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Showtime presents

Dexter: The First Season (2007)

"I can kill a man, dismember his body, and be home in time for Letterman. But knowing what to say when my girlfriend is feeling insecure...I'm totally lost."- Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall)

Stars: Michael C. Hall
Other Stars: Julie Benz, Jennifer Carpenter, Erik King, Lauren Velez, David Zayas, James Remar, C.S. Lee, Devon Graye, Christina Robinson, Dominic Janes, Christian Camargo, Mark Pellegrino, Brad William Henke, Judith Scott, Sam Witwer, Mark L. Young, Maxwell Huckabee, Valerie Dillman, Geoffrey Pierson, Daniel Goldman
Director: Michael Cuesta, Robert Lieberman, Tony Goldwyn, Steve Shill, Adam Davidson, Keith Gordon

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, violence, nudity, sexuality, drug usage)
Run Time: 10h:50m:00s
Release Date: 2007-08-21
Genre: television

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Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-B-B- C+

 

DVD Review

Showtime's Dexter series is based on the popular novels of Jeff Lindsay, who has managed to create one of the more intriguing, conflicted and complex heroes of recent memory. In this case it's Dexter Morgan, an active serial killer who just happens to work for the police department as a blood-splatter analyst. His innate fascination with deciphering what a spray of blood on the wall can tell about a crime scene is reinforced by the experiences from his own secret personal life, and there's a tilted balance between helping to solve a murder and then feeding his own unstoppable need to kill.

Six Feet Under's Michael C. Hall portrays Dexter, who provides frequent voiceover narration to tell the viewer just how hard it is for him to fit in the regular world or to develop intimate relationships. Dexter is cold and detached, driven by a desire to kill, and struggling to play the game of being normal. He puts up a sometimes wobbly front, vainly pretending to be interested in things regular people are supposed to care about while only truly caring about alternatingly controlling or satisfying his serial killer tendencies, which he does by periodically murdering and dismembering a bad guy or two. His life is further compounded with issues when his relationship with a meek victim of spousal abuse (Julie Benz) begins to get more serious, which plays against the main story arc of the series about the prolific Ice Truck Killer, who taunts Dexter into a game of very personal cat-and-mouse with each tableau of bloodless dead hooker body parts left stacked carefully around Miami.

There's a recurring gaggle of police detectives and crime scene types (Erik King, David Zayas, Lauren Velez, C.S. Lee) who work with Dexter, including his excitable stepsister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), a character that begins the first few eps as a rather shrill buffoon but over the course of the season has her edges thankfully softened and refined a bit. Her personal issues with her stepbrother over their shared relationship with her dad Harry Morgan (James Remar)—the stoic cop who adopted Dexter after rescuing him from a nasty crime scene—are revealed in flashbacks. These peeks into Dexter's past—the only scenes where Remar appears—show a daring and dangerous level of paternal care where the young serial-killer-to-be is taught "the code of Harry" in an effort to effectively channel his built-in tendencies, and it is these scenes that lay the framework for the lopsided relationship between Dexter and Debra.

Compared to the murderous Ice Truck Killer, Erik King's Sergeant James Doakes is Dexter's most formidable foe, and easily the most entertaining of the lot. Doakes is the short-tempered, angry detective who somehow is able to see through parts of Dexter's "normal human" disguise, not quite knowing what it is he is seeing, but understanding that it is somehow wrong. His concerns and suspicions about Dexter are all on track, making his coarse, abrasive character both likeable and unlikable, and his expletive-filled bursts of dialogue are a nice blunt-force contrast to the silent control of the series anti-hero.

This is the kind of series that allows Hall the ability to slither in with what should be an Emmy-caliber performance, imbuing Dexter with a streak of appeal and disgust, as viewers are forced to identify with a seemingly nice guy but cold-blooded killer as the lead, albeit one who prefers to take care of criminals. Hall can move from innocent to brooding in a heartbeat, giving the Dexter character that curtain-in-the-breeze personality flutter that we eventually sense King's steely-eyed Doakes is also peeking through. Julie Benz is adorable and vulnerable as the former punching bag Rita, now romantically involved with a man who is unbeknownst to her a killer and still battling with her hit-first-ask-questions-later ex-con husband Paul (Mark Pellegrino). The burgeoning Dexter/Rita situation supplies some dark comedy in spots, as Dexter's general lack of feeling or compassion for anything injects his life with great personal turmoil, something that Hall exhibits with seemingly no effort.

