Showtime Entertainment // 2006 // 650 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // August 27th, 2007
"Let's just say, I'm not exactly the boy next door."
Well, they finally did it. The pretenses have been dropped. They made a show about a serial killer. A really good show, to boot. Based on the crime novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, Dexter may well be one of the most unique and engaging shows currently on TV. Now, Dexter: The First Season brings it to DVD for those who don't get Showtime.
Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall, Six Feet Under) is the most talented crime scene analyst in the Miami Homicide Division, helping to lock away the most devious killers imaginable by studying the pattern of blood sprays at crime scenes. He has a good relationship with his aspiring homicide detective sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter, The Exorcism of Emily Rose), has friends on the force, and has a lovely girlfriend named Rita (Julie Benz, Angel). In all regards, he is a normal, likable fellow who you'd never give a second thought to. Dexter would consider this a compliment, because he works very hard to cultivate an air of normality. Sociopath serial killers often have a hard time with social interactions, you see.
In reality, Dexter is a prolific and talented serial killer who stalks the streets of steamy Miami looking for the dregs of society. He preys upon the criminal elements and gives them a taste of his special medicine, covering his tracks with the polished poise of a professional. In the day, he works on crime scenes not unlike his own previous night's activities. He feels nothing, no emotions of any kind, which makes things inconvenient. It is a constant struggle for him to maintain healthy relationships and normal interactions in order to evade suspicion and continue his "work" undetected.
But when a daring and gifted killer appears on the Miami scene, dismembering corpses with incredible skill, Dexter is floored by a feeling of professional envy, admiration, and a twinge of jealousy. Somebody is working his turf, draining the blood away from bodies in a fashion that fascinates Dexter, who soon realizes the killer is communicating with him through his murders. Has Dexter found somebody who will finally understand his deadly impulses?
Dexter: The First Season contains all 12 episodes from the first season of the Showtime cable television drama:
When blood splatter analyst Dexter Morgan is not out solving murders, he spends his time as a serial killer who eliminates those who do bad things. But his world is shaken when another serial killer commits a series of highly stylized murders in Miami.
While trying to decide on his next victim, Dexter's world is thrust into turmoil when the other killer in town, dubbed the Ice Truck Killer, secretly contacts Dexter to inform him that he knows what Dexter is up to.
* "Popping Cherry"
While stalking a recently released convict who may kill again, Dexter has to deal with the latest victim of the Ice Truck Killer, a chopped-up hooker in a pro hockey ice rink.
* "Let's Give The Boy A Hand"
Dexter is intrigued when the Ice Truck Killer starts leaving pictures from Dexter's childhood at the crime scenes. Are these horrific tableaus meant to tell Dexter something about his own past?
* "Love American Style"
The Homicide division is abuzz after the Ice Truck Killer's latest victim is found alive, while Dexter stalks a murderous human trafficker.
* "Return To Sender"
The Ice Truck Killer leaves Dexter a surprise at the scene of one of Dexter's recent kills, putting Dexter firmly in the crosshairs of his own Homicide Division.
* "Circle of Friends"
The Ice Truck Killer's identity is revealed, but something about him doesn't sit right with Dexter.
* "Shrink Wrap"
When the "suicide" of a powerful high-profile woman reveals a strange pattern of murders, Dexter stalks a killer unlike any he's had to deal with before.
* "Father Knows Best"
Rita, Debra, and Rudy join Dexter for a weekend away when Dexter finds out this his biological father, whom Dexter thought had died 30 years ago, has just recently passed away and left him all his belongings...and his house.
* "Seeing Red"
The Ice Truck Killer leaves Dexter the most horrifying crime scene imaginable, forcing him to confront the demons of his past.
* "Truth Be Told"
The Ice Truck Killer kidnaps someone very close to Dexter, forcing Dexter to play a deadly game of hide-and-seek.
* "Born Free"
Dexter and the Ice Truck Killer have a final confrontation.
Dexter stands out as a truly original take on the well-established and well-populated crime television genre. The show about police investigating serial killers has been done to death. The show about medical officers, lab techs investigating crime scenes and catching the serial killer, has been done to death. But never has a show put death in the forefront, literally, by making the bad guy the hero. In Dexter, the lab rat working to catch the serial killer is a serial killer himself. Uncharted waters, these are.
