Monday, March 24, 2014

The Butchering of The Bay Harbor Butcher

I put it off long enough. For the last two seasons I pained my way through the slow decay of one of my favorite TV shows of all time. I dragged that last season out to almost a year after it ended...but tonight was the night. I have finally finished "Dexter".

Before I get into this I'm going to reveal how I wanted the show to end. I've never been one to write fan fiction, but if ever there were cause to do so, this is it. 

I came up with this theory after season four's brilliant finale, and I felt so proud of it. Season five would happen in real time, and after that there would be a huge jump in time. Harrison would be in his teenage years and would be killing squirrels and neighborhood dogs. After all, just like Dexter, the death of his mother would have left him permanently scarred. Dexter would try to teach him The Code, but wouldn't be able to bring himself to reveal who he was to his son. He couldn't scar him more, he had to protect what was left. 

Naturally, Deb would find out who Dexter was, and, being true to her character, would force herself to turn him in. Not wanting to hurt anyone any more, Dexter would abandon his life in Miami and go on the run. The last season would follow the fugitive Dexter Morgan as he tried to outrun the police. But in the end, Harrison would catch-up with him. Just like Dexter did for his brother, Harrison would put Dexter in his own kill room, and take his life the way Dexter took so many others'. The last shot would be coupled with a final narrative from Dexter as his life ran out of him.  Fade to black.

But oh no. The writers didn't want to bother with well-constructed plots and foreshadowing and all that awesome writer stuff.  Harrison's not a serial killer, the world never finds out who the real Bay Harbor Butcher was....Dexter doesn't even get arrested.

I'll give this to you writers: you almost had me. Despite the ridiculous and impossible events that led up to it, when Dexter dropped his sister in the water and sailed off to kill himself...the tears built nevertheless. I came this close to crying over the end of a once-great TV show. Sure, the rest of the episode, hell, the rest of the season may have been complete shit written by the seat of your pants...but at least you made a tear-jerker out of the final moment.

But oh no.

He's not dead. He's a lumberjack! And he's ok. He sleeps all night and he works all day.

I shouldn't be surprised. If I hadn't been so far behind I would have live-tweeted this season about how farfetched it was. Every episode felt like the men and women of the writer's room just went: 

" let's introduce this psychiatrist who actually knew about him his whole life, basically made him who he was, and never wanted to meet him until now." 
"Yeah, yeah...and what if this random under-five character turns out to be her son!" 
"...who's really going to be the main antagonist of-"
"-The last four episodes!"
"And how about in the last two episodes we introduce the concept of hurricanes!"
"Oh yeah, we're in Miami...but somehow we made it through eight years without that ever being a thing!"
"You think anyone will notice?"
"Nah...we got away with there being a new serial killer in Miami every couple of months."
"True, they haven't even noticed we completely forgot he has two adopted step kids."

I don't think I'm far off. With all the great villains the show made over the years...the final season just decided not to have one. In its place, a bunch of loose ends that...kind of get tied up? There are too many moments to mock and too many out-of-character moves to dissect for me to even begin. Instead, all I can do is sit here and be sad. 

There was a time the start of a new "Dexter" would be such a thrill. I'd hear those first few notes and I'd smile right along with Dexter as he smacked that pesky mosquito. But towards the end I couldn't even bring myself to pay attention to the full episode. I'd dream about the days where John Lithgow was on the screen, the story was actually pretty brilliant, and the twists were shockers instead of poorly conceived deus ex machinas.

It's unfortunate that there isn't more to say, but even the actors didn't seem to want a part of the final season. There were no interviews, no talk show appearances...everyone just stopped caring. Poor Michael C. Hall did his best up there, but even his brilliance couldn't save this train wreck. "Dexter" suffered a long and painful downward spiral. When I think of this show, I will do my best to focus on the good times: Biney, Trinity, Rita, Miguel, The Skinner...hell, by the end I even missed Doakes and Lila, and I hated those two. 

Now I will begin my plan of reading the novels. Originally I saved them so I'd have something to continue the legacy with. Now I will read them to hopefully restore it.

Rest in peace, Dex...I'm sorry they did this to you.

I understand there's talk of a spin-off. Producers, consider my above alternate ending my application for the writer's room. And uh...I guess...ignore the bashing? No, you needed that.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

'With' vs 'Starring': Fallon's "Tonight Show"

I would like to take a minute to speak positively about something I haven't spoken positively about in five years: The Tonight Show, and more to the point... its shiny new host.

For a long time I did not like Jimmy Fallon. I, like many others, could not stand how he constantly laughed at his own jokes on SNL. But when he took over Late Night, he really started to find himself. He made that show equally as great as Conan and Letterman did, while simultaneously making it a completely original program.

It was for this reason I became thrilled when it was announced he would be the second man to take over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno. Now, those who know me know I don't have many kind words left to say about Mr. Leno. I used to, but I was outraged by his actions during the 2010 Tonight Show battle. I was then, and forever will be on Team Coco. When Leno returned to The Tonight Show, I removed myself from its viewership. I successfully, and proudly, boycotted the Tonight Show, not watching more than a passing clip of it for the past five years. I also made sure I was planted on the couch for Fallon's first episode.

