TV OT: Joe Goldberg v. Dexter Morgan: Sizing up TV’s serial killer kings. Plus, a critic’s conundrum

A strike is looming but the work on TV OT continues. Here’s this week’s column:

The bloody best of TV

The next few weeks are poised to be a regular serial killer spree with the return of Netflix’s “You” and Showtime’s “Dexter” in the form of a reboot titled “Dexter: New Blood.”

“You” returns with a season that finds Joe Goldberg and his homicidal better half, Love, making an escape to suburbia where old problems follow them to a new zip code. In “Dexter: New Blood,” killer Dexter Morgan is on a sort of self-created murder rehab journey with his Dark Passenger tied up in his trunk, so to speak.

Watching the screeners for these two shows — I’ve seen all of the third season of “You” and a few of the new “Dexter,” in addition to the whole original series — it’s easy to see where the comparisons come from. Joe and Dexter are both awkward dudes, killers who don’t necessarily want to be them and have a knack for getting themselves out of major trouble.

That’s sort of where the similarities end. The shows are fundamentally different in tone, with “You” leaning into humor and camp at times, and the characters’ motivations and methods for killing are incredibly dissimilar.

In one corner, you have Joe Goldberg. If I had to assign a cereal to represent this serial killer, he’d be Frosted Mini-Wheats — your average, sweet-seeming guy on the outside with a shredded mess on the inside. (Thank you, childhood trauma.) His bloodiest messes happen when Joe seemingly tries the hardest to avoid them. And when he does have a plan, it never seems to go to the way it was supposed to.

In the other corner is Dexter Morgan, the Raisin Bran of serial killers because he makes everyone feel regular. Dexter refers to his inner murderous monologue as his Dark Passenger, who gets the best of him when Dexter believes he’s seen a wrong and looks to balance the scales of justice — a White Knife, if you will. Dexter kills, in his mind, for the good of others — and for himself when necessary. That, in my mind, is what sets him apart from Joe the most, and why I’ll always ride for Team Dexter.

In many ways, Joe is often guided by the same DNA that turned Nate into a jerk on “Ted Lasso” — this belief that he’s deserving of good things at any cost because he’s been wronged in the past. (There’s a reason that “Ted Lasso” as a horror movie trailer landed so well.) Joe has his own share of White Knife moments, but his actions are largely in service of himself. For all his missteps in the past, Joe truly believes he’s deserving of a literary love story.

Dexter, meanwhile, knows he’s toxic. Though he’s tried in the past to deny it or pretend he can overcome it, he’s accepted the reality of his situation, which is why he lives in the woods, as seen in the previews for “New Blood.” I admire that Dexter knew what was not good for him and, at the end of the original series, had enough wisdom to try to remove himself from the situation.

It’s something we should all take a stab at when necessary.

Should you see streaming movies in theaters?

Next, CNN’s Brian Lowry on his critic conundrum.

“For years, I’ve had an informal policy: Try to review movies in theaters and watch TV shows at home, the same way the public would view them, in order to best serve as their surrogate.

Lately, this rather simple maxim — watch things the way that readers generally will — has been tested and blurred, thanks in part to the evolution of exhibition models hastened by the pandemic.

Streaming services still frequently push screening their movies in theaters. Frequently, these outlets arrange brief theatrical runs to qualify films for awards consideration, but let’s not kid ourselves: The number of people who will actually see a Netflix or Amazon release in theaters in the week or so they’re available is almost surely dwarfed by how many will watch them in the comfort of home. (Not that we’ll ever know, since streamers have been equally steadfast about not sharing box-office totals.)

As it happens, Oct. 22 brings a pair of movies following this model, part of a wave that will run through the rest of the year. ‘The Electrical Life of Louis Wain’ features Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy together in a lightweight tale with heavyweight leads that will spend two weeks in select theaters before landing on Amazon.

Netflix, similarly, is holding in-person screenings for ‘The Harder They Fall,’ a star-studded western riding into a few theaters before parking on the streamer Nov. 3.

Strictly as a practical matter, I can completely understand why these companies would like critics to see their movies in person. Certain films can play somewhat differently on a big screen, without noisy distractions.

That said, the bigger motivation appears to be stroking talent egos, using screenings and splashy premieres to make them feel like they’ve made a film that will be judged and spoken of in the same breath as theatrical fare.

Why filmmakers and stars would fall for that at this point, frankly, is somewhat mystifying. Because if the pandemic has demonstrated anything about movies, it’s that they can garner attention and praise when their first exposure comes via television, and critics ought to be able to judge a project’s merits — subjectively, obviously — without being unduly influenced by the size of the screen upon which they view it.

It’s worth noting, too, that studios have further clouded the issue, with Universal’s ‘Halloween Kills’ simultaneously streaming on Peacock and Warner Bros. (like CNN, part of WarnerMedia) making its full slate available on HBO Max. Given the tepid box-office reception for ‘The Sopranos’ prequel ‘The Many Saints of Newark,’ which I did see in a theater, series creator David Chase essentially made a movie for streaming despite his protestations to the contrary.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this discussion, but here’s one ink-stained wretch’s opinion: A critic’s primary duty is to provide an honest opinion to the people who read their work. What they owe to the distributors and filmmakers should be equally straightforward: A fair hearing.

Netflix, Amazon and those they employ might feel better knowing that their films are playing in theaters, just like ‘real’ movies, even if those lines have become increasingly irrelevant.

To critics and filmgoers who prefer that option, knock yourselves out. But like the lion’s share of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon subscribers in this strange age, more often than not, I’d prefer my meals to go.”

The most powerful presence in ‘What Happened, Brittany Murphy?’

Screeners for the documentary “What Happened, Brittany Murphy?,” which premiered this week on HBO Max, were made available to press ahead of time. I watched both parts in a single sitting last week and though the doc is abundant in shortcomings (i.e.: its inclusion of footage of conspiracy-driven YouTubers and gross interviews with retired officials that felt exploitative.) I can’t stop thinking about actress Kathy Najimy’s part in it. Najimy, known for her memorable roles in movies like “Sister Act” and “Hocus Pocus,” appears throughout the documentary speaking about her dear friend in a way that’s admirably vulnerable and completely heartbreaking.

She speaks about everything from her early interactions with Murphy to their friendship to her regrets. In one tough moment, she says she wishes she’d taken a more forceful approach to expressing her concerns for Murphy, wondering “why didn’t I just go over there and knock on the door all day long?”

Najimy is arguably the most recognizable face in the piece (though notable filmmakers like Amy Heckerling and Shawn Levy also appear) and that’s likely for a reason — and it’s likely not because the filmmakers didn’t reach out to many people. It takes courage to speak about friends in this way, especially late ones and especially in Hollywood.

If you’ve ever been in the position where you had to advocate for a friend or watched as they’ve been pulled from you, you know it’s incredibly difficult to take action. And even if you find it in yourself to do so, it doesn’t always work out. Though the documentary doesn’t do Murphy justice, Najimy clearly intended to — while she was on this Earth and now. And that’s admirable.

Feast on this

I couldn’t finish off this week’s column without a delicious recommendation: “La Frontera,” a food special from PBS and chef Pati Jinich. This two-part special in which Jinich travels the U.S./Mexico border will leave my fellow Texans hungry and homesick at the same time, as she captures the beauty of the people, food and culture. Its first episode debuted this week and the second airs Oct. 22. Now, who is going to overnight this McAllen, Texas native some brisket and flour tortillas?

The-CNN-Wire
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