Monday, December 17, 2007

Bloody Merry

Last night was a battle of finales by the dueling subscription networks, Showtime and HBO. Showtime capped off a riveting season of Dexter while HBO closed out the highly under-appreciated BBC import, Extras.

With its explanatory voice-over and graphic details, Dexter really isn't the kind of show that leaves a lot to the imagination. This season alone we got to see Keith Carradine's ass and James Remar's vomit. And yet, even with all the detail, they were still able to keep us guessing and keep the suspense level rising every week. Thankfully, for the season finale, they also left very little to the imagination. It managed to release the tension not once, but twice, both in totally satisfying moments -- almost like perfect sex -- first with a shocking bang, and then with a whispered sigh.

Just as they'd effectively turned the tables and made me feel sorry for Doakes and somewhat sickened by Dexter, the writers used torchy Lila to keep Dexter's moral code intact by having her do away with Doakes. The show has first rate production, and the grand explosion that ended Doakes' life and sealed his fate as the strawman Bay Harbor Butcher was no exception. Great pyrotechnics. But the best detail wasn't the flames, it was Dexter's bounce in his step as he brought premium doughnuts into the mourning squad room the next day. The mask had to come back on after it was pointed out to him that it was no day for celebration for most folks. Of course, Masuka wasn't fazed and he gladly took a pastry.

Jennifer Carpenter had a good episode. I nearly expected her to go all "Emily Rose" on Lundy's ass when he was packing up to skip town, but she managed to keep her shit together.

The Big Cliche was actually used in this ep to get us back to sympathizing with Dex. For real, he actually saved children from a burning building. Not since The Outsiders have I seen such a blatant display of cheap manipulation and device. And yet, it was coming all season. I once referred to Lila as "smoking hot" but at the time didn't realize just how literal that description was. But more important than the singed eyebrows and saved children was Dexter coming to embrace his Dexterness through the fog of soot and smoke, and once again, he recovered his calm demeanor after being uncharacteristically rattled this season.

And then was the seductive send-off for Lila. In Paris, she immobilized with a spinal epidural, he whispering to her that this was as close as someone could get to him. His blade then slowly piercing her heart. That Dex, such a ladies man.

Michael C. Hall nabbed a Golden Globe nom for this role, and he deserves it. Viewers of the show can now enter to win a walk-on part in next season. So if you'd die for a chance to meet Michael or be on the show, do check it out here. (yes I entered)

If high suspense and gory goodbyes aren't your cup of tea, then perhaps well-mannered emotional torture and vivisection of pride is more to your liking. As fantastic as Dexter was this season, HBO proved why they're still the one to be envied with the series finale of Extras.

The brainchild of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, this unassuming show took a clever idea and spun it into pure gold. Ricky and Ashley Jensen played Andy and Maggie, a couple of pathetic film extras, with Stephen as his incompetent agent. The laughs were often grounded in humiliation, and it was a brilliant toss-off for major stars to skewer their own images. But as the first season closed, Ricky's Andy Millman found himself in a peculiar predicament. He'd penned a television show about a crazy boss and the BBC threw money at him to air it. The catch? They turned his show into an LCD, catch-phrase riddled piece of crap that embarrassed Andy. He had to make a choice -- either have artistic integrity, or take his one shot at fortune and hope to spin into later rewards.

The BBC show became a huge hit, but Andy became the butt of jokes among true actors. (David Bowie singing about the "little fat man who sold his soul, sold his dreams" in a crowded club as Andy had to listen with horror was particularly hilarious.) Everyone was having a laugh, but most of them were laughing at Andy, not with him.

The finale opens at Christmas, with Andy and Maggie out in a store, where the dolls of his character are stocked up and being outsold by Kramer dolls.

What follows is a series finale mining the dark side of fame for both laughs and tears. Clive Owen and George Michael show up, with Clive turning in the most blisteringly nasty degradation scene imaginable.

Though still a C-list celeb, Andy becomes a grade-A asshole in his confused pursuit of integrity, while also finding himself unable to let go of fame. His every attempt at legitimacy is so weighted with his own expectations that he manages to conduct a hilarious symphony of his own debasement, making him further miserable. Meanwhile, Maggie's fortunes and fate have gone from never-was to near-impoverished and she carries the soul throughout the show.

I was expecting the laughs, which were biting and uncomfortable. What I wasn't expecting was the heartbreak and sublime humanity as things got ever more wicked and treacherous.

At one point in the show, Andy's new agent, thoroughly frustrated, finally asks him, "What do you want? Do you want integrity and artistry? Or do you want to be rich and famous? Because only a handful of people in the world have both, and you will never be one of those people."

Andy makes his choice. But Ricky Gervais doesn't have to. With the brilliant finale of this show, he proves -- once again -- why he's one of the handful of people who's got both.

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