I’m in love with two men. And no, it’s definitely not like you’re thinking.
I have just finished the first season of one of the best dramas I’ve ever seen. Focused around a man struggling with the inner desire to kill (bad people only) and struggling to deal with it while attempting to life a somewhat normal life, Dexter isn’t just awesome – it’s absolutely amazing.
To understand the Dexter Morgan character is challenging in a lot of ways as it forces the viewer to assess their own inner dark alleys and assess what they would do given Morgan’s near-insatiable desire to kill, his role as a real Dark Knight to avenge the wrongs that slip by the rights.
Funny, violent and emotionally charged, the show has rich character development, well-thought out stories and people you actually care about watching. I was hooked from the first hour and just began Season 2. (It’ll be done within a week – guaranteed.)
Less than a month ago, I was introduced to another man, a successful book writer struggling with his own inner demons and the desire to do right by his family – who he desperately is trying to get back with as they live with another man. The sexually charged and alcohol-soaked life of Hank Moody is one that plays out on Californication, a show I began to watch at the urging of a friend. Starring David Duchovny of X Files fame, this is merely a well-written and entertaining release from the dregs of normal TV. It’s a half-hour of all of our favorite vices, carried out and played by a guy that is trying to do right but is doing it so wrong. It’s a show for adults…imagine that!
Both characters I absolutely love to watch (hence the afore-mentioned man love) and the stories they are involved in are gripping. What do they both have in common? They are on Showtime, who has joined HBO side-by-side as a major power player in pay-cable original programming, And in some ways, they’ve surpassed them.
At one point, HBO was…well…HBO. With revolutionary shows like The Sopranos, Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm, there was always a reason to keep an HBO subscription. But then, Entourage and Curb took long creative breaks, The Wire came to an end and Tony and the gang faded to black. With the emergence in online rentals and services like Netflix, watching movies simply wasn’t a good enough reason to keep it, neither was the rest of the original programming they offered.
Showtime – who has attempted time after time to create some hits – continued to throw darts at the wall and eventually some like Dexter (2006) and Californication (2007) started to connect. It became clear that HBO had lost that ‘it’ – the same ‘it’ that inspired them to produce Emmy award-winning shows and programs that had people talking the next day.
To me, the tipping point was when the network tried to debut a new show – John From Cincinnati – right after the Sopranos finale. This was a huge error in judgment as they had to know that there was going to be a lot of talk following the infamous fade to black and that a viewership coming to grips with the finality of The Sopranos weren’t interested in emotionally investing in another show. It wasn’t the time to attempt to grab a lead-in audience.
Meanwhile, characters like Moody and Morgan began to hit it off with the public, creating a trifecta of cross-pollinating hits with the very popular Weeds. After years of few hits and plenty of misses, Showtime was a buzz word for original programming. Because of that, viewers are finding other shows (The Tudors, Brotherhood, The L Word) they like, thus building a great reputation for future Showtime launches.
But thankfully, HBO is making a strong charge yet again. Entourage just completed another fun season and will return again in ’09, Tru Blood is another hit drama, debuting at a perfect time to capture the Twilight crowd. Flight Of The Conchords returns this weekend and Real Time With Bill Maher remains as my favorite political show ever. It seems like there is finally some competition for HBO and now Showtime has a reason to fight back. (Dexter just completed its third season and Californication recently wrapped its second year.)
As 24, Lost and others start to transition out of production, there needs to continue to be standard bearers for pushing the creative envelope. HBO took the idea of traditional networks and tossed it on its head. FX has gained praise for pushing the limits with regular cable programming. It’s nice to see that Showtime finally earned its invitation to the party.