The Dexter-like Potential of a Talented Mr. Ripley TV Show

By  · Published on May 29th, 2015

Television 360 and Endemol Shine (a 1930s shoe polish?) want to bring Tom Ripley back to life for the small screen. It’s the kind of concept that could live even longer than Dexter did.

The main reason for that is the cliffhanger, will-he-get-caught, holy-hell-how-could-he-not-get-caught wonder of Patricia Highsmith’s character. The secondary reason is that the frustrating longevity of Ripley’s free-wheeling sociopathic spree would work well with some breathing room. Toss in a smoke break and a week to calm down, and we’ll be ready to explore moneyed Europe all over again.

As brilliant as Anthony Minghella’s take on the character was in The Talented Mr. Ripley, the film is exhausting by the end. You switch from admiring Tom to cheering for him to being disgusted to guiltily wondering how he’ll evade suspicion to praying he’ll be caught soon; it’s exhilarating, but a television show could bring a different brand of satisfaction if Tom is allowed to murder his way from villa to villa for several seasons. Granted, that also means that the bingewatch appeal of the show might be limited, like The Office was for people who struggle through awkward humor.

The other fascinating Dexter connection is the legacy it might have on a show like this. You’ve got to assume that executives at Showtime wondered back in 2005 whether a show focused on a serial killer could work. Even with Tony Soprano leading the pack, a guy driven to kill other people out of compulsion (instead of solid business acumen) may have not been received well.

Naturally, that question seems silly in hindsight, but the great thing about Tom Ripley is that he’s a killer of convenience. He’s not tortured by a desperate need to murder like Dexter. He sort of stumbles into it like Inspector Clouseau and has to keep going if he wants to enjoy his new taste for luxury. (Cue comparisons to Patrick Bateman.)

He’s also, you know, not killing for good in the way that Dexter allowed our twisted minds to rationalize him offing other humans. He kills killers, so it’s okay! Loving Dexter Morgan and Batman at the same time is ethically tricky. Meanwhile, Tom Ripley is hiding a hilarious amount of bodies so that he won’t have to stop eating lobster caviar frittata off gold plates in Cap Ferrat. It’ll be interesting to see how an audience responds to a killer character without the morality condom.

Of course, this project is in the earliest possible stages, so they have a long way to go before crafting something as beautiful, layered and character-driven as (the first few seasons of) Dexter. Tom Ripley is a hell of a character, though, so if they pull it off, they might have something powerfully popular on their hands.

Plus, on a more basic level, it’s nice to see Highsmith getting more love. She was a thrilling author, and with this, The Two Faces of January, the Cannes-showing Carol and the potential Fincher/Affleck/Flynn Strangers on a Train, she’s back in vogue in a great way.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.