When I first reviewed Dexter I hailed it as one of the best programs I had seen on television, maybe ever. I gave the show the second highest rating I have ever handed out on this site, (below only my perhaps too enthusiastic take on The Amazing Screw-On Head). Dexter has gone on to become one of Showtime’s biggest hits and a critical darling. Now, like Sex and the City and The Soprano’s before it, Dexter is getting wider distribution. However, unlike the other two series, Dexter will be seen on primetime network television.
Dexter is not a show that was designed for public airwaves. It is dark, violent, nihilistic and challenging. It is also heavily continuity based and, even with pre-episode recaps before each show, there are so many details that passive viewers will likely be lost. But we are living in a world where Heroes and Lost are two of the top rated shows in the nation, so maybe Dexter has a shot.
Dexter is a series about a Miami blood splatter specialist who moonlights as a serial killer who was trained from a young age to hunt down and kill other killers. The premise may sound a touch too American Psycho and the constant detached narration is sure to remind some of much of Brett Easton Ellis’s work, not to mention that of Chuck Palahniuk, but, over the course of the first season, Dexter really carves out a niche all its’ own.
There is something very postmodern about Dexter. The character is, in essence, a detective and the show is a sort of warped version of a Noir. However, in a modern setting a detective exists to protect the “have’s” from the “have-not’s,” Dexter, even with his morally reprehensible actions, is a sort of inversion of this. Specifically because he is an anti-hero Dexter becomes a more honest version of the Noir detectives of old. With this in mind, the doubling of Dexter in the season’s main foil, The Ice Truck Killer, becomes even more thematically resonant. Black is white and everything is gray.
The series also features outstanding acting, directing and writing. Even upon repeat viewings, it holds up.
The CBS version is a weak little sister. Much of the violence and ritual of Dexter’s life is gone and too, much of the darker humor from the narration is absent. The pace feels rushed and some of the best jokes are sanitized. The only added benefit of this version comes by way of some hilariously out of place ADR, (“Motherlover!”) In short, CBS has turned a wonderfully edgy show into…something you’d expect to see on CBS. It really doesn’t feel that much different than an episode of CSI.
The first episode is one of the most violent, and as a result it feels cut to ribbons, but I cannot imagine future episodes, which deal with very squeamish matter will come out much better. With the DVD of Dexter so readily available there is no reason to watch the censored version. If you are unsure if Dexter is something you might like, perhaps watch the first episode on CBS, then, go buy the DVD.
Dexter premiers on CBS on February 17 at 10 PM.