Hero, Anti-Hero, What's the Difference?

I don't normally watch television, although I am aware there is such a thing as television and that it has shows, but lately I've been watching a couple of programs with fascination. On the surface they may not appear to have much in common, one is a medical drama and takes place mostly in a hospital and the other is some sort of crime/thriller/forensics/murderer thing that's all over the streets of Miami but they each have protagonists that are both compelling and creepily strange and dangerous. They aren't exactly heroes, one of them endangers people every day and the other is a serial killer, but still there is something about them that makes you like them and care for them almost in spite of yourself.

House, M.D. airs on Fox on Tuesdays at nine, or eight Central, and stars Hugh Laurie as the irascible and talented Dr. House. Not quite a sociopath, House appears to be entirely lacking in empathy and compassion, being cruel to both patients and colleagues. He mocks, he belittles, he harasses, and he snaps at everyone. All he cares about is solving the medical mysteries he confronts every week. An infectious disease specialist, he works on only the weirdest cases, usually torturing the patient in the process, giving the impression that he can't heal them until they're either in a coma, almost dead or both.

A couple of years ago I heard some women who belong to a support group for a neurological illness talking about how they wished Dr. House was their doctor. I was appalled when I actually watched the show and realized what kind of person he is but gradually I came to realize that his appeal to the chronically ill patient is that he does eventually find a cure. He performs what look miracles, diagnosing and treating a survivor of brain tumors who has been bound to a wheelchair and unable to speak for six years. When Dr. House is finished with him he is walking and talking. What a beacon of promise he is to those who suffer for years, trying this medication or that surgery, and never getting better. Sure he might make you wish you were dead for a little while but in the end you're all fixed up. Who wouldn't put up with outright hostility and complete lack of a bedside manner if it led to a happy ending?

Showtime has a new dramatic series called Dexter, based on the book called Darkly Dreaming Dexter, published in 2004. Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is a charming and fascinating man who works as a blood spatter lab technician for the Miami Police Department. He has an approach avoidance conflict with blood; he's both fascinated and repelled by it. In the first episode Dexter investigates a crime scene of a ghastly, but bloodless murder. He's intrigued and mesmerized by the dismembered body and in awe of the perpetrator who has managed to create what to Dexter is the perfect killing. You see he's not just a forensics expert; he's also a sociopath and a serial slayer himself.

This is a really nice twist on your generic crime show, making something overdone fresh and new and it creates terrible problems for both the writer and the actor. How do you take a reprehensible character and make him likable? How do you make your audience root for and sympathize with someone who is devoid of feeling and empathy and does terrible things? Writer Jeff Lindsay does a terrific job, partly by making it easy for us to identify with Dexter and by making his situation familiar and accessible.

Dexter is the quintessential outsider, never fitting in and always aware of his differences. Every episode features extremely well done voiceovers that allow the viewer to get inside Dexter's psyche and feel how difficult daily life is for him. He must not only fight against his urges to kill but every moment that he is with other people he has to pretend that he feels what they do, that he isn't empty inside and that his hopes and dreams are the same as theirs.

The survivor of a terrible, mysterious tragedy that killed his family, a foster family takes him in at the age of four. His police officer foster father gradually realizes that he is a sociopath and trains him in how to use his unique abilities and drive to mete out a terrible form of justice and how to stay safe. The first episode begins with Dexter capturing a man who has murdered some very young children and taking him to the place where he buried his victims. Dexter has carefully recovered the bodies and laid them out and they appear to watch as he treats the captured man with precisely the same amount of tenderness tendered to the children. No matter how civilized we like to think we are there is something deeply satisfying in the eye for an eye model of justice.

But what makes Dexter so interesting and compelling to me is watching him struggle with the minutiae of daily living. Just making it through every workday is like walking through a minefield when all of your coworkers are cops out to solve the very crimes that you are committing. It's hard work having a girlfriend when you have to fake every emotion. To help out with this he's dating a woman who has been badly traumatized by her ex-husband and is now afraid of intimacy, giving Dexter some breathing room and allowing him to look quite generous when he offers to take things very slowly. Still, he worries that she will finally notice that he is empty inside and dump him and he stresses over how to handle the situation.

If you'd like to watch the show but don't get Showtime you'll definitely want to check out the website, where you can watch the first two shows for free. If you like crime stories and complex characters I highly recommend it.

This week's one sentence review comes from The Jester's Tear, who says, "Jeepers Creepers Two is an all around good movie, with just a few dumb parts, that leaves you ready for Jeepers Creepers Three." Have you got a one-sentence review you’d like to submit to Quality Time? Send it in to me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com, and I'll run the best ones. You may focus on just about anything that fits a family entertainment format; games, movies, books, music - the sky is the limit, or is it? Want to review the status of poor ex-planet Pluto? Go right ahead.