one of those elusive golden statuettes for America's favorite serial killer.

Speaking of Showtime, I'm delighted to see that Weeds seems to have regained its footing this season. After a couple of good years, it wandered away from its original premise (pot-dealing suburban Mom) and replaced it with unbelievable (and unbelievably boring) scenarios. Maybe it was stoned and forgot what it was doing? Fortunately, the family is working as a team again—on the run and in danger—and that's just the way I like it.

After the "meh" season finale of True Blood, I wondered what HBO could possibly do to take its place, but when I watched the debut of Boardwalk Empire, my wishes were fulfilled...and then some. Man, this is a great show!

Based on the true story of Atlantic City official and unofficial crime boss Nucky Johnson, it's an absolutely compelling show with lush period settings and fun modern-day sex and violence. Steve Buscemi plays Nucky, given the new surname Thompson for legal reasons, and he's terrific. With his reedy voice, pop eyes and mouth full of miscellaneous teeth, you wouldn't think Buscemi would be able to pull off this type of role, but he really does.

He's supported by a wonderful cast, including Michael Pitt as Jimmy Darmody, Thompson's former driver, whose ambition and grudge against his ex-boss is developing deliciously and dangerously; Michael Shannon as FBI Agent Nelson Van Alden, who wants to expose Thompson's criminal activities and whose extremely buttoned-up demeanor seems to be concealing a secret that's set to explode; and the charming Kelly McDonald as Margaret Schroeder, a young Irish immigrant whose abusive husband Thompson orders to be rubbed out.

Executive produced by Martin Scorcese (whose welcome hand is all over this project) and created by Terence Winter (The Sopranos), this is definitely appointment television...and if maintains this compelling pace, it'll be another triumph for HBO.

And I absolutely can't wait for The Walking Dead on AMC, which is appropriately making its debut on Halloween night. Based on the Robert Kirkman comic book, it chronicles the efforts of a group of people trying to survive a zombie apocalypse.

Any regular reader of Weird Movie Village knows I love me some undead types, and this looks look it could be a real winner. Created by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), whose adaptation of Stephen King's The Mist was admirably tense and bizarre, it's got a good pedigree. The only question I have is how they're going to keep it compelling over multiple episodes. Not having been a reader of the comic books, I don't know the storyline, so I'm looking forward to a delightful surprise.

It's funny how AMC has evolved. Beginning as a classic movie channel, it changed formats when Turner Classic Movies became the Big Dog in that department. It started running edited-for-television theatrical films, which I thought was really irrelevant in the age of pay cable, but then came roaring back with originals like Mad Men and Breaking Bad (another of my favorite shows). Will The Walking Dead be another jewel in its crown? We'll find out soon.

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