August 20th, 2007

Dexter creeps me out

Profit? More Like "Oh, Come Off It!"

The 1995-1996 television season was not a great one: I loved and lost Space: Above and Beyond, American Gothic, and VR.5. Toward the tail end of the season, however, in April, Fox played their now-familiar tune: they released an original, daring new drama to vast critical acclaim and then cancelled it after four episodes due to poor ratings. That show was Profit, and here are some reasons you should be interested in it:

  • The show was inspired by the Ian McKellen version of Richard III.
  • The show was co-created by David Greenwalt of Angel fame, and Gracen and Gracen is sort of a proto-Wolfram and Hart.
  • Adrian Pasdar not only gives good voiceover, but he also gives good sociopath. After watching this show, you'll never want Nathan Petrelli to be a good, decent person again.
  • Keith Szarabajka (Holtz!!) attempts to battle Adrian Pasdar as to who has the cooler voice.
  • Also, Adrian Pasdar is naked in basically every episode.

    Now, I must tread softly because I don't want to spoil anything. I knew very little about the show going in, which meant there were surprises at every turn. This is one of the most unpredictable shows I've watched, really, especially since it moves so quickly; each episode is very dense. This is not a show where you are ever bored, because something is always happening.

    The wonderful thing about Profit is the wonderful thing about Richard III: the main character is the villain of the piece. That makes for a dark show, and Profit features such happy themes as incest, infidelity, abuse, molestation, murder, and most other sins that have names. Also, it's funny!

    Jim Profit works at a large corporation called Gracen and Gracen, the kind of corporation that buys out small companies and merges with others and all that good stuff. That's the setting for all this mayhem. The pilot shows us that Profit is motivated to get into a particular seat of power, and he will do anything to get there. He's very goal-oriented.

    Each episode begins and ends with Profit speaking directly to the audience, transitioning into and out of voiceover. It's a very unsettling and effective technique because it lets us into his world. In some sense, it's creepier than Dexter because Dexter rarely acknowledges the audience directly, whereas Profit is always conscious that we're watching. He's telling us the story as it unfolds, and he kind of expects us to like him. And, honestly, it's actually harder to like Jim Profit, plotter of schemes, than it is to like Dexter Morgan, serial killer. By God, Adrian Pasdar pulls it off, though. Part of it starts to come from sheer admiration: Profit knows people. Like Dexter, he is a cipher himself but can mimic any emotion that's needed. He's able to manipulate people into doing what he wants by making them think they're doing what they want. People are just pawns in Profit's grand chess game. Whereas Dexter only kills bad guys and actually has a fairly strong moral code in a sense, Profit is not constrained so much by such things. The things he does to people in the name of accomplishing his goals...are awful. But he's not evil; he doesn't twirl his moustache at how much he's hurting people. He just doesn', so much. He sits back and orchestrates chaos like Iago, rarely getting his own hands dirty (he's constantly wearing gloves, giving you the impression that he's ready to commit murder at any second).

    Like Dexter, Profit has at least one character be aware of his dastardly deeds but be unable to prove it. Now, Doakes presents little actual threat to Dexter during the series thus far, but Joanne Meltzer, head of security, is a formidable adversary to Profit, obsessed with outing him as the psychopath he is. Unlike Dexter, Profit has a reluctant accomplice in the form of Gail, who became one of my favorite characters. Gail scenes are usually comedy gold, but the comedy in this show is often, of course, black. Also, Nora Gracen is very pretty.

    Profit was clearly ahead of its time. (The computer graphics are laughable, and the cell phones are huge!) Today, it would find a nice home on FX or HBO or Showtime, where it could go all out on the numerous sex scenes. Luckily, it lives on in DVD form. The two-hour pilot was followed with seven episodes, and the final episode does a pretty successful job of resolving most of the story arcs in play (except for one loose end conspicuously lying about). The DVDs also include a really good making-of featurette that's over an hour long in which co-creators John McNamara and David Greenwalt chronicle the rise and fall of the show.

    If you're into dark, twisted, brilliant-but-cancelled drama, Profit is right up your alley.

    Was ever viewer in this humor wooed?
    Was ever viewer in this humor won?