Dexter is Showtime's new TV series about a cop who is also a serial killer. After years of movies and television shows playing though the theme of the link between the cop and the killer, this kind of a show is somewhat inevitable, and its high concept a little exhausting. If you don't like plots about serial killers Dexter will get on your nerves, as it is such a desperate attempt to keep a tired genre alive; if you do like serial killer plots -- or if, like me, you don't care that much one way or the other -- its hard not to admit that, in spite of the transparent premise, the first episode of Dexter is a pretty good piece of craftsmanship: the acting, the structure, the tone, the characters and their conflicts are surprisingly well thought out and engaging. Though nowhere near the brilliance of Joss Whedon, it has this in common with his shows -- a dumb idea executed well enough to rise above the dumbness (Whedon soars above the dumbness).
Dexter, played by Michael C. Hall (from Six Feet Under), is a CSI style blood spatter forensic expert by day. By night he hunts the rapists and child molesters that escape the system by getting off on technicalities or what not. What separates him from the more violent superhero vigilantes is the imagery and tone of his killings; Dexter conceives of himself as a serial killer. His foster father, Harry, was a cop; when Dexter began showing signs of having been born a serial killer at a young age Harry helped him channel his darkness in the service of something good, killing monsters. Now his city, Miami, has a new genius serial killer in town, one that is clearly challenging Dexter both as cop (catch him) and fellow killer (Dexter is amazed at this new guy's skills).
What really saves the show is the tone, which, while dark, is pulpy, fun, and a little bit silly at times (not unlike CSI). Dexter has a dumb, insecure but very cute sister on the force trying to make it as a homicide cop, even though no one will take her seriously; he does his best to help her by giving her access to his insights about the new killer. Like Patrick Bateman, from American Psycho, Dexter is completely empty inside and has to mimic, as best he can, normal social and emotional interactions. Rather than play up the horror of this isolation, Dexter uses it to earn our sympathy for this character who cannot understand simple things like sex, but kind of wants to. His girlfriend, Julie Benz from Buffy, never has sex with him because of past trauma in her life; when she tries, he tries with her, but is clearly relieved when they are interrupted. It's kind of sweet actually. I can only hope it holds its own for a while until the penultimate episode's inevitable reveal that the new serial killer in town is Dexter's biological father.
Dexter premiered Sunday night, but the first episode will be replayed many times; if you don't have Showtime it will play during the free Showtime preview later this week (October 6 - 13).