Review: Dexter: Season One

Dexter, a good drama but an average psychological study, is always pointing out distinctions between right and wrong.

Dexter: Season One
Photo: Showtime

The upgrade in quality Weeds is seeing in its second season may be an indication that Showtime could be sitting on another goldmine with Dexter, a show of great promise that, right now, makes way too many concessions to lazy TV vernacular. The show suggests a questionable inversion of the now deceased and often diseased Six Feet Under, with David Fisher now working as a forensics expert in Miami, killing lowlifes in his spare time as a means of greasing his moral compass. Dexter, whose first three episodes are directed by Michael Cuesta, a Six Feet Under alum, tries to get inside the head of a serial killer in the most banal and literal fashion: Every episode is jam-packed with needless, self-analyzing narration by Dexter (Hall) and concludes with the sort of trite summarizing speeches indebted to the dumb catalog work of Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives.

Carrie Bradshaw at least had a concrete excuse for her diarrhea of the mouth (she was a columnist pilfering her days and nights for material), but Dexter, who claims he doesn’t have any feelings (this is in spite of his warm relationship to his girlfriend’s children), doesn’t seem to say very much about his state of affairs—his moral exactitude, ostensibly nonexistent emotions and sex drive, and general philosophy of the world—that isn’t easily gleaned from the show’s story, glossy aesthetic or serial-killer clichés audiences have inherited over the years from the movies. Even Dexter’s wisest observations, like pointing out how his lieutenant’s attraction to him is in keeping with her total sense of entitlement, feel unnecessary, especially in light of the good acting that more than adequately illuminates whatever gaps the show’s producers think their audience needs filled.

Easy as it is to distrust a show that so meticulously and dubiously qualifies its twisted gimmick, asking us to put stock in a serial killer (yikes!) only to reveal that he murders only those who have taken from society (aww!), Dexter is getting considerable mileage out of the sick relationship between Dexter and another sicko, the Ice Truck Killer, who’s wreaking havoc on the streets of Miami. (The show’s game of cat and mouse—or is it cat and cat?—is more interesting than Se7en.) The writers of the show have a screwy notion of how Latinos speak in the city (in the first episode, Erik King says everything twice—once in Spanish, once in English), but some of Dexter’s recent episodes boast refreshing patches of untranslated Spanish and a complex camaraderie between its ostensibly Cuban officers.

Best of all are the characters—big and small—and how the politics of Miami, where everyone goes to die (as Dexter tells us), bleeds into the internal affairs of the show’s central police station and messes with everyone’s personal lives: Lt. Maria LaGuerta’s complicated ambition is a fascinating burden, and it’s no coincidence that she name-drops Jeb Bush in one episode; and when Dexter’s sister, an officer who’s moved to homicide after making headway in the Ice Truck Killer case, obliviously insults the prostitutes she formerly worked with, one of the women insists (not once but twice) that there isn’t anything wrong with being a fucking whore. Dexter, a good drama but an average psychological study, is always pointing out distinctions between right and wrong. The show’s not gritty, but if an upcoming episode about the struggles of balseros is any indication, it is certainly showing signs of wanting to get its hands dirty by grappling with the realities of our world.

 Cast: Michael C. Hall, Julie Benz, Jennifer Carpenter, Erik King, Lauren Valéz, David Zayas, James Remar, C.S. Lee, Devon Graye, Daniel Goldman, Dominic Janes  Network: Showtime, Sundays, 10 p.m.  Buy: Amazon

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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