Saturday, September 30, 2006

Dexter wants to play

I think it's safe to say there's no other show on TV quite like Dexter, debuting on Showtime tonight. Usually, when a critic says that, it means it's because a show has revived a less popular genre or taken a popular one and tweaked it ever so slightly. Dexter takes TV's most popular genre (the crime procedural) and beats the snot out of it, having a great time doing so.

Dexter, based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsey, is about a serial killer who kills other serial killers. That, in and of itself, might be reason enough to completely tune out -- television has a nasty habit of making the completely amoral and immoral too sympathetic -- but Dexter somehow avoids the pitfalls inherent in the material. It's a creepy, icky thriller, one of the few television productions to give me the chills in a long time. At the same time, it's a nicely conceived procedural, showing the specifics of a kind of forensics work that doesn't get a lot of play on the CSI shows (blood spatter analysis). And, finally, it works as an examination of morality itself -- what makes a thing good and what makes a thing bad? Does the fact that Dexter keeps his killing confined to the monsters that plague society make his actions acceptable? After all, that's how his foster father trained him.

Now, obviously, Dexter is not the first work of art or even the first television show to deal with these issues, but there's never been one quite as stylish and ghoulishly humorous as this. To be fair, the show can be hard to take. There's a lot of blood, and a lot of things that aren't shown that let your imagination go wild. Showtime, which has been looking for the hit to turn it in to HBO, is probably not going to find it here.

But for the rest of us, who like a little horror mixed in with our police procedurals (as in the little-seen and too-gothic-by-half Epitafios that aired on HBO last winter), this is going to be a treat. The characters around Dexter aren't fully sketched in yet, but one senses they're in good hands just based on the performance of Michael C. Hall, who nicely subverts his good guy image as the title character.

There are a few things in the show that don't work. The series likes to rely on a few too many cop show cliches (the hardened lieutenant who can't take the female police officer seriously -- though, thankfully, this time it's a woman not taking another woman seriously), and Dexter's voice-over, which plays throughout the show, can be a little too over-the-top.

But this is easily the most stylish, smartly wrought crime show on TV. Between this, Weeds and Brotherhood, Showtime has arrived.

1 comment:

David Sims said...

This show has BAGS of potential. Color me very impressed indeed.