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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
exter Morgan isn't exactly the boy next door, nor is he just a happy-go-lucky blood spatter analyst for the Miami Police Department. He’s also a meticulous psychopath who moonlights as a serial killer channeling his own homicidal impulses by eliminating other wrongdoers in the area. He’s the very definition of an anti-hero, and the most interesting one since Vic Mackey arrived on the scene.
Based on the popular series of crime novels by Jeff Lindsay, the new Showtime series is like a strange marriage of “CSI” and Bret Easton Ellis’ decade-defining novel, “American Psycho.” In fact, the creators seem to really admire Ellis’ work – one of Dexter’s aliasesshares the name of t he main character from the novel – and while this isn’t exactly “American Psycho: The Series,” it’s the next best thing to getting in the mind of a self-proclaimed monster.
Michael C. Hall stars as the titular character, a forensics specialist whose world is turned upside down when another serial killer arrives on in the South Keys state with a method so unique, Dexter can’t help but admire his handiwork. Nicknamed the Ice Truck Killer for his affinity of draining the blood from his victims, butchering the bodies into sections, and then preserving them in a subzero ice cream cooler, the cops are positively baffled at the complete lack of clues left at each murder scene. What they don’t realize, however, is that the killer is doing all of this for the benefit of Dexter, leading him into a game of cat-and-mouse with a man who knows all about his double life, and even has a couple secrets of his own. The killer is schooled in all things Dexter, from his adoption by a homicide detective (James Remar) as a young boy, to his new father’s recognition and help with his unconventional impulses. By helping him employ a moral code, Dexter’s disease is channeled for good, thus giving him the tools needed to correctly choose those who deserve to be killed and the savvy to carry out each murder without getting caught.
Joining Dexter on the hunt is his stepsister, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), a recently promoted homicide detective; Angel Batista (David Zayas), a fellow detective and friend; Lt. Maria Laguerta (Lauren Velez), the district’s commanding officer; and Sgt. Doakes (Erik King), Dexter’s one true enemy and the only man on the force suspicious of his strange activity. When he’s not analyzing blood or spending his free time admiring the intricate clues left by the Ice Truck Killer, Dexter tries to make things work with his girlfriend, Rita (Julie Benz), a former rape victim whose abusive husband is released from jail to terrorize the couple midway through the season.
Unfortunately, while it’s necessary to have a supporting cast, it’s also the reason why “Dexter” hasn’t been able to break free as one of the better shows on TV. The title character aside, the rest of the players are just awful. Two-dimensional, wooden – whatever you want to call them – they don’t serve any purpose other than where they fit into the story. They’re pawns in a silly game of chess – with Dexter as their king – and without the connection to him, they’re lost, incomplete and totally worthless. That is, except for Dexter’s foster father and the Ice Truck Killer (Christian Carmargo), both of whom play a much larger part in the development of Dexter as a character. Both actors deliver fine performances during their limited appearances throughout the season, and it’s too bad one of them won’t be returning next year.
Speaking of performances, Michael C. Hall’s memorable portrayal of Dexter is certainly worth talking about. After co-anchoring HBO’s “Six Feet Under” for five years, Hall continues to prove that he’s one of the best actors working today with a role so complex it forces the audience into a love/hate relationship with him. Dexter is an android who does not feel, and it's exactly this that allows him to be so cool and composed around blood. Some might consider it a weakness, but it’s also the origin of the many sardonic narrations that make the series such a joy to watch. Just listening to Dexter think about natural situations in a very unnatural manner is a highlight in and of itself, but watching him execute them is even more hilarious.
Of course, the big question when going in to “Dexter” is how much violence is actually shown on screen? To be honest, not a whole lot, but that doesn’t mean the viewer won’t be grossed out by the immense amount of blood that appears in the average episode, or the strangely grotesque manner in which the Ice Truck Killer prepares his victims. Still, for a show about serial killers, the violence is remarkably low key. The implementation reminded me more of the HBO Latin miniseries “Epitafios” (where the audience is shown the set-up, but excused from the actual act) than your typical horror film. This is smart TV for a very select group of people, and though it’s not nearly as refined as Showtime’s other big gun (“Weeds”), it does have the potential to become the blossoming network's flagship program.
Special Features: The initial DVD release of Season One didn’t feature a very impressive collection of extras, so it’s nice to see that Paramount has at least improved the quality of bonus material on the Blu-ray edition – even if it isn’t that much better. Carrying over from the DVD are the two audio commentaries, while the cheesy true murder case, “Witnessed in Blood,” can now be accessed via BD-Live. Also available through BD-Live is a brand new featurette (“The Academy of Blood: A Killer Course”), a Michael C. Hall podcast, the first episode of the third season, and the first two episodes of Showtime’s new dark comedy, “United States of Tara.”