Yeah, yeah, I know the joke’s on me for even watching this show to the bitter last, through all eight—eight!—seasons, riding out what horrible twist after another, half-baked subplots and supporting characters that went nowhere, goofy voiceover and whopping implausibility, in the expectation of what, exactly? I’ve abandoned other series for much less. So maybe there’s something to recommend here after all.
With Breaking Bad and Dexter both on their way out for good, and True Blood nearly wrapped up as well, premium cable is going to be hurting for both outlandish crime potboilers and a dose of Southern Gothic ooze. By all indications, HBO will be filling the void with True Detective, a drama series starring Matthew McConaughey alongside Woody Harrelson—one cool thing about the “Golden Age of TV” is that every A-lister seems to want a show of their own.
Can’t wait till cable’s titillating Sunday primetime? Run out of things to stream on Netflix? Not if you haven’t torn through BBC miniseries Top of the Lake yet. And don’t get turned off by the news that it’s about a detective pushed to her breaking point in investigating a mysterious crime that tears a small, rural community apart—I made it exactly one episode into The Killing before ditching that borefest, so this show must have done something right.
Ryan Murphy, who is currently represented on television with three scripted shows (American Horror Story, Glee, and The New Normal), is added an HBO series to his roster. Open, which is described as "a modern, provocative exploration of human sexuality and relationships," has gotten a pilot order from the network. Collaborating with Dexter co-executive producer Lauren Gussis. This will be his second project with the cable network, as his adaptation of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart is also being produced by HBO.
Deadline gives some details about the show:
Open revolves around five lead characters, including a married couple of thirtysomethings, the husband’s male co-worker and a woman in her 40s who is a yoga professional. Murphy said he had been bouncing ideas about a show exploring human relationships when Dante Di Loreto of his company, Ryan Murphy Prods, heard about Gussis working on a similar project and put them together. “She was great fresh voice and energy,” Murphy said about combining his efforts with Gussis. The two worked on the script in December, marking the first time Murphy had written a project on spec instead of selling a pitch. As for the spec landing at HBO: “I’m thrilled about it,” Murphy said, noting his great relationship with Lombardo through Normal Heart and calling HBO a perfect home for Open. “They have great projects, and this is really an adult show that is very frank in its depiction of sex.” But that depiction never feels gratuitous, 20th TV chairman Newman adds. “It is a very honest exploration of relationships and intimacy, and the sex feels organic to the subject matter,” he said.
"That depiction never feels gratuitious." Considering Murphy is responsible for a serial killer who targets plastic surgeons on Nip/Tuck, a ghost rapist on American Horror Story, and all of that Autotuning on Glee, I’m already giving this project a side-eye. But hey, at least HBO’s relaxed standards means there will be more naked people. Silver lining!
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When a new genre of music is created, the world takes notice. And in Eric Lewis’ case, the music industry took more than notice; with the creation of his own style of rockjazz, he’s set the scene on fire in a controversial, stormy way that suits the man and the brand that he is. Merging rock guitar techniques with pop and ragtime, and putting it all on the piano, Lewis – known onstage as ELEW – has outraged the jazz world, while awing the pop/rock world – especially when he plucks and beats the heck out of the piano’s insides and shield. Outfitted with armor on his wrists, a suit, and a vivacity that defies merely sitting on a piano bench, but standing and rocking the entire time he plays, ELEW’s renditions of pop/rock anthems and original songs on his latest record introduce a sound we’ve never heard before. As ELEW prepares for his Friday, Nov. 9th show at Le Poisson Rouge, he shared what gets him high, his favorite distraction, and when he played for a legendary celeb.
You’ve said you’re a huge fan of comic books, and that you feel superhuman and supercharged when you get on stage. What are some pre-show rituals you’ve adopted that you’ll use for Friday’s show?
My workout. I call it "the ninja run.” I run through the forests of Riverdale with my hand in front of myself, like a karate chop or shark fin. I take on the ninja mindset. Like characters in Mortal Combat who intersect physical performance with the supernatural, I try to make my mind as much a weapon as my body. Before I play, I focus on combining my passion with precision, and vice versa.
In a day, how do you balance working out with practicing and performing?
If I’m not exercising, I’m practicing, and if I’m not doing that, I’m playing chess. Or watching Dexter. I used to practice the piano all the time, but now the game has shifted to a perceptual challenge of the mind, and sometimes it’s very exhausting and painful. The improvisation I learn from chess is similar to what I use in music. But in chess, I’m going against someone. In music, it’s subjective to the audience, and it’s ultimately a battle with myself. But there’s such an ecstasy to it.
Is there anything else in your life that gives you that kind of ecstasy?
Women. I’m a hopeless romantic. Being an entrepreneur, too. I have so many ideas for what I want to do next, so the power of creating those ideas is euphoric.
You crawl into the piano, plucking the strings like a guitar and beating the wooden case like a drum. Do you actually play these instruments?