The true brilliance of Dexter is how effectively we are sold a sociopath serial killer as a sympathetic hero. On paper, relating to a sociopath is a tenuous business at best. By definition, such individuals are bereft of identifiable emotions and sympathy. Furthermore, it seems reasonable to assume that most people certainly can't directly relate to -- you know -- all the murdering. If you can, I don't need to know about it. Yet there is a bizarre synchronicity and bond formed between viewer and Dexter as he stumbles through the basest of human interactions, sometimes with the practiced ease of a salesman, sometimes with the clumsiness and innocence of a child. He can fake small talk and banter like a pro, but if his girlfriend starts to cry unexpectedly, Dexter looks confused and a little bit alarmed. He realizes that "normal people" would say something at this point, but he finds himself at a loss to what it could be. The subtle joke is that all these small situations, these tiny social interactions that come "easily" to normal folk, in actuality are the very things we all struggle with. Ironic, no? You sympathize terribly with Dexter, who is so bereft of human emotion and interaction that you end up rooting for him to succeed, to make friends, to bond with, and possibly murder, the occasional person. It sounds crazy, but there it is: Dexter, a show about a sympathetic serial killer. Go figure.
Slowly, painfully, Dexter fills out Dexter's past through a series of flashbacks, a past inexorably tied to his own fate. Amazingly, we can sympathize with Dexter before we understand him, and once we fully understand who he is, we like him even more. He is the perfect anti-hero, an unexpectedly complex, provocative, and controversial television character rarely seen before. Sure, you've got Tony Soprano, Omar from The Wire, and a small number of reprehensible-yet-sympathetic rapscallions scattered throughout the cable channels here and there, but rarely one as forthright and intimate as Dexter. The dude is a serial killer, and is very comfortable with his occupational choice. He enjoys it, even. As the viewer, we are privy to his every thought, every anxiety, every secret urge, riding front and center in his skull the entire way. Traditional television narrative only ever has the serial killer as the mysterious and enigmatic unknown, a man never seen until the last minute, when they ultimately get caught and a desperate detective tries to interrogate him and discover his secrets -- which of course, you never get. But in Dexter, all the secrets are known to us, and it is a journey unlike anything else on television today.
Actor Michael C. Hall honed his angst-ridden, repressed emotional acting range on HBO's Six Feet Under, and for Dexter, he adds linen shirts and bowie knives to the repertoire. It is admittedly slightly disconcerting for fans of the aforementioned show to see gentle David chop some person up and stuff them into duffel bags, but you acclimate surprisingly fast to Dexter. Hall plays the role with the perfect balance of cheerful insincerity and slight disdain for human interaction -- believable, but not alienating or too creepy. The enthusiasm for the role is evident in every action of Hall, for which he rightfully earned a Golden Globe nomination in 2007. Though the cast is large and borders on an ensemble, Dexter is the Dexter show, and herein lies the only noticeable weakness. The roles of his subordinates and co-workers are far less defined in Dexter, having been padded and expanded from the original source material in the television adaptation. Though there are some solid performances by Julie Benz as Dexter's abused girlfriend and Jennifer Carpenter as his feisty foster sister and police co-worker, they are but garnish and tinsel at the feet of Hall's performance, and subplots not involving Dexter are noticeably inferior to the main storyline. Benz is really the only other cast member who gets a chance to shine in her performance as the abused girlfriend on the road to self-recovery and independence. Fortunately, her character is given ample screen time to flourish alongside Dexter.
Whether you can envision yourself attracted to the subject matter or not, Dexter is seriously good television: dramatic, funny, thrilling, tense, and well-written. We have a unique take on an anti-hero given unexpected twists and turns through a top-notch murder mystery elaborately plotted throughout 12 episodes of bloody dismemberment and detective work. The Ice Truck Killer is a devious adversary and idol for Dexter to match his wits against, acting as competition and mentor to him simultaneously. He spends his days working to help "catch" the killer but spends his nights trying to find him for his own intellectual curiosity. If you like your comedy black and dark, you will adore the deeply satirical and deadpan delivery of Dexter as he meanders his way through the city, a fake smile plastered on his face. Once the twisted tale begins to unravel, things start to take on a surreal level of predictability, but there are enough surprises and angled turns to keep even the most jaded viewer compelled. This Judge easily looks forward to Season Two.
