Television Spotlight: Dexter (Season 1)

Dexter’s 2nd season begins tonight at 9pm ET/PT, but since I am slow, I offer my review of the first season’s first two episodes. Enjoy.

Who me?

Based on the Jeff Lindsay novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter, Showtime’s Dexter follows the adventurers of Miami’s most likeable serial killer. Wait, a likeable serial killer? Yes indeed, because he only kills murderers, rapists, or the type of people you’d generally call “bad guys.” And Dexter is very good at what he does. Very good. He should be since he began honing his craft as a wee lad, but now he’s all grown up and a member of the Miami Police force as a blood splatter expert (ironic, yes?), a position that grants him an excellent way to scope out his next victims.

Being based on a book seems like a blessing and a curse for Dexter. The blessing is the darkly comical premise that is darn near brilliant. The clichéd anti-hero as a grizzled loner who barks and growls but secretly harbors a heart of gold gets thrown out the window and replaced with a cold-blooded murderer flashing a saccharine smile. Dexter is gloriously free of regret, guilt or any semblance of a conscious. But his twisted code of honor allows him only to kill the bad guys and therefore necessitates his ever-cheerful smile and clever tongue to hide his complete disregard for all human life other than his cop foster sister and possibly his girlfriend.

The smog in Miami looks horrible

Much of the book’s fun was seeing Dexter struggle to keep his monstrous instincts safely hidden within his boring disguise and the show is no different in that respect. Hearing Dexter’s true inner thoughts as he fends off his girlfriend’s amorous advances (monsters like him aren’t interested in sex) is one example of an absurdly entertaining scene. And when I described Dexter as a cold-blooded murderer I was not exaggerating in the slightest. Dexter mutilates, chops up, and fillets his victims every chance he can get. We never see the complete carnage but there’s enough blood and squishy sounds to bother the squeamish (ie: me).

Dexter captures the bright colors and vivid contrasts that CSI:Miami has made synonymous with Miami television shows. Also standing out is Michael C. Hall in the role of Dexter. He's good-looking, charismatic and still manages to growl and grimace like a murderer. His cop sister, played by Jennifer Carpenter, is goofier than expected but her earnest performance is growing on me.

Dexter’s dark humor and intriguing mystery have successfully transitioned onto the television screen but here’s where the curse comes in: by sticking so close to the book’s material the show frequently slows down and scenes feel like they're filled with dead air (no pun intended). I may be coming from a biased perspective but the book was so fast and fun that by comparison the show feels slow and plodding.

If later episoes sharpen the dialogue and kill off (hehe) some of Dexter’s endless sighs and looks of befuddlement, then there’s enormous potential for the show. Increasing the frequency of Dexter’s inner thoughts would help keep narration brisk and up the comedy quotient which is already good but not great.

Dexter shows promise and I’ll do my best to keep with it but so far the book has been the more entertaining option.


SQT said...

Maybe you need the watch the show then read the books....

I loooooooved the series. I went back and read the first book again and liked it much better after watching the show. The sister is much goofier in the Showtime series-- I had forgotten how she was portrayed in the books.

I bought Darkly Dreaming Dexter today. Love love love this character.

Matt said...

Yeah, I probably would've enjoyed the show if I watched it first. By the way, I liked Darkly Dreaming Dexter even more than the first book but there's a bit more mutilation going on. Just a heads up.

april said...

You call youself slow, I first heard of 'Dexter' two days ago.

And yeah, if you didn't read the books first, you probably would have liked it more (with me it's usally the case).

SQT said...

Yeah, the books a bit gruesome. But given the premise, it was pretty much inevitable. Still liking it though...

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