TV Stuff: From The Bloody To The Baldie – The Collapse of ‘Dexter’ and Knockout Of ‘Breaking Bad’

Breaking Bad & Dexter

I can’t say much more about Breaking Bad than hasn’t been said already from all of you. Nearly all that have seen it love it, and the final dance with the bald devil is setting new personal records by the week. It’s so good that I don’t need to tell you it’s so good.

But on a weekly basis, I can’t help but compare it to another anti-hero Sunday series coming to a close in Dexter. Just a few years ago, I wrote in this very space how entranced I was by all that was Dexter, and I still consider its first season and the amazing fourth ‘Trinity Killer’ season among my favorite in TV history. That’s why it’s infuriating how badly the series has tumbled, especially in this final turn.

I’m stunned this season’s premiere yielded series record ratings, and how the viewership numbers have stayed equally consistent throughout the year. Perhaps it’s because we’re all looking for the end game payoff and ultimately the answer to the question of whether Dexter Morgan will have to atone for his sins. But instead of a pulse-pounding cat and mouse chase between the Miami P.D. and Dexter or an excellently woven tale that puts everyone at odds, we’ve been left with a dull, bland, emotionless ride that is unfit of a character that played a special role in bringing Showtime to the hour-long drama table.

The main problem is this cast of characters isn’t really that interesting. Do we really care about Deb, Quinn, Masuka, or Angel Batista? I mean, seriously, do you? The amount of time spent on Masuka and his newly-discovered daughter is mind-numbing. What is the point? Perhaps if they were in pursuit of Dexter, and we were allowed to go through the emotions of them realizing everything they knew about their friend was a lie, would they actually have an impact. Instead, everyone is just taking up time in a story that isn’t any good.

And Harrison, poor Harrison, is relegated to being involved in one of the worst scenes in recent TV history. Watch this over and over. It gets better and worse at the same time. The show has devolved into something you’d see on a new CBS campaign called ‘CBS After Dark’. (As Showtime and CBS are owned by Viacom, this can’t be a coincidence.) It looks like a more gory version of CSI or any other of those Tiffany Network cop procedurals, doesn’t it?

So as Dexter plods towards its series finale Sunday, what are hoping to learn? Ultimately, does he escape with Hannah and Harrison (cute family names, eh?) to Argentina and beat the storm, does he die, or does he stay? Does anyone learn anything? What about the son of the psychiatrist we were supposed to care about? Do we care if Deb lives?

Meanwhile, all eyes and minds will be on the Breaking Bad bullet train with two episodes remaining and still so much to unravel. But in history, have you been more confident in a satisfying conclusion ever? While one show took the ‘That show went how long?’ route, another is doing its damndest to ensure you never, ever forget their name. Ever.

Dexter Series Suggestion: Watch Dexter seasons 1-4 for sure, and 5-6 if you have time. Skip 7 and 8. We’ll tell you what happens.

Breaking Bad Suggestion: Watch every episode of Breaking Bad several times, and then, watch them again in different languages.

Other TV Stuff

  • I finished up the second season of The Newsroom, and overall, it was pretty good. It was a good chance of pace from the first season where they seemed to be ahead of every story before every other news outlet. Without a doubt, it’s a very ‘smart’ show that sometimes gets too deep into heady dialogue that normal people would never say in conversation. I feel like I should add in a snarky line about Aaron Sorkin, but I haven’t watched much else of his TV outside Studio 60.
  • I have a few things to say about the news of a Walking Dead spinoff, but I’ll save those for next week.
  • Starting to collect dust on the DVR: Ray Donovan. I’m roughly three behind for no other reason than time.
  • Just kicked off: Sons Of Anarchy, It’s Always Sunny, and The League.
  • And now, your 12-minute moment of Zen:
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My Slight Unexpected Obsession With Man V. Food

Adam Richman - Man v. FoodA note to any current or aspiring cable TV programmers: never underestimate what viewers you can pick up at the wee hours of the morning.

In recent years when I visited my friend Rob in Portland, ME, we’d come back from the bars and occasionally, he’d have an episode or two of The Travel Channel’s Man v. Food on his DVR. I always thought the show was really entertaining but always forgot about it after I left…even after I found myself watching a marathon after everyone else had passed out.

Almost three weeks ago, Rob told me the show did an episode in/around Portland, so I had to watch. In the process, I decided to start DVR’ing the series in case there were a few others along the way that were worth my time.

In that time, something crazy happened. It seems I’ve become a bit of an addict (think TV antenna instead of heroin needles).

As it stands today, I’ve torn through at least 40 of the 56 episodes and have no plans to quit until I’m completely caught up. I watch a couple episodes at night and maybe one if I come home for lunch. Alright…maybe two at lunch.

For the love of Monte Cristo, what’s happened to me?

