Chosen Webisode: Dexter Early Cuts: Alex Timmons
Content vs. Promotion
Max Dawson writes that we must evaluate the perception that digital shorts reflect “the television industry’s desire to give web viewers what they want” against its prominence as “television promotion”. Where does Dexter Early Cuts stand along such a continuum?
From a content perspective, Dexter Early Cuts explores a hyperdiegesis operating in the Dexter canon. The first series of Early Cuts focuses on three of Dexter’s victims mentioned in the sixth episode of Dexter‘s first season: ‘Return to Sender’. The pilot episode of Early Cuts, ‘Alex Timmons’, ultimately reveals Dexter’s motive for keeping forensic slides of his victims’ blood, thereby nominating a key moment in the Dexter chronology. The viewer’s attention is focused on a plot point “worthy of analysis”, allowing for “close readings” between this webseries and its author text: Dexter. That the webseries is written by Dexter writer, Tim Schlattmann, and features the voice of Michael C. Hall shows a commitment to offering inspiring content that appeals to the consumer as opposed to Dawson’s “graveyard of failed mobisodes, incomprehensible clips, and incomprehensible recaps” on YouTube.
The form of Early Cuts would likely divide critics in the debate surrounding content and promotion. On the one hand, the animated form of Early Cuts suggests Showtime’s preference for a low budget webseries over one that uses filmed footage of the actors featured in Dexter. Promoting the next series of Dexter seems a priority, with the end of each webisode featuring an advertisement for the airing time of the upcoming season of Dexter. The producers seem conscious of the flaws in the style of their form in their decision to adopt a heavily noir animation style in the second series, evoking tales of similarly despairing individuals Batman and Max Payne. Showtime’s move to provoke some sort of visual intertextuality in the second season of Early Cuts seems a concession that the webseries’ connection to Dexter was fundamentally weaker in its first season due to its style of animation that did little to comment on the Dexter world.
‘Alex Timmons’ certainly relies on having watched some of the Dexter series. We are not introduced to Dexter’s world in the same way the pilot of the Showtime television series sets out to – Showtime presume audience knowledge of Dexter’s past. The pilot webisode’s opening segment is reminiscent of a plethora of Dexter episodes that follow the pilot, with some over-arching moral or plot device being alluded to in the first sentence (“When I hunted as a kid, Harry never let me bring home my game”). This topic becomes central to the episode and, like any Dexter episode, the issue surrounding the theme is resolved the webisode’s conclusion. The significance of the Dexter hyperdiegesis being investigated (the forensic blood slides) is only fully realised by a viewer who has previously seen the dozens of slides contained in the box behind the air conditioning unit in the televised series.
My personal thoughts on the first episode of Early Cuts? The webisode sits nicely between entertainment for the viewer and promotion for one of Showtime’s biggest hits. The writing is of a very similar quality that can be expected of Dexter and the webisode exhibits other elements that can be identified in its parent (eg. Dexter’s false identity when conversing with a serial killer, the moral exchange in the killer’s final moments). The animated style of the webseries masks the low budget approach Showtime have taken with few exceptions (namely some particularly bad animation of a mother and child running through war torn streets at around the 2:15 mark). Revising the form of a television show for online adaptation seems a tough process, none more so than for Channel 10’s The Nurses which proved the laughing stock of last week’s lecture for all the wrong reasons. For me, Early Cuts rates highly in handling the transition from massive production venture to online side-project primarily through the meaningful reassessment of its presentation: the comic strip feel of the webisode allowing for stylised violence achieved in some of the most accomplished comic literary works such as Watchmen. I only wish that the Early Cuts producers had happened upon the style of its second season sooner.
Dawson, M: Television’s Aesthetic of Efficiency: Convergence Television and the Digital Short. http://bgock.com/maxdawson/research_files/Ch_10_Dawson_Revised_DUKE.pdf. Pp 1-12. Viewed August 14, 2012