Showtime Entertainment // 2006 // 600 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // January 19th, 2009
He takes life. Seriously.
In HBO's and Showtime's Yankees/Red Sox-like rivalry, HBO has long been dominant in original programming, with shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, and Six Feet Under (compared to Showtime's leadoff hitter, Jeremiah). However, in 2006, Michael C. Hall switched teams, going from the universally lauded Six Feet Under to play the titular sympathetic serial killer in Showtime's Dexter.
Surprisingly to some, or at least me, Dexter proved to be a success, and indicative of a larger sea change in pay cable dominance. Of course, not all the credit can go to Dexter -- with dreck like John From Cincinnati, HBO's downfall was pretty much assured. Still, for those who've been backing the wrong team these past few years, now is the perfect time to catch up with what you've been missing, on Blu-ray, no less, with Dexter: The First Season (Blu-ray).
Based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, Dexter is the story of a Dexter Morgan (Hall), a psychopath who hunts other serial killers. Dexter is aware of his psychopathic tendencies, and has eschewed normal human relationships, instead finding meaning in his blood lust. However, he has a strict code about who he kills, imbued in him by his foster father (James Remar, The Girl Next Door), so he really isn't that bad a guy.
Dexter's day job is a blood-spatter specialist for the Miami police. His sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter, Battle in Seattle) is also an up-and-coming detective on the force. However, neither Debra nor any of the other detectives suspect that Dexter is anything but an eccentric with a harmless interest for blood. That is, except for Sergeant James Doakes (Erik King), who can't put his finger on it, but knows Dexter is up to no good.
Still, Dexter has other problems to worry about. There's a serial killer on the loose in Miami, one who seems to know his secret. Also, perhaps more worrisome, Dexter is in a relationship with Rita (Julie Benz, Rambo), a divorcee he has no feelings for (he needs to keep up the appearance of a normal functioning person, one with sexual desires). However, the relationship's progress means the pressure is on for Dexter to exhibit human emotions, and this might prove to be the biggest challenge of all.
I never thought Michael C. Hall would get a role that wasn't some variation of David Fisher. He was just too good at playing the tightly wound, gay mortician; I couldn't see him playing anyone else, and was even shocked to learn he wasn't gay in real life. So when I heard he was playing a sympathetic serial killer -- on Showtime no less -- I thought Dexter was going to be about as popular as Lucky Louie. This is probably reason number seventy-nine why I'm not a TV executive.
Even with decades of television programming and hundreds of television stations there's never been a character like Dexter. After watching Hall imbue this oddly engaging killer, you quickly realize what a revelation the character is. Dexter is not sympathetic in any conventional way; he doesn't care much for his acquaintances, his immediate family, or humanity in general (though this cold demeanor thaws while the season progresses). Dexter is not a crime fighter seeking justice; he is assuaging his need to kill in the least morally compromising way possible. By exploring that narrow moral margin, Dexter is a thriller with one of the most intriguing protagonists on television. Thank God they cast Hall, because without him, this would be a mediocre show.
As a police procedural, Dexter is only average. The Ice Truck Killer is on the loose, and he is -- like almost all TV killers -- theatrical. He drains the blood of his victims, cuts them into little pieces, and arranges the body parts in public places. Yeah, it's imaginative, but the Ice Truck Killer is a lot of gimmicks and few thrills. It also doesn't help that when the villain is unmasked he proves to be unexciting and understated. Then again, the entire cast seems to be out of Hall's league, and the show's production values are only a few notches above shoddy.
Still, Dexter alone is enough to keep any viewer interested. His strained personality is enlivens any scene he's in. When he shows up a crime scene, his ebullience at being in the presence of blood is palpable, and his attempt to restrain this in front of co-workers is a source of constant amusement. In his personal life, his struggle to feign human emotion -- and his stunned responses to real tenderness -- can be touching or absurd or both. Hall is a master who can elicit any response he wants from his audience, and any show with such a dynamic protagonist is worth checking out.
But is it worth checking out on Blu-ray? As far as the picture goes, Dexter's bright and fluorescent Miami setting makes it one of the most picturesque shows on television. The Blu-ray 1080p picture allows you to see nearly every grain of sand, every strand of hair, and every neon-colored building in brilliant detail. The picture is clear enough that if an actor didn't shave that morning you'll see each individual piece of stubble. As great as the show itself looks, probably the best use of the high-res picture is in the opening credits, during close-ups of succulent food and assorted meat stuffs being carved up (I was impressed; my wife was disgusted). That said, this disc doesn't do as well with night scenes. Shadows tended to be oversaturated and fuzzy. Thankfully, most of Dexter takes place in the daytime or well-lit rooms.
It's harder to be as impressed with the sound. The soundtrack occasionally employs some Latin funk that might get your foot tapping, but that's hardly enough to give your surround sound system a workout. It's all the more disappointing because -- though one doesn't expect much action from a thriller -- there are no car chases, shootouts, or even foot races to dazzle your speakers.
There is a nice trove of extras on the Blu-ray release, including a few goodies you can't get on the regular DVD set of Dexter: The First Season. The extras that appear on both sets are the audio commentaries, the premiere episode of Dexter's third season, and the featurettes; "Witnessed in Blood" is a cool primer on real blood-spatter experts. Instead of getting the first two episodes of Brotherhood (which appear on the DVD set), the Blu-ray features two episodes of United States of Tara (I couldn't get through these). Lastly, there is a podcast of Michael C. Hall, which is a great addition since he doesn't appear on any of the audio commentaries.
One last note: Most of these features can only be accessed with BD-Live. This means if you don't have an Internet connection for your player and a Profile 2.0 compliant Blu-ray player, you're out of luck. That kind of sucks.
One of the oddities of Dexter that would bother me more if the show wasn't so captivating are the number of serial killers that seem to be operating in Miami. I'm no expert on homicide rates, but could dozens of serial killers be on the loose in one metropolitan area? The Boston Strangler, the Zodiac Killer, Son of Sam -- they all terrorized whole cities singlehandedly during their reigns, yet Dexter seems to unearth almost one comparable killer per episode. If this is even close to real-life ratios then I'm never leaving my apartment ever again.
Dexter isn't going to make anyone forget Six Feet Under, but it is definitely worth checking out. Like Monk, this is a show that is able to rise far above mediocrity with one great, eccentric protagonist. Passionate fans might want to upgrade to the Blu-ray version, but there's no compelling reason for casual fans to. That said, I think Blu-ray owners who haven't seen the show yet certainly should consider a purchase.
Guilty of kidnapping, murder, assault, and being a pretty good show.
Review content copyright © 2009 Brendan Babish; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Showtime Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Episodes
* Official Site