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Dexter: The Complete First Season

Showtime // Unrated // January 6, 2009
List Price: $54.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted January 8, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Show:
Tired of farming out their shows to other publishers, the cable network Showtime jumps into the Blu-ray waters with the release of the first season of Dexter.  They've done a good job with their first release putting out a quality show that looks and sounds very good.  The only area where the set falters a bit is in the extra department where several items that were included on the SD DVD release are accessible but only through Blu-ray Live.  Even so, this is a great show the looks wonderful and is worth checking out.

Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall, Six Feet Under) is a blood splatter analyst for the Miami Police Department.  He examines murder scenes and determines where the victim and perpetrator where standing and their movements based on the drops of blood that are left.  Dexter has a secret though; he's a serial killer. 
Adopted when he was three, as a young child Dexter exhibited all the early signs of a psychopath.  He had trouble relating to other people's feelings or even feeling anything himself, and killed small animals.  His adopted father, Harry (James Remar), was a Miami police officer and recognized what was wrong with Dexter.  Rather than trying to change Dexter's personality, something that probably wasn't possible, Harry decides to channel his son's anti-social (to say the least) tendencies.  He shows him how to blend in with other people, how to fake being normal so that no one will suspect what he really is.  Harry also instills a moral code in the immoral child.  He convinces him that he has to resist his urges to kill and only let loose on people who deserve it:  murderers who are beyond the law.  Harry also trains Dexter in criminal investigative procedure so that he'll know how to kill without leaving evidence and to stay off of the police's radar.

Living by the 'Code of Harry' as he calls it has served Dexter well over the years.  He's killed many murderers and the police don't even know that they have a serial killer working in their midst.  Things get a bit complicated for Dexter as the season opens however.  There's another serial killer working in Miami, dubbed the Ice Truck Killer, who picks up prostitutes and kills them by draining their blood before dismembering their bodies and arranging them in public places.  The Ice Truck killer isn't only vicious, he knows Dexter's secret and lets the investigator know by breaking into his apartment and leaving a Barbie doll, dismembered as if last victim was, in Dexter's freezer.  Dexter doesn't freak out by that, like most people would. He's oddly comforted by the notion that there's someone who understands him out there.  Thus stars an odd game, where the killer leaves clues and puzzles for Dexter to figure out, often involving body parts.

I can only imagine the pitch for this show "it's about a soulless serial killer, but with heart!"  However they did it, I'm glad that Showtime took a risk with this show.  It's hard to have a killer as the protagonist, much less a likable one, but the writers have created a tight show that does just that.  A lot of the credit goes to Hall who does a magnificent job as Dexter.  He's able to be nice and charming while also portraying an underlying sense of confusion.  He doesn't get the 'normal' world or why people do the things that they do, but he's bright enough to know that he has to fake it.  When his mask is off however, he's every bit a ruthless serial killer, and that's what makes the series so enticing.
The subplots are nearly as interesting as the parts involving Dexter and the Ice Truck Killer.  Dexter's adopted sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) is on the police force working the Ice Truck Killer case and Dexter wants to help her out while not helping her too much of course. 

Part of acting normal is having a relationship, and Dexter has purposefully selected Rita (Julie Benz who plays her role to perfection) to be his girlfriend because she's "damaged".  She was married to an abusive drug addict who used to violently rape her and so she no longer cares for sex, something that's fine with Dexter since whenever he does have a sexual relationship with a woman they soon discover that he's empty inside and leave.  Rita however is afraid that she'll loose Dexter if she doesn't start sleeping with him.  That misunderstanding and how the various characters handle the problem adds a lot of heart to the show and makes it more than just a voyeuristic guilty pleasure. 
The Blu-ray Disc:

The 12 episodes that make up the first season of Dexter come on three Blu-ray discs contained in a slightly larger than single-width case.  A page in the middle holds two discs (one on each side of the page so they aren't overlapping) while the third is attached to the right side.     
Presented with a 1.78:1 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encoded image, this set looks very good and is a definite improvement over the SD DVD set (which didn't look bad to begin with.)  There is a lot of detail in the picture, and many times the image just leaps off the screen, especially in the bright exterior scenes.  The colors are outstanding, reproducing the lush greens of the Miami setting as well as the deep red blood splatters that Dexter analyses with great care.  Some of the darker scenes do have a bit of grain in them, but this was a minor concern.
The show comes with a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack that works well for the show.  Being mainly dialog based, there aren't a lot of fancy audio effects but the show does throw some sound to the rears, mainly background music.  There are also some unexpected sound effects positioned nicely around the room a doorbell ringing behind you for example, that are spare but work nicely.
Here's the one area where I was a little disappointed.  Most of the extras that were related to the show and available on the SD DVD set are included, but they have to be accessed via Blu-ray live.  First off the early adopters who don't have a Blu-ray live enabled player are just plain screwed, as are the people who don't have their house networked.  Also, I have to wonder how long the content will be available.  I have DVDs that are going on ten years old that I still enjoy.  In a decade is Showtime still going to be hosting these on-line extras?  I don't think so.


In any case there are some bonus material on the discs themselves.  There are two audio commentaries.  "Return to Sender" has the comments of actors Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas, Lauren Velez and Erik King, and "Born Free" is discussed by producers Sara Colleton, Clyde Phillips and Daniel Cerone.  The first has the cast joking around more than actually discussing the show, but the latter commentary was interesting and talked about adapting the book and getting the show on the air.  I was a bit disappointed that Michael C. Hall wasn't involved with either of the commentary tracks, but there it is.  
As for Blu-ray Live bonus material, these include The Academy of Blood - A Killer Course, Witnessed in Blood - A True Murder Investigation, Michael C. Hall Podcast, First episode of Dexter, Season 3, and the first two episodes of United States of Tara.
Final Thoughts:
When I first heard of Dexter I assumed that it was a 'race to the bottom' exploitation show.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  It's an interesting and entertaining show that is tightly written and well produced.  Filled with a wonderful cast the show is slightly addictive, it's hard to stop watching after just two or three episodes.  Add to that the wonderful image and effective sound, and you've got a winner.  Highly Recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.
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