CBS breaks network ground by airing edited version of ‘Dexter'

Diane Werts
Newsday (MCT)

Portraying something does not equal glorifying it.

Repeat this repeatedly. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It's a fair point to stress and re-stress as CBS prepares to debut Showtime's acclaimed adult drama "Dexter" (Sunday at 10 p.m. EST on CBS), which features as its lead character a vigilante serial killer of serial killers.

This is cause for alarm in the excitable realm of sanitize-TV campaigners, who screamed when Showtime debuted this superb series in 2006, and again when CBS announced writers'-strike plans to broadcast its corporate cable sibling's hit to a wider audience.

This event is also cause for gratitude among discerning mature viewers, because "Dexter" is not only dramatically exciting but morally provocative. Michael C. Hall ("Six Feet Under") subtly creates an indelible character in Dexter, the clean-cut police-employed forensic-specialist murderer, taking us into his confidence with revealing, often witty narration and turning us into a type of accomplice to his extralegal servings of "justice."

Do we cheer for him to take down the bad guys? Isn't Dexter a "bad" guy? Do we want him to get away with it? To get caught? To just keep us enthralled?

Yes, "Dexter" is disturbing. That's the point. It's a study of one weird, twisted dude that's slick enough to mess with our heads, and - imagine the horror - make us think. The one thing it doesn't allow is "indifference," one of the accusations in the activist Parents Television Council's anti-"Dexter" news release, which alleges the show glorifies "vigilante justice by celebrating graphic, premeditated murder."

There's no "celebrating" here. We're meant to be horrified by what Dexter does, despite his victims' well-detailed villainy, and despite his determined efforts to stalk, torture, dismember and neatly dispose of uncaught killers. (Usually depicted less luridly than the misogyny central to CBS' "Criminal Minds" or "CSI").

Sunday's pilot episode introduces Dexter in the midst of the act, then explores why he might be the way he is. Flashbacks are used to show his bloodlust youth where his police officer father (James Remar) taught his "damaged" foster son to "channel" his urge to kill, to "use it for good." But Dexter knows he's not "good." He's mesmerizingly self-aware. "I'm a very neat monster," he calmly confides, wondering why of all the Miami cops he encounters as the department's blood-spatter specialist, only the snarlingly suspicious Sgt. Doakes (Erik King) "gets the creeps from me." Dexter is eerily dispassionate - not indifferent - simply ill-equipped to "have feelings" the way others do.

He tries to help his hapless cop sister (Jennifer Carpenter) out of a sense of familial responsibility. He dates an abused woman (Julie Benz) because she's "as damaged as me" and equally uninterested in sex.

Yet the sharp scripts and the sharper Emmy-nominated star never let us forget that Dexter is indeed a monster, who toys with his quarry for kicks. Much of that torturous intensity remains despite the editing translation from Showtime, with no ads and more adult content leeway, to CBS, with commercial breaks and stricter content standards. What the sanitizers may see as laxity is actually a strength, because we need to grasp Dexter's monstrousness. The edits in CBS' first two episodes appear most obviously in the absurdly tidied language, and in nip/tucked time-trimming. The show seems to lose a bit of its stylized Miami-heat languor, as well as its sinuous, Emmy-winning credits sequence. It still looks gorgeous, though, thanks to director-producer Michael Cuesta ("Six Feet Under," "L.I.E.") and cinematographer Romeo Tirone (who shot "L.I.E." and hails from Dix Hills).

The compulsion of ritual remains visceral, too, in both Dexter's meticulous "hobby" and in his season-long game of tag with another, colder slayer who comes to be known as "the ice truck killer." Their seeming rivalry, set to climax during May sweeps, reveals additional layers of Dexter's psychology/back story.

We'll see if a politically vulnerable network of federally licensed affiliates like CBS can manage to co-opt the sort of morally thorny protagonist now powering the ascent of adult cable drama - the conflicted antihero/villain about whom we're not sure what to think, except that he/she is spellbinding. From groundbreakers like HBO's "The Sopranos" and FX's "The Shield," to current gems like FX's "Damages" and AMC's "Breaking Bad," we can't seem to get enough of these twisted brothers and sisters.

Which doesn't mean we admire them. Or what they do. We just like to watch. And ponder.





'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.