Visually, Dexter is incredible on the eyes with a style all its own. The cinematography is lush and superbly stylized, with an oversaturated color palate and brilliant whites bordering on overexposure. Dexter personifies the steamy Miami locale in a palate of green and blue pastels, sticky air, and deep blacks. The anamorphic transfer is clean and free from blemishes, with deep black levels and outrageous colorization. Audio gives us a sumptuous Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a 2.0 Surround track, with active and aggressive bass response, clear dialogue, a creeping orchestra score, and a fantastic Cuban music score. The 5.1 track gets top-notch marks. This is how you want television to sound, with perfect balance throughout all five channels, and plenty of action in the rear channels. The 2.0 track does well enough but lacks the flair and definition of the full 5.1 track. There is also a Spanish mono track for those who hablo Español. There are no subtitles, but there are closed captions for the hearing impaired.
The supplemental features for Dexter look good on paper, but on closer examination are fairly thin. Two audio commentaries with cast and crew are included, with Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas, Lauren Velez, and Erik King on "Return to Sender" and producers Sara Colleton, Clyde Phillips, and Daniel Cerone on "Born Free." I would have liked to see Dexter participate, or perhaps the author, but oh, well. A 12-minute featurette, "Witnessed In Blood...A True Murder Investigation" is straight out of a Court TV episode, chronicling the tale of a real-life blood spatter analyst in California solving a murder. Definitely a cool little extra. We also get a nice alternative to previews in the form of two complete episodes of Showtime's Brotherhood: The Complete First Season, which whets the appetite for the curious to get into another Showtime program. The rest of the extras are only accessible via a DVD-ROM drive in your computer, which stinks, because there's some good stuff: two chapters from the newest Dexter novel, Dexter In The Dark; access to two streaming episodes online for The Tudors; a preview of the newest CSI video game, CSI: Hard Evidence; and some more fluff stuff. There is also a neat-sounding feature called "The Academy of Blood...A Killer Course" listed on the packaging, but for the life of me, I could not find it anywhere -- not on the discs or the DVD-ROM portion. Color me confused. So when you boil it down, you really only have two commentary tracks and a 12-minute featurette that, albeit cool, has nothing to do with Dexter directly. Not the best.
Truth be told, there isn't much to complain about with Dexter. It really is as good as people say it is. Given the serial killer subject matter, the tone of Dexter is violent, but surprisingly reserved (all things considering). We get a lot of mutilated body parts, bloody torsos, stumps, and the like, and gallons and gallons of the red stuff, but little to no on-screen violence of any kind.
One thing that does seem out of place is the cursing. Prudish I'm not, but the swearing is dropped sporadically throughout the show, seemingly for no reason, almost as if the writers have to keep reminding themselves they're on cable television and remember to drop a few "s" and "f" bombs out of contractual obligation. I dunno. It just seems awkward.
Yeah, so I'm reaching. Sue me. It's a good @#$% show.
A deliciously dark and disturbing television show, Dexter takes us into the mind of a serial killer in a way we've never had the opportunity to see on television. Better, it actually manages to live up to its own hype. At casual glance, one might dismiss the show as being a novelty or a gimmick, but for your dollar, Dexter: The First Season offers up some of the most satisfying crime drama and thrilling mystery currently on DVD or cable television today.
Hands down, best opening credits ever. Oh, yeah, the rest of the show's great, too.
Review content copyright © 2007 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Showtime Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Two Audio Commentaries by the Cast & Producers
* "The Academy of Blood... A Killer Course"
* "Witnessed In Blood... A True Murder Investigation"
* Two Free Episodes of Brotherhood
* Free Episodic Download of The Tudors (DVD-ROM)
* Two First Chapters of Dexter In The Dark, the newest Dexter novel (DVD-ROM)
* Play the CSI: Hard Evidence video game (DVD-ROM)
* Official Site