Sundays, 9 p.m.
This seems like an opportune time to write about “Dexter,” the Showtime series about a vigilante serial-killing cop, since a) the show’s Miami metro police are thinking one of their own might be the Bay Harbor Butcher b) the title character’s girlfriend is turning out to be as psychotic as he is and c) Dexter is about to confront his mother’s murderer.
Now closing in on the end of its second season, this show, based on the Dexter books by Jeff Lindsay, has developed into a first-class psychological thriller where we’re appalled at his bloodthirsty ways yet strangely attracted to his brand of justice.
The little back story you need to know is that Dexter saw his mother brutally murdered when he was a kid, and he grew up understanding that revenge is a dish best served cold. Preferably in a morgue. Michael C. Hall plays Dexter Morgan superbly — as a guy with no social skills faking his way through life. To see him try to do something normal, such as bowling, is to witness a person who’s both clueless and in emotional agony.
In this Sunday’s episode, special agent Lundy (Keith Carradine) continues to close in on the Bay Harbor Butcher and Dexter tries to work out his relationship problems with his ex-girlfriend, Rita (Julie Benz), and his new one, Lila (Jaime Murray), who has severe abandonment issues. The police also are poring over a manifesto delivered to the local newspaper (by Dexter) that’s designed to confuse their investigation and perhaps appease Dexter’s ego.
If this sounds a bit grim, well, “Dexter” also features its share of dark humor through Dexter’s sister Debra (played by Jennifer Carpenter with just the right blend of sass and vulnerability) and various secondary characters, a wonderfully creepy-crawly theme song and Hall’s frozen, pained smile. As for the murders, they’re not much more gruesome than the average episode of “CSI.” And “Dexter” focuses much more on the psychological aspects of killing than the “whodunit” or how. I can’t think of a TV series or movie that’s ever gotten into the mind of a killer as well as this one does.
“Dexter” is among several top-quality original series on Showtime, and that creates a bit of a problem, since it’s a premium channel. Not 30 years ago, we shared television as a common experience. We had six channels, we watched the same shows (more or less) and that gave us something to talk about. Today, I can recommend a terrific show like “Dexter,” but unless you have the money and the inclination to add yet another channel, or you have a friend with Showtime, you’re unlikely to see this program.
Given the world’s troubles, this one obviously is extremely minor. But when we lose our common culture, we become that much more estranged from each other. And that we can’t afford.