Welcome to the Weekly Binge, where we’ll be taking a closer look at the shows that are worth your time. This week, the Complete Series Collection of Showtime’s hit drama Dexter arrived on DVD shelves, which makes this a perfect opportunity to get acquainted with TV’s favorite homicidal antihero.
What’s the premise? A forensic analyst for the Miami police moonlights as a serial killer who fulfills his homicidal impulses by preying on other murderers he feels have escaped — or will escape — justice by conventional means.
What’s it like? Think of Dexter Morgan as the equivalent of a suburban vigilante superhero whose primary power is convincing viewers to suspend their disbelief for an hour. By day, he’s a mild-mannered, somewhat socially oblivious blood-spatter specialist who helps the police puzzle out violent crimes; when night falls, he stalks other killers and dispatches them with meticulous precision. Every season features one or two primary antagonists — archenemies, if you will — who provide Dexter with a carrot to chase, whether it be in the form of a nosy detective who comes too close to the truth or a kindred spirit whose technique earns Dexter’s admiration. Meanwhile, he often reflects on his own dark past and struggles not to alienate those who care about him. In other words, Dexter is basically like Batman, except that he’s not a billionaire, he’s kind of addicted to murder, and his crimefighting arsenal is limited to a pair of gloves, some tranquilizer, a set of knives, and a metric ton of saran wrap.
Where can I see it? Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu all have the first seven seasons, while a subscription to Netflix will get you the first four seasons on streaming and the rest on disc. All eight seasons are also available to stream for those with access to Showtime Anytime.
How long will it take? Each of Dexter‘s eight seasons clocks in at 12 episodes, and each episode runs for just under an hour, give or take a few minutes. If you were to, say, tuck into an episode a night and double up on Saturdays and Sundays, you could run through the whole series in a little over two months. If you’re really ambitious, you can probably knock it out in half that time.
What do the critics think? Every season of Dexter is Fresh with the exception of season six, and both its second and fifth seasons sit at an impressive 100 percent. Each of the first four seasons of Dexter earned Emmy nominations for Outstanding Drama Series, and Michael C. Hall has nabbed a number of awards — including a Golden Globe — for his work in the lead role. TV Guide’s Matt Roush called it “one of TV’s most gripping dark entertainments,” while Mike Hale of the New York Times wrote, “The series succeeds by being a credible and entertainingly complicated psychological thriller with good characters, a sense of humor and especially a languid rhythm and sun-kissed look that belie the darkness and bloodiness of the stories.”
Why should I watch this? Dexter boasts a juicy premise, interesting characters, tense atmosphere, a smidgen of dry humor, and propulsive storytelling, even if it does go off the rails every once in a while. The series strikes a pretty effective balance between its seasonal plotlines and Dexter’s ongoing relationships, tossing in a generous helping of unexpected twists for good measure. As we’ve mentioned, you’ll have to be willing to let go of conventional logic just a bit to fully enjoy Dexter‘s lurid universe and sometimes unlikely scenarios, but Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter’s sister Debra), David Zayas (detective Angel Batista), Lauren Vélez (Captain LaGuerta), and the rest of the cast do a killer job making you care about their characters. And while there are plenty of bloody thrills and OMG cliffhangers, it’s the characters that will ultimately compel you to stick with Dexter during its shakier moments.
What’s my next step? The most obvious piece of supplemental media to begin with here is Jeff Lindsay’s series of Dexter novels, which served as inspiration for the show. The first season is essentially an adaptation of the first book, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, but after that, Showtime took major liberties with the direction of the character, so the novels should offer a fresh new angle on Dexter’s exploits. Otherwise, if you’re a serial murder junkie, there’s no shortage of great films for you to watch, like Man Bites Dog, Seven, Zodiac, M, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Silence of the Lambs, and of course, Psycho. If TV is more your bag, the last two on that list have inspired a couple of new television shows that recently premiered — namely Hannibal and Bates Motel — while other series like The Following, The Fall, and Ripper Street all deal with similar themes.