DVD Review: Dexter

Series ••••½ Picture •••½ Sound ••••½ Extras ••½

With Season 2's finale having just aired (and with numerous re-airings scheduled throughout the week and beyond), it's probably not a bad idea to carve out some time to view the Season 1 DVD set of Dexter, Showtime's biggest hit. Mostly based on the first novel in an engaging series by Jeff Lindsay, the series follows the trials and tribulations of the world's most likeable serial killer - Miami police-department blood-spatter analyst Dexter Morgan. Michael C. Hall, a veteran of stage, screen, and Six Feet Under, is a revelation as Dexter, turning a potentially creepy and callous role into a clinic on compassionate character portrayal.

The brilliance of the title sequence alone could be the subject of a full dissertation. As the credits roll, Dexter starts his day in extreme close-up, the visual focus underscoring the inherent violence in everyday activities. The sonics are sharp and pointed: Dexter's index finger tracing the damp stubble down the side of his cheek like a raspy scratch of sandpaper, ham vigorously sizzling and crackling in a frying pan, a yolk spurting helplessly as a knife cuts through a fried egg, juice spraying judiciously when a blood orange is sliced (then seeping ominously when smashed down on a juicer), and shoelaces caressing the eyeholes of his shoes with a seductive swoosh as they pass through. Detail is potent, such as the dirt visible under Dex's fingernails or the chilling sight of his fingertips turning yellow-white, straining against the dental floss coiled around them. The accompanying whimsical theme by Rolfe Kent serves as the perfect counterpoint to the glamorized brutality of the morning-prep ritual onscreen.

Oh yeah, and there's an actual show here, too. I gotta say, Dexter sports one of the most consistent and engaging 5.1-channel mixes of any TV series I've experienced. On all 12 episodes of this four-disc set, traffic bustle, ocean and beach noises, voice echoes on a cavernous ice rink, office chatter, and ringing phones are never missing from on-location exteriors or crowded interiors. And scene-transition music always makes its presence known in the surrounds.

Although colors are palpable, white often takes center stage. The dimension and shape of pale ashes strewn on a bleached-out beach are quite discernible, as is the surface detail on the aforementioned rink and the shifting shape of steam wafting inside an ice truck. But it's not all about the alabaster. Red (no surprise here) often becomes dominant, as when Dexter creates a crimson tide by falling face first into a pool of blood at a crime scene, or when blood spatters during a gruesome flashback inside a cargo container, or even within the folds on a scarlet shirt worn by Detective Angel Batista (David Zayas). Equally striking blue hues are used to signal flashbacks to Dexter's troubled youth.

The one area the Dexter DVD set falls short is in its extras. The two commentaries are nicely done - four members of the primary cast share a keen camaraderie, knowing how to avoid awkward silences and move things along during their talk for Episode 6, while three producers gamely dissect the satisfying payoffs of the season finale. But that's really it. A generic featurette about a murder investigation could have appeared on the newsmagazine 48 Hours. And don't get me started about the ho-hum DVD-ROM material - big deal. What a shame they couldn't corral Hall for anything here, let alone provide us with any deleted scenes or production footage. Considering the show's burgeoning success, that's all likely to change for the next season's compilation.

So why will you like Dexter? During one of the commentaries, it's noted that "we all have a shadow self" just like Dex does, making us more like him than we may realize or even want to admit. And thanks to Hall's layered character work, bloodletting never seemed so . . . just. [USA:TV-MA] English, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround; Spanish, 2-channel mono; letterboxed (1.78:1) and anamorphic widescreen; four dual-layer discs.

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