I do know how to play the drums, and I played the violin for a year as a kid, but when I noticed horn players putting different objects in horns to make different sounds. I started experimenting. The things I do aren’t new exactly, but how I do it is. My way of branding it is. Alexander Graham Bell didn’t invent the telephone, but he invented the way he branded it. With my music, you want to dance to what’s going on. Playing without a piano bench and wearing armor – no one’s ever done that. I love to move, and I really want to rock.
You toured with and opened for Josh Groban for most of last year. What’s the #1 lesson you learned from him?
To be elegant. Touring with him made me re-record my latest record. Hearing the elegance of his presentation, delivery, and repoire made me want to re-record my music with that kind of professionalism. He’s so in touch with his brand, style, what it is he’s adding to the music scene, and he knows how to nurture it and present it elegantly.
What’s your ideal vision of the future for ELEW?
I want to be legendary. Yanni, Herbie Hancock, and Elton John, all wrapped into one. Hard-hitting. I want to collaborate with Lil Wayne and dubstep artists, and be like John Carpenter was to Halloween – write the story and the music for my own horror film. I want to create a comic book movie, a music festival. And I’d like to improve my chess game.
You’ve cultivated a fanbase of celebrities like Hugh Jackman, Obama, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Tell me your favorite celebrity story.
Al Pacino asked me to perform at a party he was having at his house. I started playing a crazy rhythm people could dance to, and suddenly Al jumped on one side of the piano next to me and started to play. I put his fingers on some of the notes as if we were playing "Heart and Soul," and we started playing and rocking together.
A lot cheaper. And everything is covered! Each episode takes us through the five Kübler-Ross stages of grief, a full list of psychopathy criteria, models for addiction, PTSD counseling and, of course, familial crisis. Who wouldn’t feel better seeing how much harder life is for a serial killer and those close to him? Probably someone who’d prefer to spend $200 an hour to blow their nose weepily in front of a very patient sort of doctor.
The seventh season’s premiere finds Miami murxpert (murder expert) Dexter Morgan trying to contain the fallout from his last kill, which his beloved sister by adoption, Lt. Debra Morgan, witnessed. For those keeping score at home, Deb has to this point in the series: almost been killed by a hypnotized Dexter, almost been killed by Dexter’s brother after falling in love with him, fallen in love with an older FBI agent only to see him gunned down by master character actor John Lithgow (not playing himself, unfortunately), realized she is in love with Dexter and now seen him murder for murder’s sake. You’d think someone with this much trauma in their life would have a room with padded walls by now.
And then there’s Dexter himself, the antihero you’re tempted to identify with because he talks about the logistical snags of killing the way you would talk about running out of butter and running out to the store to get some more. Goofy as this trope is—and almost everything about the show is goofy, especially when they have the good sense to play it utterly straight—it’s also soothing. Between Dex and Deb, there are roughly 4.8 million high-caliber catastrophes that will never, ever befall you, and they’re no better equipped to deal with them. Isn’t that nice? Even in the most outlandish provinces of television, men and women treat their gaping psychic wounds with Band-Aids.
Dexter‘s season six ended with Deb Morgan realizing she is in love with her adopted brother Dexter, who also just happens to be a serial killer. A new teaser for the show’s September 30 season seven premiere promises Dexter will be just as incestuous and bloody as where it left off.
The teaser promises Dexter is finally at peace, somehow, with his killings by his solemn declaration "I can accept that. But can she?" The show still has two seasons to draw it out: Paste Magazine notes Dexter is in a contract with Showtime through an eighth season — which means a lot more killings and confusing romantic feelings about family members. Time to work on a doubly strong stomach, folks.
I stopped watching Dexter after its terrible third season, but I’ve heard the fourth, with John Lithgow, was great, and I may have to catch up so I can watch the fifth season, which will feature guest appearances from the lovely and talented Julia Stiles. I’ll admit to a slight crush—I once hung out with Stiles through mutual friends in a San Juan bar, and I was quite taken by her. She was very smart, and very beautiful, and put very good songs on the jukebox. She was nice, and tried to help me interpret a weird dream I’d had about a baby dying or something. I think she was taking a Freud class. She also had a very tall boyfriend and “no interest in me.” It will be fun to watch her flirt with Dexter, and then for him to kill her. Check out the clip below to see Stiles discuss her new role, among other things.
Michael C. Hall isn’t two steps through the door before I understand his entire career. On paper, his clean-cut, all-American good looks make him an unlikely choice to play the sexually depraved Emcee in the Broadway hit Cabaret, much less the dysfunctional mortician in HBO’s Six Feet Under, and they make him a downright preposterous choice for the sympathetic serial killer in the current Showtime hit, Dexter. Why, you have to wonder, does he keep getting cast so perversely when his face looks tailor-made to play a Mormon missionary?
