By Cotton Delo
Part thriller, part police procedural, “Dexter”’s a title character that is just as hard to pin down as the show’s genre. He’s a prolific serial killer who avenges the crimes of Mafiosi and drug dealers who fall through the cracks of Miami’s legal system by strapping them to a gurney and collecting slides of their blood for trophies before he butchers them.
The character of Dexter, appearing in his second season on Showtime in a series that airs on Sundays at 9 p.m., is the brainchild of Florida-based novelist Jeff Lindsay, who’s currently at work penning the fourth installment in the series of books. Though he says people he meets in public routinely accuse him of being “a sick bastard” – whether in jest or in earnest, he can’t say – the idea for Dexter began to germinate in the most mundane of circumstances.
“I was just watching a group of people talking and swapping business cards,” he told the Resident last week. “The idea just popped into my head that a serial murderer wasn’t always a bad thing.”
At first, Dexter seems like a non-entity. He’s an amiable guy, well-liked by his colleagues at the Miami Police Department – where he works in forensics and specializes in blood spatter analysis. He dotes on his girlfriend, Rita, and her two children and even goes to the lengths of joining a bowling league to seem average. His psychopathic tendencies lie beneath this carefully maintained veneer but were spotted by his foster father Harry, who trained him to channel his bloodlust by slaughtering evildoers when he was a boy.
But though Dexter deals out justice, he’s ultimately operating in a moral vacuum and carrying out an arbitrary ritual. While other serial killers might prefer red-headed or right-handed victims, Dexter is partial to criminals. His actions are nonetheless beneficial to society, and Lindsay says that policemen – aware of the gap between justice and the law – have responded positively to the show.
The show’s executive producer Sara Colleton distinguishes between Dexter and by-the-numbers fictional monsters like Hannibal Lector and Patrick Bateman.
“I never thought of him as a serial killer,” said Colleton, who hatched the idea for the show after reading a blurb on Lindsay’s first Dexter novel “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” in The New Yorker and rushing to her local bookstore, Partners & Crime on Greenwich Avenue, to pick up a copy. “I just thought of him as this tormented boy who had some problems.”
Colleton pitched her idea for a Dexter series to Bob Greenblatt, the president of entertainment at Showtime, who once had a gig as executive producer of HBO’s hit series “Six Feet Under.” Greenblatt immediately suggested Michael C. Hall – who played David, the gay scion of the Fisher family who co-runs a family-owned funeral home – to take on Dexter.
Though Hall, 36, was Showtime’s first choice to play its anti-hero, the creative team had misgivings that he might not be ready to leap into another series so soon after wrapping up “Six Feet Under” in 2005. He wound up pouncing on the chance to play Dexter.
“The challenge of breathing an authentic sense of life into someone who claims to be without capacity for that was a challenge that I couldn’t pass up,” Hall said.
Another major character in the show is the city of Miami, where Lindsay – a native of the city – says there’s “a certain amount of vigilante feeling.” The city depicted in “Dexter” is intended to be multifaceted and swarming with underworld possibilities, showing the grittier side of Miami’s ethnic neighborhoods and not just the sleek, neon-lit facades portrayed in shows like “Miami Vice.”
The first 12-episode season of “Dexter” culled material from Lindsay’s first novel, but the second season is charting its own course. Colleton says it’s been relatively easy for the show’s writers, since the macabre yet humorous voice that Lindsay honed for Dexter is so distinctive.
“He has a voiceover that struck me in the book, which is his direct ponderings and musings about what it is to be human,” said Colleton. “You find some sort of human common denominator in him.”
Though Dexter is ultimately an amoral being, he’s meant to challenge viewers’ ideas of good and evil. To his creator, he exists in a moral gray area. Ultimately, Lindsay perceives him as an innocent who puzzles over the actions of others in the mold of Puck from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” who famously says, “What fools these mortals be.”
“I think it’s good for people to see humanity from that perspective sometimes,” Lindsay said.