Starring Michael C. Hall, Julie Benz, Jennifer Carpenter
Paramount Home Entertainment
Release Date: August 19, 2008
Dexter is a show that works beyond all the expected ways it could be anticipated to work. The first season involved Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall, a serial killer who works forensics on the Miami Police Department. His targets are criminals and people who use the normal parameters of the law to their own ends instead of justice. In an unfair world, Dexter acts as an equalizer.
But, more than that, it’s about a man, admittedly dead to the world, fumbling and futzing his way towards humanity and a soul. For someone like Dexter, who freely admits that he has no emotions, he sure does develop a lot of attachments. To his girlfriend Rita (Julie Benz) and her two kids; To his sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter), who’s also a cop and has no luck with romance. Through his interactions with others he finds out, much to both his joy and dismay, that he was human all along. Kind of like The Wizard of Oz in Dante’s ring of murderers.
And this was all in the first season. Here we are with the second season, now on DVD, and I think it’s better than the first. Instead of trying to capture lightning in a bottle yet again, it’s a continuation of the central themes and a continuing evolution of Dexter as a character.
Yeah, so he has a soul. NOW what?
When we last saw Dexter, he had found and dispatched the infamous Ice Truck Killer, and was being trailed by his co-worker, Sergeant Doakes (Erik King), because he rightly suspected that Dexter is a lot more sinister than his agreeable surface persona may appear. Being as he has a tail twenty-four-seven, he can’t indulge in his murderous obsessions. His goofy mistakes towards that end wind up in Rita sending him to rehab because she thinks he’s a drug addict.
It is there that he meets Lila (Jaime Murray), an attractive English former meth addict. She understands dark need like no one Dexter has ever met before, and this turns his world upside down.
Not helping matters is that someone’s found Dexter’s dumping grounds for all of his victims, and Miami is terrified by the “Bay Harbor Butcher.” The FBI sends in a special agent named Lundy (Academy Award-winner Keith Carradine, who we don’t see enough of nowadays), who’s almost as smart as Dexter is.
Part of the joy of the show is that star Michael C. Hall seems to perform Dexter as a cerebral man who visibly portrays a noose tightening around his neck. Even when he is silent and still you can hear him groaning when they get too close, and sighing with relief when he catches a break. It’s a spell-binding, tightrope performance and currently the best male work on TV today.
Of course, he’s only as good as his supporting cast. Remember Julie Benz, from when she was Darla on Angel and she wasn’t very good at it? She awesomed herself up REAL nice. Her vulnerable and sweet performance as Rita is the anchor the rest of the show needs, otherwise we’d drown in inaccessibility. Dexter is one of the five best shows on TV (along with 30 Rock, Battlestar Galactica, Lost and The Venture Bros.), and if it wasn’t for Benz, the show wouldn’t work at all. Plus, the work of Murray, Carradine, Carpenter, and King have a lot to recommend about it as well.
But at this point I have to confess that my sentimental favorite is David Zayas as Detective Angel Batista. His wife left him and he’s clinging to Oprah and the futile hopes of one-night-stands to see him through it. Sometimes he’s funny, sometimes he’s sad, but he functions as Dexter‘s likable Falstaff, and he’s damned good at it.
This season seems to have a much better pace to it than the hallowed first season. Many people preferred the first because the Dexter writing staff wanted to do something different this time out, as opposed to introducing another Big Bad for Dexter to find. But season two seems less predisposed towards standalone episodes and plotlines that peter out and don’t go anywhere. TV shows seem to waste time, even on shortened cable schedules like the one Dexter has, but I don’t think I’d be able to find anything that I could excise successfully from season two. It all seems to either propel plot or further the characters, which is something you can’t find all too often.
And another thing that the writing staff has going for it is that each writer has an almost eerie command of both the Gothic voiceover of Dexter himself, and the matter-of-fact, deadpan cop banter of everyone else. With this set of actors and these writers, nothing sounds inauthentic. Combined with the Miami locations (as opposed to somewhere cheaper doubling for Miami, that home of sweaty southern noir), we have a show that feels real down to its very core.
And my favorite part? None of those lame-ass season ending cliffhangers. Both seasons feel complete, like long and satisfying novels (that Dexter is based on a series of novels may have something to do with it). I want to be told a story. I don’t want to be bribed into staying tuned.
Of course, when it’s cut and dry, you want to see the next season EVEN MORE!
Funny how that works out.
-FEATURES ‘N’ SHIT-
Viacom seemed to eschew Dexter-centric extras (apart from an interview with Hall) for episodes of other Showtime shows. Yeah, it’s opportunistic and greedy, but I like it anyway, as I’m always on the lookout for a new pop culture obsession.
Included are two episodes a piece from the second seasons of both The Tudors and The Brotherhood. I didn’t watch them because I hadn’t seen the FIRST seasons.
I can, however, pass a judgment on the first season episode of Californication that I watched. Folks, this is where the Showtime party-train stops. Ohhhhh LORD does that show suck!