An interesting and original idea that's very skillfully executed, Showtime's Dexter is never less than watchable, often quite compelling, and sometimes thoroughly riveting. As the 12 episodes from the show's first season (packaged here in a four disc set) reveal, it's also the epitome of "high concept," a kind of Silence of the Lambs for the C.S.I. generation. Creator-executive producer James Manos Jr.'s title character, one Dexter Morgan (played by Michael C. Hall of Six Feet Under renown), works for the Miami Police Department as an blood spatter analyst, visiting crime scenes and helping figure out what happened. He has an avocation, too: during his off hours, he tracks down some very, very bad people who for various reasons have eluded the proper authorities. Seems his adoptive father, a cop himself, taught the kid how to channel his dark side in a "positive" direction; and so, having captured these evildoers (including a child molester-murderer and a recidivist drunk driver with a trail of bodies in his wake), Dex dispatches them with clinical precision, thus making him a serial killer who snuffs serial killers. But there's more--much more, as it turns out. By his own description, Dexter is "a monster," an empty shell who fakes all human interactions and admits to no real feelings for anything or anyone, including his foster sister (Jennifer Carter) and his nominal girlfriend (Julie Benz), a former crack addict and battered spouse who's as uninterested in sex as he is. There's an explanation for Dexter's weirdness, of course, one so deep and traumatic that even he isn't aware of it. It's gradually revealed over the course of the season as he and the cops (who include Erik King, Lauren Velez, and David Zayas, all first-rate) track down the so-called "Ice Truck Killer," a fellow monster whose grisly m.o. both fascinates and taunts our hero, leading to a genuinely shocking and squirm-inducing finale. Dexter can be a bit arch, with an ironic, too-hip-for-the-room tone that get a little old. Still, it's a safe bet that anyone who views this first season will be salivating for the second. Extras include audio commentary on two episodes, a featurette about real-life blood spatter analysis, and a variety of DVD-ROM items. --Sam Graham
Dark and sinister is the new sexy, thanks to Dexter, which in its second season has proven to be the most successful series Showtime has offered up yet. Remember how much you squirmed in your seat during the season one finale? Believe it or not, the premiere of season two felt like it could have been a season finale--because jaws were on the floor when the credits rolled. For being a supposed sociopath, Dex is pretty broken up about the gruesome events that concluded last season. The one and only person who could possibly understand him is six feet under, and it seems our unlikely hero is losing his homicidal grip. He’s even having a little trouble slicing up a few of his latest victims (from a murderous gang member to a chainsaw-wielding fiend from his past). Enter Lila (Jaime Murray, Hustle), a lady with a sweet British accent and a few dark secrets of her own. She seems to accept Dex for who he really is, and he finds himself feeling relaxed for the first time in his life. In contrast, his relationship with his girlfriend Rita (Julie Benz) has been stretched almost to a breaking point. The problem is, he should be anything but relaxed. Someone picked a poor place to go scuba diving off the Florida coast, and came across an underwater graveyard: Dex’s primo spot for dropping dismembered bodies wrapped in heavy-duty trash bags. Word about the "Bay Harbor Butcher" gets out quick, and the F.B.I. sends the best of the best, Special Agent Frank Lundy (Keith Carradine, Deadwood) to work alongside the police to sniff out Miami’s latest serial killer. This guy is no schlub, and Dex may have met his match. And, yes, Dexter gets to work with Lundy on a daily basis, which provides some wonderfully awkward moments. It certainly doesn’t help that the intuitively paranoid Sergeant Doakes (Erik King, Oz) is hot on Dex’s trail.
Season two of Dexter is all about decisions. Lila or Rita? Old code or new code? Run or fight? Right or wrong? Well, one thing’s for sure: When it comes to writing, casting, acting, and production, the makers of this show made all the right decisions. Michael C. Hall is simply superb as the title character. You’ll never find yourself more willing to genuinely root for a serial killer. It’s bloody liberating. --Jordan Thompson
Showtime's breakout hit series Dexter, about a lovable psychopath, a serial killer who targets only the scummiest of the scum, hits its stride in season 3. Dexter Morgan, played with nuance and glee by the outstanding Michael C. Hall, begins the season somewhat chastened by the events of the previous season--where whiffs of his secret life became known to others and he was nearly found out. "I need to find out what it's like just to be normal. If that's something that's even possible for me," he muses, as he tries to settle in to domestic life with girlfriend Rita (the baby-voiced Julie Benz) and her kids.
Yet Dexter is soon back to his compulsion for seeking out criminals who've somehow escaped traditional justice. Hall, one of TV's most talented actors, manages to make Dexter's off-kilter moral compass totally believable, if not quite sympathetic. The rest of the cast is stellar, including Dex's sister, Debra, played by Jennifer Carpenter as the seemingly more combustible Morgan--a hot-tempered Miami detective in the same division where Dexter toils in the background as a blood-spatter specialist. Deb wears her heart on her sleeve, as a cop and a sister, and her deep love for her brother is a key part of what makes Dexter so human. (And Carpenter's chemistry with Hall is amped by the fact that in real life, the actors are married.)
Season 3's breakout guest star is the amazing Jimmy Smits, who plays District Attorney Miguel Prado, a polished pillar of the community, an ambitious politician--and a guy with a secret every bit as dark as Dexter's. As Miguel and Dexter peel away each other's unsavory layers, Dexter tries to tamp down Miguel's blistering desire for revenge, and Miguel begins leading a double life--one that could threaten Dexter's life and family as much as the growing list of bad guys in Miguel's crosshairs. The other main star of Dexter is the city of Miami, its teeming beauty and corruption celebrated in equal measure, and its blistering sun shot without tempering. The city is so integral, visually and viscerally, that it's impossible to think of Dexter being shot anywhere else. The set's best extras--engaging interviews with cast members Hall, Benz, Carpenter, Lauren Vélez (Lt. Maria Laguerta) and David Zayas (Det. Angel Batista)--must be watched on a computer, for reasons that are unclear. Still, the interviews are must-sees for all Dexter fans. It's a killer season. --A.T. Hurley
Unfolding with tragic inevitability, Dexter's fourth season is a taut game of cat and mouse between Dexter (Emmy nominee Michael C. Hall) and Arthur Mitchell, "a very special kind of monster," unnervingly portrayed by John Lithgow in his Emmy and Golden Globe-winning performance. Whoever guest stars in seasons to come has a very hard act to follow. (Never mind all the blood, Mitchell's greeting, "Hello, Dexter Morgan," from the episode of the same name, will disturb your sleep.) But let's not forget Hall's consistently cutting-edge work. The Dexter saga has a rich back-story and mythology, but for those new to the series and lured to this season by Lithgow's justly celebrated performance, season 4 is a good place to start, because it represents something of a new beginning for Dexter himself. Married at the end of season 3, he is now dreaming of "having it all" as a husband and father, trying to juggle the demands of his job as a Miami Metro Police Department blood-spatter analyst, his new family, and his other calling as a serial killer. But he is more conflicted than ever. His new baby keeps him up nights, and the normally precise and methodical Dexter finds himself exhausted to the point of making mistakes in court. "Who knew life could get so unsimple?" he asks early on. Dexter and Mitchell are not the only characters harboring secrets. Some we can mention (Lieutenant Maria LaGuerta and Detective Angel Batista are in a relationship), but others we dare not even hint at (the episode "Hungry Man" has a doozy of a cliffhanger revelation). As the season unfolds, an incognito Dexter insinuates himself into Arthur's life and discovers disturbing parallels in their lives. Meanwhile, now-retired serial killer hunter Frank Lundy (Keith Carradine), who nearly uncovered Dexter's identity back in season 2, returns to ask for his help in catching the Trinity Killer. His reappearance upends the life of Dexter's sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), a homicide detective and Lundy's former lover. Debra has also been digging into the past of her late policeman father Harry (James Remar) and learns more about her twisted family tree. Disappointingly, interviews with Hall, Lithgow, and other cast members can be accessed only on a PC, but the DVD does contain episodes of Californication, Lock 'N Load, and The Tudors. --Donald Liebenson
When executive producer/showrunner Clyde Phillips exited Dexter at the end of the fourth season, he left the remaining cast and crew with a puzzle worthy of a cackling supervillain: not only find a way to top John Lithgow's stunning performance as a Big Bad, but also somehow rebuild the main character's life after the season finale's devastating ending. While this subsequent season definitely shows some signs of early fumbling, it sports more than enough twisted drama to keep viewers firmly on (or behind) the couch. Picking up scant seconds after the previous episode, the story arc follows the conflicted sociopath Dexter (Michael C. Hall) as he struggles to uphold his newly amplified role as a family man, while fending off his increasingly demanding killer urges. Salvation, of sorts, comes in the form of a brutalized female victim (Julia Stiles), who enlists him to take down her tormenters. As the duo circle in on their targets, Dexter's sister (Jennifer Carpenter) investigates a gruesome string of ritualized murders and starts an awkward romance with a fellow homicide detective (Desmond Harrington), who has some growing suspicions about how Dexter spends his off hours. Fans of the morally ambivalent tones of the first two seasons may have difficulties with the increasingly human tendencies of the main character (unlike Lithgow's disorienting charisma, the bad guys are so over-the-top evil here that it's difficult not to root outright for their gory demise), but Hall's beautifully subtle performance makes the leap. While his character's situation has definitely changed over the course of the show, Hall still chillingly manages to illuminate his central inability to connect, especially when paired with Stiles, who does a terrific job of balancing vulnerability and righteous bloodlust. Dexter can be a frustrating show to follow at times--especially when dealing with the increasingly flat antics of the supporting cast--but when Hall and Stiles are onscreen, the possibilities seem freakishly infinite. --Andrew Wright