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Why We Love Dexter

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If you haven't yet heard, Dexter is a new show to network TV (CBS Sundays at 10pm) that features the comings and goings of a serial killer. It's not a completely new series however, having started and completed two seasons on Showtime. I saw it Sunday for the first time and it is definitely an engaging show.

The title character, Dexter, is a very likeable fellow, which makes it all quite creepy. He works as a blood spatter specialist for the police and weaves a series of double meanings through both the actual plot and his diary-like narration. For example: when a murderer leaves a miniature doll in his refrigerator, he smiles and sees it as an invitation to "play." It's difficult to determine whether his idea of playing is to capture the murderer, to admire the ways he kills, or both. I had heard a lot about the series and before I saw it I imagined he must be truly a benevolent person but after seeing it I can't say whether that's actually the case.

Everybody and their brother has been telling me about this show for the past year. They've been saying the same thing: "It's violent and not for kids, but I love it." Now that I've finally seen it I'm asking myself, "Why do we as a culture love Dexter?" Here are two reasons I've come up with (I'm sure there are more, but these stand out the most):

He's worse than us. We all have dark rooms in our psyche. As we watch Dexter we imagine that our "sins" are pale in comparison. It's cathartic. No matter what kind of stress or guilt we may feel, Dexter's sins are worse and watching him makes us forget what we thought was wrong with ourselves.

He thrives even though he has so many issues. While I wouldn't call him likeable, he gets up each day and goes to work. Besides the fact that he has an ongoing killing spree on his mind, he also has a highly dysfunctional relationship with his girlfriend. In all his twisted actions. the viewer ironically can draw hope from Dexter. He is "making it work" as we all have to, despite whatever problems crop up.

Dexter is an interesting series. I now have the cut (censored) version on my TiVo and I will likely be writing more about it. I'm looking forward to getting to know this serial killer who has everyone talking.

What's your take on Dexter?

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About Damien Riley

  • http://blogcritics.org/ Phillip Winn

    I think you hint at my take in your second point.

    I love Dexter because — despite the serial-killer trappings — he’s the everyman. When Dexter says, “I never know how to respond to things like that,” after his girlfriend asks an uncomfortable question, it’s clear that Dexter believes his problem is that he’s a sociopath. The viewers know, however, that we wouldn’t know how to respond to things like that, either!

    The only thing that separates Dexter from us is the fact that he kills people. At least they’re all bad people!

  • http://rileycentral.net/wordpress/ Damien

    Thanks for your comment Phillip. I can tell you are a fan of the show. I’m excited to watch more episodes. I have no opinion yet since I am relatively new to the whole scene but … Answer me this: do you find the graphic parts helpful to what they are trying to do with the show?

  • Brad Schader

    There were not many graphic parts to the show. They tended to cut away from most violence and the gore was about at the “CSI” level. The only thing you are going to miss (and it is big to me) is that you will not get a real view of Doakes or Deborah. They are profane and it is central to their characters and they cannot be that way on CBS.

    I am holding back comments since this is a first run through for you. The show is awesome, but I would recommend renting or, even better buying the DVD so you can get the full experiance.

  • http://rileycentral.net/wordpress/ Damien

    Thanks Brad. I can imagine what you are saying. I will look into buying it on Amazon. This show has some die hard fans.

  • Andrew

    I love Dexter! It is my fav Drama of the past few years. You are just starting, so you are asking the question of whether or not people actually “like” Dexter the character…but keep watching, he definetly grows on you! I don’t think there is a more likable character on TV, even when he’s bad he’s so very good!

    I agree with Brad, I haven’t seen the CBS version but I can’t imagine Deb as a character without her swearing all the time. It really demonstrates clearly how she tries her hardest to fight feminine instincts to fit in with “the boys” on the force.

    ps – I gotta admit, I think renting the DVDs is a far better idea than watching the edited version

  • http://canadiancinephile.com/ Jordan Richardson

    I think I’m going to have to dig in to this show right along with you, Damien.

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    Unless you’ve seen the original unedited version of this on Showtime, you’ll probably love it… The network version has trashed it in order to appease the “Born Agains” who’d invariably complain in mountains to the FCC…

    It’s worse than what they did trying to bring the Sopranos to regular TV on USA network and others.

  • http://rileycentral.net/wordpress/ Damien

    @Jordan: Hey, maybe we can compare notes. Check back when you’ve seen the next one.

    @Jet: I think an element of censorship is warranted for network TV.

  • Ty

    “I saw it Sunday for the first time”

    Why didn’t you see it before? You really should watch the uncensored version, on DVD.

  • http://rileycentral.net/wordpress/ Damien

    Thanks Ty. I’ve taken your suggestion and ordered the first Season on DVD. One thing I have learned through writing this article for BlogCritics is that there are some strong allegiances to the uncut version.