It's been almost a month since he took over, and Jimmy's Tonight Show has done nothing but top itself night after night. Have I been on the couch every night? No...but I have usually watched most of each episode online the next day. The last two nights, especially last Thursday night with Billy Joel, has confirmed what I had been starting to feel all month: Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show were made for each other.

 You'll notice, that the title of his show goes back to what Carson and Parr used: "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon". Both of Leno's incarnations, as well as Conan's Tonight Show, used the title: "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno/ Conan O'Brien". I think that couldn't be more appropriate. I liked Jay's first show. I did. But I, while not alive for most almost all of Carson's show, have seen Johnny behind the desk and know why his name holds the respect it does. Neither Jay nor Conan's show was remotely the same. Jay participated in the Tonight Show...he took care of it for a good long time...but he did not star in it. Jay had some funny bits, but he was never outright funny. In stand-up? Maybe, but not on The Tonight Show. His show was much more about the guests than it was the host.  As for O'Brien, I'm still on Team Conan. I have also come to realize that he was never made to be the host of The Tonight Show. Conan's Tonight Show was a bit more focused on the host, but given his short tenure, and his unfortunate departure, I think the "with" is appropriate for him as well.

Now Jimmy...Jimmy is unquestionably "starring" in his Tonight Show. Take this Thursday night's episode for example. When Billy Joel began to sing "You May Be Right", Fallon all but took over the number. I didn't mind at all, the audience didn't mind at all, and Billy certainly didn't look like he minded at all as Jimmy proceeded to lay on his piano, dance in front of him, and practically sing the whole damn song.

I feel very confidently that Fallon, assuming he continues to produce the quality show he has been this month...and for the last five years on Late Night...will still be behind The Tonight Show's desk a few decades down the line. I certainly want him to be, and if you haven't been watching it yet, you should. I promise you'll have a great time. I acknowledge the legacy and the prestige that comes with the title of The Tonight Show, and that is all thanks to Carson. It's true: there will never be another Johnny Carson. But who knows. Give him twenty or thirty years and we may very well be sitting here saying "Man...there will never be another Jimmy Fallon."

Friday, March 14, 2014

The 30 Most Underrated Billy Joel Songs

On New Year's Eve, I was at Billy Joel's concert in Brooklyn. This was my second time seeing
him, and on both occasions I noticed something: several songs he would play were largely unrecognized by the crowd. On this particular occasion I overheard someone saying they had "never heard this song before!" The problem was, it was Billy Joel standard. Or at least, I assumed it was.

What I've come realize over the past three months is that most people only know a select amount of Billy Joel songs. Well, I'm here to inform you that Billy's talents extend far beyond the twenty or thirty songs that get rotated on the radio or that you play on your Essential Billy Joel CD. In fact, I'm willing to bet you skipped some tracks on that CD, didn't you? 

I want everyone to know Billy has great songs that haven't been played to death. The following list should serve you well if you've never heard some (or all) of them before. Use it as a won't be disappointed. I've included a YouTube link the songs for good measure. As per my last few countdowns, I did rank them. Perhaps fellow die-hards may disagree on some of my rankings, but they they will all certainly tell you each of these songs deserves your ear.

Once again, a slow scrawl down will maximize the drama. 

30.) Worse Comes to Worst

29.) Get It Right the First Time

28.) Los Angelenos

27.) Weekend Song

26.) All About Soul

25.) I Go to Extremes

24.) If I Only Had the Words (To Tell You)

23.) I've Loved These Days

22.) Christie LeeBilly has written many songs about his second wife, Christie Brinkley. This is probably the most direct.

21.) Everybody Loves You Now
Newer recordings are better, but this is the first from his debut album: "Cold Spring Harbor" 

20.) Baby Grand
With Ray Charles. Certainly his best duet. (His daughter Alexa has the middle name "Ray" in honor of Charles.)

19.) Travelin' Prayer

18.) Leningrad
Trivia: Both the stories he tells are true. He met Viktor the Clown during his tour of the Soviet Union.

17.) Tomorrow is Today
Trivia: Once upon a time, Billy tried to kill himself. He took his suicide note and turned it into the lyrics for this song.

16.) Somewhere Along the Line

15.) You're My Home

14.) Streetlife Serenader

13.) Souvenir 

12.) Ain't No Crime

11.) Stiletto 

10.) Goodnight Saigon

9.) Keeping the Faith

8.) An Innocent Man

7.) Big Man on Mulberry Street

6.) Stop in Nevada

5.) Zanzibar
If you have skipped any songs on the way down this list that you didn't already know...don't skip these last five. And then go back and listen to the rest.

4.) Vienna

3.) The Ballad of Billy the Kid

2.) Prelude/ Angry Young ManIt was this song that the person next to me at the NYE concert failed to know. For shame.

1.) Summer, Highland Falls