Based on a series of novels by Jeff Lindsay, "Dexter" revolves around Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), one hell of a nice guy who works as a blood spatter (forensic) analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department. Dexter also happens to be a prolific serial killer. In his defense, though, he follows a code taught to him by his adoptive father, a policeman named Harry (James Remar): He only kills people who really really really deserve to die: murderers who have beaten the system and are likely to kill again.
Michael C. Hall is perfect in the title role. It's not an easy part. Dexter is both charming and cold-blooded, but he's no Hannibal Lecter: He takes no pride in his nature, frequently referring to himself as a "monster" but unable to do anything about his "dark passenger." (A major plotline of the second season involved Dexter's participation in a 12-step program where he sought to "beat" his addiction.) What makes Hall's performance especially fascinating is the many roles he has to play as Dexter: mild-mannered analyst, passionate killer, somewhat clueless and socially inept boyfriend to the long-suffering Rita (Julie Benz), as well as numerous improvised identities that Dexter snaps into when stalking his prey.
But what makes the show soar is the writing. Each season (the Solipsist just finished watching season 3 on DVD) is essentially a 13-episode novel for television. The plots are intricate and, most important, thoroughly unpredictable. This is not just because of plot twists--of which there are many. It should be noted, though, that the show has never had an "unearned" plot twist: The kind of seemingly random occurrence that makes one roll one's eyes at the apparent desperation of a writing staff; all of "Dexter"'s twists and turns seem pleasingly logical even in retrospect.
But again, it's not the plot twists that make the show unpredictable. The unpredictability arises because of the nature of this show and its lead character: We don't know how the story is going to end because, frankly, we're never 100% sure what the "right" ending should be.
To digress for a moment: One of our favorite action movies is "In the Line of Fire," wherein Clint Eastwood plays a Secret Service agent trying to prevent a presidential assassination. Now, because it's Clint Eastwood, we assume that he will succeed. The catch, though, and the thing that makes the movie exciting, is that "success" in this case could very well mean Eastwood's death--as long as he dies saving the President. In other words, the audience doesn't know what constitutes a "good" ending.
Such is the case in "Dexter." Sure, we want him to succeed. At the same time, though, Dexter's antagonists are often perfectly decent people--Detective Sergeant James Doakes (Erik King), for example, the one cop who suspects Dexter Morgan is not as decent as he seems. Even Dexter's sister, police officer Debra Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter), is often a potential roadblock for our hero. So we don't want them to succeed, but it's hard to root against them, too. In the most recent season, Jimmy Smits portrays Miguel Prado, an Assistant District Attorney who befriends Dexter. Without going into too much detail--no spoilers here--suffice to say there were several points in the season where we had absolutely NO IDEA where the story was going to go. Such feelings are all too rare when viewing popular entertainment.
Seasons 1-3 are available on DVD. Season 4 is about to start. We don't get Showtime, but we've already placed Season 4 on our Netflix queue. We strongly recommend that you Sloppists do the same.