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October 05, 2006

Dexter

I am now officially being used to market tv shows. So cool! Some marketer from Showtime sent me to a sneak peek website for the new Showtime drama "Dexter" to get me to write about it and, because I want to keep getting free sneak peeks, I'm doing so. I'd post the info on how to get the free sneak peek, but the website sucks and the streaming video tech was faulty. The show didn't stream smoothly so it was really difficult to watch. So don't bother.

Anyhoo, the show is based on a novel, which in itself is cool, because it means there's a new way for novelists to sell out to Hollywood, which is what I'm hoping will happen to my nobble. I don't want 2/3 of it cut out so it can fit into a 2 hour movie, I want a tv drama made out of it! (Hmmm ... maybe I should finish writing it first.)

Anyhoo hoo, the title character, Dexter, is a forensics expert with the Miami police department (he specializes in blood splatters) and, it turns out, is also a sociopath who has channeled his homicidal tendencies into murdering serial killers. Yep, that's right. He's a serial serial killer killer.

I generally don't like serial killers, serial killer movies, serial killer books, or serial killer shows (like "Profiler") because I find serial killers scary without being at all rewarding. I didn't bother seeing the other Hannibal Lecter movies, and I avoid most horror films anyway. And frankly, "Nip/Tuck" jumped the shark for me when they made the serial killer a series regular. But this one I like. For several reasons. And no, I'm not just saying that to get more free sneak peeks.

First of all, serial killers are scary without being rewarding because we only get to see somebody profiling them, and then, at best, shadowy images of them killing people in horribly creative ways. We don't get to (and you'll know I'm a writer when I say this) sympathize with them, see into their point of view. Well here, that's exactly what you get. We're welded to Dexter's very forthcoming first person. We hear him thinking, we hear him addressing us in his thoughts, we see everything he does, and get in on his conversations, too. Everything short of a direct address into the camera eye. He's our guy.

He's no talented Mr. Ripley, though. Ripley was a work of genius (book, not movie) because Ripley had no excuses, wasn't trying to channel his selfishness into good, and wasn't whining about his troubled childhood, yet Highsmith made him sympathetic. Dexter, on the other hand, only kills bad people, although he does so really horribly, and the pilot episode hints with ribs-bruising nudges that he was badly abused as a young child (he admits to his loving foster father that he can't remember anything before he came to live with his foster parents--and started carving up the neighbors' pets).

The whining is limited, although I'm worried that we'll develop his sad past as the show goes on. I think that would be a mistake. The hint is enough. What's great (so far) about the show is that Dexter may have learned from his foster father to channel his violence, but he's a violent sociopath nonetheless. He's extremely disturbing, his responses to others' murders are extremely disturbing, and no punches are pulled about why he's killing his victims: he's hungry for the kill and he can't help himself. He doesn't fool himself or try to fool us that he's in it for the good he's doing.

There's also a lot of attempted humor in the show, some of which lands and some of which doesn't. Because we're following Dexter's pov, there's a lot of poetry and drama in his pursuit of victims and his study of their killing habits. But when he's forced to interact with people, the lights get too bright, as does his smile, and there's a touch of absurdism to all the proceedings. This is deliberate, but it's not "American Psycho"-style attempted social critique. The absurdity of his human interactions is intended to alienate the audience from the people in his life and marry them to his pov. It works.

The pilot centers around Dexter meeting a soul mate: a serial killer whom he calls an artist, who is smart enough to figure Dexter out before Dexter figures him out. The end of the pilot is a calling card from the mysterious other asking Dexter to come out and play. By the time we follow Dexter into his house to find the creepy message, we're so inside his head that we don't find the message creepy, or scary, or disturbing at all. We find it, like Dexter does, exhilarating.

The show also has some beautiful visual moments, not least a scene in a drug lord's all-white apartment where Dexter, for his forensics work, has drawn lengths of red wool from the blood splatters on the walls to a central point to demonstrate the splatter patterns caused by the killings.

Plus, Julie Benz, who played Darla on "Angel", has a plum role here as Dexter's girlfriend, a woman he picked out because she was so damaged from her last, abusive relationship, that she has no interest in sex, which characteristic she shares with Dexter, although he can't let her know that.

Altogether, a show I'm planning on downloading, as soon as it shows up on iTunes ...

If you have Showtime, the pilot is playing for the next three days or so, so definitely go check it out. It's complex, it's well written, it's well produced, and who knew Michael C. Hall was so hot--especially because he's so creepy?

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Comments

Sounds interesting albeit sort of creepy. Personally I find the serial killer genre/formulae to have been done to death at least in the states. I must admit however that I do enjoy watching portrayals of the serial killer phenomena from an intl perspective. You gotta check out Memories of Murder (US english translation/titles).

Find your review very accurate and on spot.
Dexter is as someone pointed out overlooked as a satire, which i find it is in a way, but it is also about the real dark side of the human psyche and brain. Its hard to describe evil as something everyday and banal, but there it is.

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