If you’re not familiar with MvF (yep, I’m now using the acronym), it’s a 30-minute show that revolves around host Adam Richman and his travels across the country to take on various mass quantity and heat/spice-centric eating challenges. As I’ve watched, it’s incredible to note just how many of these various challenges there are and I don’t think he’s even come close to scratching the surface.

The show does get formulaic at times, especially when you rip through several at a time. The show essentially breaks down like this:

– Opening sequence where Richman lays out the location, challenge and a challenge-related pun.

– Intro of the city he’s in and a stop by a local restaurant for one of their famous dishes. Phrases like “mouth-watering”, “savory” and “delicious” are thrown around liberally.

– Hunger usually ensues at this point. Never watch this show on an empty stomach. EVER.

– After the first commercial, the 36-year-old Richman takes us to another local spot for another famous offering. These stops are where the show really shines as Richman is masterful at illustrating what makes these places so important to the city. It is The Travel Channel, but it’s still noteworthy how well done it is.

– Another commercial and we get the challenge itself where Richman shows how everything is made, usually feigning fear and spitting out more quips, and then, it’s on. He even has a crowd around him, filling the dining establishment to cheer him on as he shovels food and drink down his gullet.

– Halfway through the challenge, we get another commercial but not before a tease that Richman is struggling with the challenge (conflict!).  We return, he either succeeds or fails and that’s the show.

And that, my hungry friends, is MvF in a nicely wrapped 24-minute bow.

So what makes it so good? Mostly, this guy:

Richman is instantly likable and looks unlike most hosts on these types of shows. Slightly overweight, he comes off like a normal person and acts as if he’s having the time of his life. I learned that he is a trained actor and you can tell as there’s a bit of ham (pun slightly intended) in his act, but it works. His trademark “MMMMMMMMMMMMM!” when he samples something he likes is worthy of a drinking game.

(I keep thinking of how to put together an MvF drinking game, but that seems too far….or maybe not far enough. I need help.)

The producers and those that line up the locations before hand are the unsung heroes as they always seem to connect with the region he’s visiting. For the Portland edition, I honestly had never heard of Trade Winds where he did his challenge (it’s in Arundel, which is just outside Portland) but he also hit up Nosh in town and a seafood restaurant in Cape Elizabeth. It was a wide variety but also a great slice (pun!) of the area’s food offerings.

But every stop seems so interesting to go to. After the Durham/Raleigh/Chapel Hill, NC, edition, I texted my friend Brittain (a UNC grad) to see if she had been to one of the locations. It creates immediate destinations to visit upon visiting some of these locales, key when you’re visiting Butte, Montana, Boise, Idaho or Richmond, VA.

There are some hokey spots in each show (the forced crowd prompts as Richman eats and the post-challenge “press conference” questions are awkward at times), but when you’re talking about a show that is about a guy doing food challenges across the U.S., I suppose that comes with the territory.

Why do I like it?

I’m not a big travel show or food show type of guy, but there’s something about Man v. Food that I can’t shake. Perhaps it’s because I’d love to travel around…or maybe because I rarely cook for myself…or simply because I find it so awesome that each of these cities has their own unique niche of food and there’s a story behind it.

No matter what it is, MvF doesn’t make you work too hard mentally and will make you chuckle from time to time. Isn’t that we really want with shows like this?

With the Billy Burger challenge right here in Manchester, NH, perhaps one day I can meet my new hero in person and be one of the hokey people cheering him in the background.

A boy can dream, can’t he?

Josh Nason is a freelance journalist for hire, writing on mixed martial arts (UFC), Boston sports and email marketing but dabbling in his loves of music, comics, movies, TV and more. Follow him at Twitter and make his day, will ya?

Folding Jacks: Saying Good-Bye To LOST and 24

I’m no TV historian, but I can’t imagine there have been back-to-back nights like a week ago where two iconic TV shows came to a close like LOST and 24 did.

Within a span of 24 hours, two programs that combined for 313 hours of original content (13 days!) went into that celluloid good night, leaving some fans sad, some angry and others simply wondering what they’re going to do now.

Just like that, we don’t have Jack Shephard and Jack Bauer to kick around anymore.

Jack gets FOUND

I thought the finale was great, but leave it to the creators of LOST to split people down the middle, even turning those who didn’t even watch against the show. Call it the pack mentality, but for those who feel like they somehow got screwed over or “wasted their lives” because they didn’t get every single answer they were looking for, I’d say to take a deep breath and watch it again.

Finales of great shows are always up against an impossible standard: to satisfy everyone who came along for the ride. Unfortunately, this nearly never happens as everyone is looking for something different. With LOST, the expectation level for the close out got ratcheted up 100%.