  • http://reymarz.wordpress.com/ Rey

    Dexter’s sins make us feel better about ourselves? Probably not. Just like I don’t think any fathers are comforted by seeing what an awful father Darth Vader is. If, while watching Dexter, we happen to forget what might be wrong with ourselves, most likely it’s because we are simply entertained. Forms of entertainment tend to do that for us.

    I think the second reason is more accurate. Dexter “thrives even though he has so many issues.” He’s positive and upbeat, in spite of the odds against him. And the greater the odds are, the more satirical (and devilishly enjoyable) the show becomes.

    Overall, thanks for this article. Interesting and fun to read!

  • http://rileycentral.net/wordpress/ Damien Riley

    Thanks Rey. His “sins” are pretty horrifying. As people have said though, when he’s bad he’s sooo good. Now that I’ve seen a few, I get it.

  • Danielle

    I think the reason we all like Dexter is pretty simple, there’s a hidden Dexter in all of us. Though most of us don’t act on our deepest darkest fears/wants/needs we think about them and our conscience tells us we are guilty for it. When people watch Dexter, they indulge themselves in their own dark double life… really thats what all TV shows like that do. The fact that his battles are real, and he’s not a clear-cut sociopath the way that we like to think of ‘villains’ makes us relate to him… whats more enthralling and intriguing than finding yourself relating to and even liking a serial killer. Its challenging, and secretly exciting. I think this show is such a success because it taps into this innate psyche.

  • http://rileycentral.net/wordpress/ Damien Riley

    Great comment. So have you watched the show long? I’ll be on y 6th episode tonight. It’s starting to lose a bit of the “ooo ahhhh” for me already. But then again, i am watching it on CBS and I hear it is majorly cut. I don’t mind the gore being cut, what I wish I could hear is the full dialog as written.

  • Danielle

    Ya I watched both seasons uncut…big difference, plus you’re missing some great smoky scenes (aka boobies). I think I like the show not because of the ‘ooooh ahhh’ but later on Dexter’s psychological disposition becomes more and more developed. Especially second season.

  • http://rileycentral.net/wordpress/ Damien Riley

    Danielle: I’ve been watching season 2 uncut (in fact I am watching the episode 1 right now!) I agree hands down it’s better than the cut. Could you believe that finale episode when he slit his brother’s throat? I jumped. Bastard had it comin; though. (LISTEN TO ME!!!)

  • Danielle

    Ya that was great, graphic and creepy but great. I thought they did a great job of differentiating ‘happy’ killing versus murder… or something like that. They just made it seem so much more human when he killed his brother, its like they changed him into a non-sociopath for just that scene. Brilliant.

  • Rebecca

    My boyfriend bought me the two seasons of Dexter on DVD for my birthday. I have finished the two seasons in four days. I didn’t really like the Dexter Character at first but as time went on, He became more likable when he started to open up to Rita and her kids. He became more human.
    Only thing I don’t like about the Dexter series is the Intro. Maybe because I have seen it 24 times in four days.

  • http://www.postcardsfromthefunnyfarm.com/ Damien

    I know what you mean. They should do a new intro every season. It was cool the first few times but …

    I haven;t seen the new season. We lost our Showtime so I won’t be reviewing until I can get the DVD’s. I still think it’s a very clever show.

  • Diana

    There are some other resons why we love Dexter.
    First, we see the appearances that he has to make in order to look normal. Inside we all are a little savage and crazy and weird, the side which we try to conceal. By having Dexter we feel that we are not alone, that there are persons who have even bigger issues to hide.
    Then there are his dark desires. Come on, everybody thought at least once about murder. Hopefully not seriously, but you imagined it, you’ve seen yourself doing it, even though in real life you wouldn’t dare to do it (there are negative implications to it, unlike in your dreams). Well, Dexter represents us in the dream. No remorses, only pleasure, no concequenses.
    And then of course, he’s still a likeable person, so we can think about ourselves, that even if I imagine raping that girl I’m still a nice guy, like Dexter who kills only evil people.
    Dexter also has this charm and power over people, seeing their problems so clearly etc. We’d like to be a bit like him in this sense, right?

    So these are the main reasons why I like Dexter.

    Okay I left one out : he’s plain HOT!

  • lilli

    DEXTER’S JUST WAY TOO HOT TO BE HUMAN

  • http://www.damienriley.com/ Damien Riley

    @Diana: Yes. He is always trying to be normal ass well which we all can relate with. None of us is normal nor will we ever be, so we identify with Dexter.

  • aidan liban

    i love this fucking show. iv just started watching it and boy do i love it. its the best character portrayal ever.my favourite tv show since desperate housewives. im in love with dexter, and his smirk. briliant characters and Deb also. boy was she good at the end of the first season.

  • K

    Haven’t watched the show yet, but I’m going to read the book. Based on summaries I’ve seen on the web, I think I’m going to like Dexter mainly because (this is going to sound completely wrong) he does what I’ve always wanted to do — killing bastards who deserve it. That, and I’m attracted to strange people.

    Do birds of the same kind flock together?