Back in the dim and distant past – 2006 to be precise – a new television series aired in the US and later throughout the rest of the world. Starring Michael C. Hall – who rose to fame playing a funeral director in “Six Feet Under” (2001 to 2005) – here he plays a more ‘hands-on’ role (in all ways) as the titular character: a serial killer named Dexter Morgan.
A self-confessed monster since infancy, devoid of emotions, Dexter hides in plain sight by working as a forensic blood analyst by day. You can guess what he gets up to at night. The only saving grace for Dexter’s character – if it can be called that – is that he kills by “a code” that his adoptive father Harry instilled in him: he will only kill those that are irredeemable killers themselves.
Before I go any further, let me say that I know that most of you have heard of this series, if not watched it religiously for the last 6 years. It has, after all, garnered millions of fans and many awards and award nominations over the course of its six seasons. I know this. But I write this for the uninitiated who, like me, managed to miss it the first time round.
Committing to a TV show with so much hoopla surrounding it and so many god darn episodes is a big deal especially if you’ve never really been that enticed before. There are after all so many acclaimed shows out there: “24”, “The Wire”, “Damages”, “Lost”, “Battlestar Galactica”, “Homeland”, “Breaking Bad”, “Mad men” and many, many more. What is worse is that they keep making these shows – for the most part – so the number of episodes you need to ‘catch up’ with gets ever more daunting and becomes even more of an onerous challenge.
All that being said, what did I make of the first series of Dexter when I watched it recently? Was it worth the time expended?* Would I watch series 2?
Yes, okay, it was worth it.
Watching 1 or 2 episodes on an evening that you’re not doing much else is more than acceptable. It becomes enjoyable and moreish in fact. The gallows humour of the ensemble cast at the various crime scenes makes up for the darkness at the centre of such a tale. The oppressively hot, sweaty Miami setting and the show’s playful use of Latin rhythms also add effectively to its singular atmosphere.
The one worry was that the series would become too formulaic:
Step 1: Dexter stumbles across someone he thinks may deserve to die because they are a bad person.
Step 2: Dexter has his suspicions confirmed and starts planning to ‘off’ the aforementioned villain.
Step 3: Dexter disposes of the villain and we are treated to his inner monologue as he reminds us he is alone and he feels nothing which is problematic for him.
Fortunately, while the early episodes are like this, there is also an overarching storyline which holds your interest and ties everything altogether nicely: the investigation to find the “Ice Truck Killer”.
The dual investigations – the police one and Dexter’s own – develop to an exquisitely exciting conclusion in episode 12 as Dexter plays a ‘cat-and-mouse’ game with the killer. Perhaps that makes it sound clichéd but it really isn’t – instead the series shows the masterplan of the “Ice Truck killer” played out to mind blowing perfection. I say mind blowing because it truly boggles the mind why anyone would go to so much trouble but, hey, there you go.
The series is securely anchored by Michael C. Hall’s bizarrely sympathetic, drily humorous and uber-complicated central character. It is no wonder he has won praise for the role, not to mention a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award. However, this would probably not be enough if it weren’t for a strong cast of supporting characters. Kenneth Branagh’s “Wallander” detective series should take note here: the supporting characters should be fleshed out as well!
Thankfully, they have been – to a greater or lesser extent – in “Dexter”. The supporting characters include his passive-aggressive, goofball foster-sister Deb; the crafty, politicking Lieutenant Maria La Guerta; the no-nonsense “I’m on to you, Morgan!” Sergeant Doakes; the so laidback he’s horizontal Detective Batista and Harry Morgan, the adoptive father that first guided Dexter’s tentative steps into channelling his ‘talents’ towards his, debatable, notion of good.
Speaking of which…
On the downside, the premise is not without its issues. Killing killers like some kind of anonymous and unheralded avenging angel the way Dexter does clearly robs the killer’s victims (and their families) of knowing that he/she is not still out there and that they have been brought to justice. There is also the ensuing question: what is justice? Should Dexter be allowed to be judge and jury? I’m not sure the series ever really confronts these issues – it is too rapt up in providing you with a good yarn to entertain you. The storyline arc could also be labelled fairly preposterous in its complexity too – crediting serial killers with super-intelligence, limitless resources and planning their crimes to ridiculous levels of detail. This all takes a stretch of the imagination. Finally, Julie Benz’s character, “Rita”, is also reliably annoying throughout as Dexter’s drippy goody-two-shoes girlfriend.
Yet, at the end of the day, am I glad I watched the first series?
Would I watch the next 5 or more series?
Not sure. It’s difficult to envisage how they could sustain the show for that amount of time without a dip in quality. But isn’t it always? The first episode of series 2 needs to have corker of a hook if I am to stick with it. Based on series one, it just might.
IN SHORT – More entertaining than intelligent. A good yarn told with panache.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Quite bloody (good)
*12 episodes x 55 minutes each = 660 mins = 11 hours!
Watch the opening credits (“Dexter’s morning routine”) here:
Watch a promo clip for “Dexter” here: