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September 28, 2006 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | September 28, 2006 |

I was a lucky kid growing up — my parents weren’t quite proper-noun TV Whores, but they were definitely your run-of-the-mill TV whores. This meant that I was familiar with HBO and Showtime from a very young age. Of course, at the time, Showtime was the also-ran. HBO had the cool movies; Showtime had some other crap. And when Showtime followed HBO’s lead into the let’s-make-our-own-series realm, it was the same story again — HBO had the cool shows; Showtime had some other crap. That’s all changed now, as Showtime has come well into its own with shows like “Sleeper Cell,” “Weeds,” the sadly deceased “Dead Like Me” and the miniseries-that-should’ve-been-a-full-series “Out of Order.” In fact, while it still has its misses (“Huff” bored the hair off of my legs), it’s now earned the cherished status that only HBO and F/X share — namely, that I’ll give any of its new shows a try if they sound even remotely interesting.

Premiering on October 1, “Dexter” (Sundays, 10 p.m.) certainly meets the “sounds remotely interesting” criteria — it’s about a Miami forensic investigator, played by Michael C. Hall (“Six Feet Under”), who spends his nights as a serial killer whose victims are other serial killers and bad, bad guys. Great premise. (It’s taken from the alliteratively titled Dexter novels by Jeff Lindsay.)

Unfortunately, the show doesn’t quite live up to the potential of that one-line pitch. But it doesn’t quite sink, either. Instead, it floats in that murky middle that forces me to play the “wait and see” card, rather than giving it an immediate thumbs-up or thumbs-down. And I fucking hate that — I hate it as a viewer because I want to either commit to something I like or bail on something I don’t like, and I hate it as a critic because it feels like a fucking cop-out. But it is what it is.

Unlike some other “wait-and-see” shows, however, I can clearly define exactly what my problem with the show is: It’s missing a clear tone. About halfway through the episode, I suddenly found myself thinking about American Psycho. It’s actually surprising that I didn’t make the connection earlier, considering the fact that both focus on psychotics who let us into their minds via voice-overs, sharing how they float through a world they feel like they don’t belong in, with their true selves relatively unknown to the masses. Anyway, once I made this connection, I realized exactly how to voice my problem with “Dexter.” See, love it or hate it, there was a very clear, dark, twisted, and comedic tone to Psycho. It was relatively easy to understand what the movie was trying to do and say and how it was playing its comedy and sadism cards. “Dexter” is lacking that definition. At times it’s amusing, and it feels like it’s striving for biting humor and just missing it a little. At times, it’s dark, and it feels like it wants to delve into this twisted psychological piece, but it’s just missing that a little, too. I think it’s trying to be something like the early seasons of “Nip/Tuck,” where it’s light and fun, with a bit of dark running beneath the surface (but not as much dark and heaviness as, say, “Six Feet Under” or even “The Sopranos”). And at times, it verges on being over-the-top (particularly with a certain co-worker who is all up in Dexter’s Kool-Aid).

To be sure, the perfect mix of light and dark is a hard place to get to, and I give the show credit for trying (if that is, in fact, what they’re aiming for). And the show is certainly not without its positive elements. As I mentioned up top, I love the premise. And even though there are some shaky plot contrivances (the flashbacks showing how he got to where he is today didn’t really work for me) and some questionable coincidences, the story is relatively engrossing — particularly the relationship that they’re apparently developing between him and an unknown serial killer, whom he envies rather than loathes. But above and beyond this, the best thing about the show is Michael C. Hall himself.

Both through his onscreen performance and his voice-over work, he is equal parts touching, creepy, psychotic, uncomfortably relatable and occasionally funny. And it’s quite a thrill to see Hall spin this performance after his five seasons of “Six Feet Under.” Don’t get me wrong — he was always fantastic as David Fischer, but that character was largely flat. Not in a bad way, mind you, it’s just that with David being so bottled up and repressed, it was rare that we got to see some more outward emoting from Hall, so it’s great to watch him with a more “fun” character (there are many adjectives that one could use to describe David Fischer, but “fun” would most certainly not be in the top 50).

And at the end of the day, these good elements are enough to bring me back for seconds. Indeed, you should give “Dexter” a shot because it has the potential to be one of the best new shows of the season. It’s just not there yet.


Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television columnist. He has just moved back to Boston and is currently trying to figure out how to remove the pervasive cat smell left by his apartment’s previous tenant.

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"Dexter" / The TV Whore
September 28, 2006

TV | September 28, 2006 |

Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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