What would you do if you found out your adopted son was a bit strange? This is the age-old parental dilemma facing Harry Morgan, a Miami cop, who has discovered his son Dexter is a sociopath with a predilection for dissecting the local wildlife. Initially Harry figures Dexter will grow out of his hobby but as Dexter continues to get caught with bloodied knives, saws, machetes, hatchets, pretty much any shiny implement with a sharp edge, Harry decides his best course of action might be to channel Dexter's talents. So naturally, this being a television show, Harry turns Dexter into a good serial killer.
By day, Dexter (Michael C. Hall) is a blood-spatter expert with the Miami PD; by night, Dexter is a vigilante who hunts down and slices up criminals who have gotten off on technicalities.
"Another beautiful Miami day: mutilated corpses with the chance of afternoon showers."
Not that Dexter is a good guy, he's not; he's a very bad guy with no heart, no conscience and no self control over his compulsion to chop up people. It's just that, due to his father's guidance, he has been able to fake being normal and rather than chopping up good people, he only chops up bad people.
Nor is Dexter a creepy loner; quite the contrary, he's a creepy Mr Popular. He has a sister who loves him, lots of friends at the PD and a female commanding officer who, as they say in the classics, has designs. (At least in the first episode, anyway.) In fact, the only person who doesn't like him is Sgt Jimmy Doakes, who suspects Dexter is a freak, but doesn't know what sort of freak. Dexter even has a girlfriend, Rita, although she's not your normal girlfriend. Dexter likes her just fine because she hates sex. It's only in her occasional "better" moments when she gets all smoochy that Dexter finds her company distasteful. But he loves her kids, so that's good. Role model, anyone?
One of the great things about The Sopranos, Deadwood and The Wire, apart from their greatness, is that they provide a template for all other TV series to be compared against. (Yes! I should be better at assessing shows on their merit; but I'm not, alright.) The Sopranos' mood, Deadwood's over-the-top dialogue, The Wire's intricate, interweaving plots and all three's superb characters and interpersonal relationships. You can pretty much hold any TV show up against them and say "Well, it's not as good as The Sopranos". Which is what you'd say for Dexter, at least on watching the first two episodes. There's a sense those involved might be trying too hard to copy Six Feet Under for the quirk, Death Wish for the vigilante, Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer for the laughs and Dirty Harry for the cool, but not quite yet getting the balance right.
Still, there's plenty of time for the show to settle and the makings of an excellent Series One thread in the form of another serial killer who knows Dexter's identity and seems to want to challenge him to a chop off. And while Dexter is indeed "not as good as The Sopranos", if your taste in TV runs to macabre murders and merry mutilation, Dexter is the show for you.