Thursday, October 12, 2006


I finally got around to watching Dexter, Showtime's bloody cheerful psychodrama (with emphasis on the bloody...and the psycho). Since I've never forgiven the network for pulling off the impossible by uniting some terrific directorial talent and somehow get them to create the disaster that was Masters of Horror (and, even more incredulously, resurrecting it for a second season), I wouldn't expect a program about a cold-hearted serial killer to break the mold of mediocrity. Miraculously, it joins Weeds as another Showtime anomaly actually worthy of quality discussion. The title protagonist (Michael C. Hall) is a morbid hunk with an eye for forensic analysis as though it were an art form. His night hobby, hacking up the people responsible for similar crimes, proves that he does view murder as a creative process-- and a fetish far more intriguing than sex.

The overarching story is playful and dark, taking cues from Dexter's apathetic, non-apologist narration. Even if the conventional subplots run dry faster than the premiere episode's mysterious vein-emptying villain, the tone is carried swiftly thanks to Hall's performance. He thinks about death lyrically, a product of some built-in proclivity revealed to him by his stepfather, but none of his philosophizing becomes overly gothic or (perhaps the scariest thing about it) completely unreasonable.

But that also leads into the show's one apparent flaw: It isn't adventuresome enough to make Dexter both utterly crazy and sympathetic. He's essentially a superhero, channeling his murderous tendencies both professionally and personally. My colleague at the
New York Press, Justin Ravitz, bemoaned this problem in his recent review:

"Red-headed, stubbly, loose-limbed and butch, Hall is barely recognizable, yet his predatory smirk is reminiscent of the carjacking crackhead who tortured David on Six Feet. Unlike Six Feet, however, the un-funny writing on Dexter (especially the Hallmark-inspired voiceovers) has little to do with the peculiarities of human psychology. Why doesn’t Dexter ever lose control and carve up a random hooker now and then?"

I think the answer is: Because he's a good guy, even if he doesn't quite realize it ("Use it for good," his stepfather tells him in a flashback when realizing his adopted son's obsession with death, as though he were raising a serial-killing Superman). Since the show doesn't take that crucial step towards deeper cynicism since it allows the character's ethical dimension to remain fairely pure, Dexter could ultimately spiral into crappy melodrama a la Huff (may it rest in peace-- the first season, anyhow). Until then, here's hoping for a gleefully gory run.


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