A show this in-depth and this detailed could have never come to an end that would satisfy all the fans unless it was six hours long and even then, something like explaining that wacky Lighthouse would have been missed. And why did that statue only have four toes? I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

I’m not going to make you slog through more LOST finale conjecture and opinion as there’s enough on the interwebs to last a lifetime, but I will say this. The show’s character-driven story is really what I liked and is probably why I’m on Team I Like It when it came to the final 2.5 hours. Did it take some effort to understand? Of course. Was it a bit heady? Yes.

But another great line I heard was this, “To expect to be able to explain everything with a show like this an hour after it concluded was probably pretty unrealistic.”  It’s going to take time and another rewatch of everything to bring things full circle. God forbid the creators leave some threads up to imagination and interpretation…how dare they!

Regardless, I’m really going to miss Dr. Jack Shephard.

Out of all the characters on the show, I found myself gravitating most toward Shephard, the good doctor who finally found his redemption with the closing of an eye and our pal Vincent The Wonder Dog right next to him.

The thing I liked about him was that he was always trying to do right even if it came with pitfalls and mistakes along the way. To succeed, you need to fail and Jack definitely did a lot of both.

As the series evolved, Jack’s battles with Sawyer and Locke for alpha male of The Island were polarizing for some viewers who became drawn to Locke’s own spiritual evolution and those who preferred the bad guy persona of Sawyer. Jack became an easy guy to disregard and get annoyed with. Not for me. I always thought Jack was the man.

Maybe it was the on-again, off-again dance with eternal soulmate Kate, his search for introspection, his desire to lead and save people or maybe that cool-looking unexplained collage of tattoos on his left arm, but Jack and I? We connected, man. If he was real, I think he would be cool to hang out with, even in his giant beard, Scentless Apprentice-listening post-Island days. That was one of the great things about the show. With the ensemble that LOST put together, everyone had their favorites (except Sun and Jin…no one liked them).

But now, Jack’s long strange trip has concluded. He battled Smoke Monsters, his father’s memories, Others and most of the time, himself. The epic 120+ hour thrill ride that was LOST may be complete, but we met a lot of memorable friends along the way. I can’t think of a show ever being this good again or mean this much to so many.

Just don’t tell me that the finale completely invalidated the experience of watching the show.

The Clock Runs Out

Then, there was the 24 finale best described as “two-hour trailer for the 24 movie.” Spoiler alert: Jack is still alive and well, still running, still searching and still kicking ass after completing his eighth tour of duty in 24-hour format.

When 24 first started, it was a novel concept in looking at a full day’s worth of action spread out over the course of an entire season. Kiefer Sutherland’s playing of Bauer – a military-trained and honed bad ass that was a little bit Vic Mackie, a little bit Chuck Norris and a little bit Clint Eastwood – was spot on, the kind of guy you want to root for and watch because it’s just the American thing to do. Protect, serve, ask for nothing in return and then come back to do it again.

But as the series rolled on (especially starting with Season 5), the show really started to fall off. That once-fresh 24-hour format became stale. The things we used to overlook (no 5 o’clock shadow, no one eating or even with heavy bags under their eyes) became too much when combined with the following:

  • Jack always got the shaft: Seriously, how many times can a guy save the country before they stop questioning his every move? I think once would be enough for me, but after the fourth time, it became tougher to swallow.
  • Another CTU mole: Just me or would a simple background check have filtered out the annual CTU mole? I mean, once was good. But every season featured either a double-agent in CTU or the US government. It got to be an old and predictable gimmick, not an interesting turn.
  • Too many familiar characters killed off: I think the worm turned for me when Curtis Manning – one of Jack’s fellow CTU agents and friends – was killed by Bauer in Season 6. The next season, it was former CTU head Bill Buchanan. President David Palmer – played so awesomely by Dennis Haysbert – was assassinated at the beginning of season 5. Even Jack’s BFF Tony Almeida turned against him and got the bullet.With every character killed off, the show lost a bit of its soul and as a result, the human balance of Bauer.When it became a storyline in the final season that Renee Walker and Bauer were going to be a romantic item, I thought I saw the end of the show coming: the two riding off happily into the sunset after another successful day saving the world. A Russian sniper’s bullet changed that. The show really had an amazing cast of characters but more of them should had been around to see the end, not Freddie Prinze Jr.

The finale was good, but not great – fueled by the trap door that a movie deal had already been signed. Jack wasn’t going to die a fantastic hero-worthy death or allowed to be happy. No, he simply was born to run and until the 24 movie hits theaters, that’s exactly what he’s going to do.

While every TV season brings new shows that attract viewers and create buzzworthy talking points for millions, it’s going to be hard to top what LOST and 24 have been able to do for the better part of the past decade.

But like a photo album that brings back memories, that’s what DVD sets are for.

Josh Nason is a freelance journalist who has penned pieces for FIGHT! Magazine, Apollo (Australia) Magazine, Manchester Magazine and more. While he loves to write about mixed martial arts, blogging about music and observations on life are passions as well. Follow him at Twitter.