Monday, June 27, 2011

TV review: Dexter

This is one of those spur of the moment posts, where I feel an irrational surge of bravado and hope to dazzle y'all with my piercing wit and wise criticism. So here we go.

'Dexter' is a television drama that airs on the premium cable channel Showtime. Boutique cable channels like Showtime and HBO have a slight edge over traditional networks (like NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX) and even basic cable networks (like USA, TNT, FX, etc.) because they don't always have to cater to the lowest common denominator. Unlike the aforementioned lay channels, these highbrow entertainment meccas largely survive on (quite hefty) subscription fees that viewers shell out. This means that only those who want to watch programming on Showtime or HBO will pay. Being guarded from inadvertent viewers in this way also allows these networks more leeway in terms of graphic images, language and more explicit content matter like drugs or violence. Nothing is bleeped out; black bars are not needed here.

While it is true that such freedom has brought us genuine masterpieces like "The Sopranos" and "The Wire", the lack of any restrictions on content also gives show creators an excuse to show excessive violence and sex wrapped in the guise of historical lushness or avant-garde television. One look at the travesties that are "The Tudors" (a drama about Henry VIII rife with horrendous inaccuracies and laughable plot changes) and "Californication" (a drug-infested tale about a snarky author suffering writer's block) confirms this assertion.

Fortunately, "Dexter" is not one of these "we'll show you all the goods just  cuz we can" type shows. The conflict portrayed in the show is real, the tension palpable.

The main premise of the show is this: the protagonist Dexter Morgan is a forensic analyst working for the Miami police. During day he is a genial, if slightly quirky and moody, coworker who brings donuts for his colleagues and makes questionable jokes with his analyst buddies. He has a kid sister Debra who is also a detective with the homicide department. Their father was also a cop, making the Morgans a true blue blood family.

Where is the drama in that, mate? Well at night time, Dexter doubles as Batman a serial killer. Don't worry, though. He is the good kind of serial killer (if such a kind can, in fact, exist). Turns out Dexter was trained by his dad at an early age to channel his violent tendencies to do good for society by eliminating those who deserve to die. His dad Harry also taught him a code that basically says,  "Don't kill innocent people". Leaving aside the obvious moral and ethical quandaries regarding who gets to choose who deserves to die when, Dexter's increasing difficulties with maintaining two lives makes for very compelling TV.

And Michael C. Hall (nominated multiple times for a best actor Emmy) plays the hell out of Dexter. Each episode is peppered with inner monologues of Dexter and his growing bewilderment with social conventions like small talk, and Hall obviously relishes playing an emotionally empty but basically good to the core serial killer. I say this without the faintest trace of irony, because if you want to truly enjoy the show you have to buy into the "good serial killer" mantra otherwise it won't make much sense. The secondary characters need some work on the show. Sometimes they are mere props meant to support Dexter is his quest to escape the long arms of the very same law he helps uphold in the day. And people who do begin to suspect Dexter tend to die at the end of the season. To date there have been five seasons of the show (I am currently watching the fifth season), and though all have followed roughly similar plotlines (while the police is busy with other crimes in the city, someone from the department gets suspicious about Dexter. Dexter tries to evade this person and tragic shit happens, but Dexter escapes at the end), the superior writing and acting makes it worthwhile to watch this show.

So get on your butts and catch this show. You'll like it.

Watch this, ahem, killer intro to see whether you like it or not. Such exquisite detail!


  1. Geez I never hear the end of it from my bud who watches Dexter. Swears by it and always lets me know.

  2. Has he shown you an episode yet? I am not that obsessed about it, but I think it is vastly more entertaining than most stuff on TV.