Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Time of the Season: S1 of Dexter (’06 – ‘07)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 29, 2007

“Do you feel anything? ANYTHING at all?”

Has there never been a regular TV show from the perspective of a serial killer before? None that I can think of, but it seems too dynamite a concept for there not to be at least some precursor. Of course, Showtime’s hit new series Dexter cheats a little in the basic concept by making the title character unquestionably a serial killer, but one that at least has ambiguous claims to righteousness. For despite his sociopathic nature, Dexter Morgan has a slasher code of ethics (mostly meaning he just kills bad dudes), inbued in him by his adopted father Harry–one that gives him some semblance of humanity, as well as one that tends to keep his work away from prying eyes. It’s a clever trick, and one that makes the show’s story compelling, despite being about the workings of an essentially evil man.

Unsurprisingly, the show’s formula could still use a little tinkering–which I intend to forgive before S2 since, hey, this is relatively uncharted territory, and first timers are bound to make some mistakes here and there. Here’s how the story goes:

The Good:

  • Michael C. Hall as Dexter. It’s of course a particularly novel performance for me, coming off a two-week shotgun of the entire Six Feet Under, where he played Nate’s gay, uptight brother David. His performance in SFU always sort of verged on crepey itself–something about the intensity of his stare and the frogginess of his voice, combined with his repressed personality, which made him seem like he might snap at any moment. Dexter Morgan is probably who David Fisher would’ve grown up to be if he had snapped when he was about four, and it’s a joy to watch the unsettling instability of his SFU character taken to such an extreme. It’s a great performance, if occasionally somewhat cheesy. and despite being a role that most actors would kill for, it’s hard to imagine what it’d be like played by anybody else.
  • James Remar as Harry Morgan, Dexter’s adopted father. Remar has been an unfortunately unacknowledged actor since he broke out in The Warriors almost 30 years ago, and this is yet another plum role (adding to his turns in Sex & the City, 2 Fast 2 Furious, The Girl Next Door and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, among countless others) to add to his stunning That Guy resume. Remar has to contend with both limited screen time and having an already-deceased character that appears only in flashbacks, but he still manages to be the show’s heart, and the only show regular that can really contend with Hall.
  • The music. Most of it is dictated by the Miami setting, which means the show is peppered with (occasionally deliberately inappropriate) Salsa music, which adds to the show’s boiling-point atmosphere. But it’s the show’s two main themes that are the real treats, the title theme a jaunty (zither? plucked guitar?) number that sounds like a much creepier version of the Dead Like Me theme, and the closing theme a haunting piano ballad that could be from DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing if it had a breakbeat under it.
  • The finale. I don’t want to ruin it for those yet to see it, but it does a pretty impressive job of tying up all the season’s loose plot points in a resolution that’s half Marlowe and half Cronenberg.

The Bad:

  • The show’s over-reliance on wink-wink, nudge-nudge moments. Dexter spends so much time evil-hamming for the camera that it’s somewhat amazing that no one else in the cast seems to notice. Plus, the character has an annoying tendency to give himself too much credit–there’s a line about halfway through the season, something like not “I’m not human, and I’m not a monster, I’m a new breed…I AM DEXTER.” C’mon, Dex, save that shit for Spiderman or someone.
  • Jennifer Carpenter as Dexter’s sister, Deborah. As Dexter’s last remaining link to humanity (“If I could feel things about anyone, I’d feel them for Deb,” he says at one point, approximately), Deb needs to be a compelling enough character to be buyable as the character keeping Dexter sane. Unfortunately, she’s mosly just kind of annoying, and one she inevitably falls into danger, you’ll only be rooting half-heartedly for Dex to come to the rescue (“eh, on second thought, fuck it”).

The Questionable:

  • The title sequence. Using extreme close-ups of Dexter performing his ordinary morning ritual–meat getting chopped, facial hairs being shaved, eggs being fried–shot to look as disturbing and unordinary as possible. The intention is obviously to show the implied violence of Dexter’s (and, in turn, most other people’s) everyday routine, and I guess it sort of works, but it feels like it’s trying a little too hard. Plus I’m pretty sure it’s already been done in a Michel Gondry or Floria Sigismondi video or something.
  • The rest of the cast. There’s really not much going on there yet–Julie Benz as Dex’s confused girlfriend Rita, David Zayas as his good-timey Latino co-worker Angel, even Erik King as Sgt. Doakes, the one cop who can almost see through his mechinations, they all fail to make anything beyond superficial impressions. With a few seasons under their belt I could see them growing on me, but for the moment, this is the Hall and Remar show through and through. Maybe IITS’s newest compadre wants to make his acting debut as Dexter’s new partner–the hilarity and pop culture cache would be unimaginable.
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