But, in person, he walks with his head bowed down and eyes turned inward, too burdened by inner turmoil to notice the silly red-fringed bordello lamps and “Grandma’s Burrito” signs kitsching up the Silverlake eatery. The immediate impression is not of a man with a problem but a man haunted, and maybe by something he can’t quite understand. The high cheekbones suddenly seem skeletal, the large eyes clouded. This is Dexter if he had a conscience, maybe. Or Dexter if he could actually feel the horror and pain he has caused.
What’s interesting about the show is that the viewer isn’t completely sure about what constitutes the full spectrum of the main character’s moral compass. Says Hall’s former Six Feet Under co-star, Peter Krause: “He does a great thing on Dexter. I liken it to Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. He’s supposed to be a sociopath with no feelings, but every now and then you get a little glimmer that maybe the wires are starting to spark inside, and that he’s starting to feel something, that he’s starting to become a whole person, or has a chance to. And I think that’s pretty tough to pull off.”
Hall keeps his olive-drab military cap on backwards as he slides quietly into the booth, so only a few wisps of his auburn hair slip free. “Part of what I like about Dexter,” he says, playing with his VW key ring, “is that he has a really formidable and sizable shadow side, but it’s one he has faced and is taking unique responsibility for.” He means Dexter’s unusual moral choice of only killing other killers. But the murders are still gruesome and committed for his pleasure, not justice. “People admire him for that,” he adds, and I think of how fans of The Sopranos often found themselves liking Tony, forgetting for long stretches that he was a brutal sociopath.
But to Hall, Dexter is just a monstrous expression of things we all feel. “Shadow energy is something that lots of people have. Some people drag it around and never unpack it, and it conspires against them in ways that they probably can’t appreciate.” Abruptly, Hall looks straight into my eyes. “I relish the opportunity to play someone who invites me to unpack my own bag of shadows.” Then he surprises me with a smile. “It’s hard to say: perhaps if Dexter hadn’t come along, I’d be killing people in my real life, instead.”
It is one of only a handful of smiles I get to witness, but the effect is as remarkable as it is disconnected: his eyes clear, his body slouching rakishly against the booth. For the moment, he is easy-going and quite sexy and seems to have no idea. But as the conversation rolls on, this sense of disconnect turns out to be a hallmark of his life. For instance, he didn’t know he wanted to be an actor until he applied to graduate school and, abruptly, realized, “I wanted it in a way I’d never wanted anything before.” Then he found himself doing Shakespeare and musical comedies, until director Sam Mendes noticed the dark side Hall hadn’t, ultimately getting him cast on Six Feet Under. “There was always a sense of waiting,” he says. “A sense of ‘This isn’t it.’”
But if acting seemed the answer, it’s not clear that it settled his questions. He can be quite astute, noting, for instance, that the real similarity between Dexter and David, his troubled character on Six Feet Under, “is not that they’re surrounded by dead bodies, but that they are both secret keepers.” But he himself is determined to keep his private life secret, just as, he admits later, he kept his interest in acting “under wraps” as a child in North Carolina. Today he lives in central Hollywood, in between L.A.’s artsy east side and its moneyed west side, just as, in North Carolina, he lived in between the Appalachian mountains and the seaside. He nods when I point these things out to him, but does not find any of it revelatory. As for speculation about him dating his Dexter co-star Jennifer Carpenter or anyone else after the unraveling of his four-year marriage to actress Amy Spanger in 2006, he remains mum.
“Dexter is incredibly self-aware,” he says, with some wistfulness. Interestingly, he adds, “When we meet Dexter at the top of the new season, he has a sense of self-possession that he hasn’t experienced before. You’ll see that the rigidness of his ritual restrains him less in how he goes about things, and he finds himself taking chances he might not have taken before.” I’m struck by the inverse parallel: the less self-possessed Hall is, the riskier and more dangerous his performances become. He doesn’t notice the irony.
But maybe self-awareness is overrated. Just as therapy only made Tony Soprano a more efficient sociopath, and Dexter’s ritual helps him kill without being caught, who is to say that excising Hall’s dark cloud would necessarily make him better off? As Janet Malcolm once pointed out, a wholly successful psychoanalysis would be “monstrous,” removing the patient’s humanity along with his suffering. Hall drains his coffee cup. “I think most actors would say they’d be crazy if they didn’t have the chance to exorcise their chaos in their acting. Once it’s all stirred up and swirling in the air, you have to have something to focus it on. If David on Six Feet Under had been a completely self-actualized person, he wouldn’t have been as enjoyable or maddening to watch. And if Dexter stopped killing, would we really have a show?” But his larger point is that most of our deepest problems don’t have solutions, they can only be managed, often with the help of the artists who act them out for us. “I’d like to believe I’m wide open in my work, there aren’t any rooms that I’m afraid to go into.” He leans in closer. “Whether actors cop to it or not, there has to be some sort of intersection between their characters and their own lives.”
Then is there something in your own story, I ask, that intersects with Dexter?
He smiles broadly, and with unnerving brightness. “Well, sure!” But then he doesn’t say anything more.