If you've read Lindsay's Dexter novels, there will be a few surprises here, as this is not a literal translation of the books. Whether that's good or bad depends on your tolerance of major plot tweaks, but speaking strictly in terms of the television series the season moves along at a neat clip and avoids too many dangling, unresolved storylines by the time the final chapter finishes, making this an almost self-contained block of eps, at least to a point.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: All 12 episodes are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and much like the audio side of things the transfers are made of peaks and valleys. When it's on a high, colors are bright and vibrant (love that sunny Miami locale), but where things go wonky is during dark/nighttime sequences, where compression issues periodically compete with swirling colors and an unfortunate lack of detail. The problem areas are a bit less measurable during the use of purposely oversaturated or desaturated colors, depending on if its a flashback or a dream.

Image Transfer Grade: B-
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoSpanishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The two principle audio options are English 2.0 stereo and/or Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. I expected a more even-keeled mix via the 5.1 blend, but what's here waffles between a pleasing, wide-bodied sound to one that occasionally renders dialogue slightly difficult to follow. There's a deep bottom end, while ambient cues and music beds fill out nicely, but it's the inconsistency with voice clarity that prevents it from firing properly on all cylinders. By contrast, the stereo track lacks that overall sense of dimension, while character voices still suffer from periodic moments of being difficult to understand.

A mono Spanish dub is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 84 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Sleeper Cell: Season Two, The L Word: Season Four, The Tudors: Season One, CBS Thrilling TV On DVD promo
2 TV Spots/Teasers
3 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas, Lauren Velez, Erik King, Sara Colleton, Clyde Phillips, Daniel Cerone
Packaging: Thinpak
Picture Disc
4 Discs
4-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: One of my big pet peeves is an extra listed on the backcover that doesn't show up inside anywhere. That's kind of like false advertising, if you ask me, which naturally you weren't. In the case of Dexter: Season One there's backcover promise of something called The Academy Of Blood: A Killer Course which I couldn't locate anywhere.

Discs one and three are reserved strictly for episodes, aside from a Showtime promo for other regular series that the channel offers. Disc two has a cast commentary for Return To Sender featuring Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas, Lauren Velez and Erik King. The absence of Michael C. Hall is notable, but the supporting players all have a friendly rapport, cracking in-jokes off one another, and just hearing Erik King sound the polar opposite of his gruff and angry Doakes characters is something of a hoot.

The second and final commentary appears on disc four, for the season-ender episode Born Free, with producers Sara Colleton, Clyde Phillips and Daniel Cerone. This track is more focused on production particulars, with elements like getting the rights to certain pieces of music, such as the title song, which is pivotal to the storyline.

Also on disc four is Witnessed In Blood: A True Murder Investigation (12m:28s), concerning the work of real-life blood splatter analysts with regard to a 2001 murder in Anaheim. Interesting if you're into true-life crime stuff, but too short to go into too great of detail. Dexter-related supplements wrap with a set of text bios for cast members Michael C. Hall, Julie Benz, Jennifer Carpenter, Erik King, Lauren Velez, David Zayas and James Remar.

Disc four does carry episodes 101 and 102 of the Showtime series Brotherhood, both of which run about 55 minutes each, and are presented Dolby 2.0 and letterboxed fullframe format. A set of Showtime-themed trailers and a blurb about a "win a TV" promo conclude things.

There is some DVD-ROM content (wholly unskippable if you use a PC) on disc four, and I had some real issues accessing the material. According to the list, I was missing an episode download of the Showtime series The Tudors, book excerpts from the novel Dexter In The Dark, a CSI game download, a "win a TV" promo and $25 Off Coupon for Showtime.

Extras Grade: C+
 

Final Comments

The image and audio transfers are not up to the levels they should be, but the writing and characters in the Dexter series sort of rise above it all. The main story arc of the body-chopping Ice Truck Killer occupies a lot of real estate across these 12 episodes, but some of the sub plots—especially the scenes with James Remar—are the real gems.

Highly recommended.

Rich Rosell 2007-10-11