The first thing you notice about Dexter: New Blood, is the way it bears absolutely no resemblance, tonally, structurally, even atmospherically, to the original series it’s based on. The Showtime Dexter, which aired from 2006 to 2013, was set in vibrant, sun-soaked Miami and took us into the mind of a serial killer who was often humorous, wry and even happy-go-lucky, a mood that was buoyed by a bevy of comic-relief supporting characters and murders that were often played for dark laughs. The new ten-episode limited series, which begins airing on Showtime Sunday Nov 7, is by contrast cold, trading Florida for a fictional hamlet in upstate New York and pastel moods for a protagonist who’s lost his playful spark amid a cast of world-weary small-town characters.
With Dexter: New Blood, the streaming era’s eternal pursuit of More Content has reached a peculiar but inevitable point at which even intellectual property without a passionate fan base rooting for it is being revived. Instead of a reboot to squeeze more blood from a popular stone, the pitch is reboot-as-mulligan, a bid to lure audiences back by offering an opportunity to fix what went wrong. Over the course of eight seasons, Dexter went from popular, albeit somewhat kooky, prestige drama status to delivering perhaps the most bemusing, widely derided and mocked series finale in recent television history (until Game of Thrones unseated it).
The show peaked in its fourth season, which pit Michael C. Hall’s forensic-specialist-who-only-kills-other-killers against John Lithgow’s disturbing, Emmy-winning villain. The back half of the series involved a revolving door of writers and producers after showrunner Clyde Phillips’ departure, with story arcs that either missed the mark or trod water. It wasn’t all bad—the seventh season, in which Dexter’s police detective sister (Jennifer Carpenter) finally understood her adoptive brother’s true nature, was a return to form that came too late, before Dexter’s entirely unearned escape at the end of season eight.
Now eight years later, both Hall and Carpenter are back, although the latter now appears to Dexter as a ghost-sidekick, much as their dead father did the first time around. Dexter now lives a quiet life in a quiet town, dates the local police chief, and has been white-knuckling his homicidal urges since the finale. It isn’t a spoiler to say he eventually falls off the wagon, right as his son Harrison, now a surly emo teenager, tracks him down. Across the four episodes screened for critics, this new collection is jarring in its commitment to trying something new, as Dexter works desperately to cover up his “relapse” while staying one-step ahead of the mounting town intrigue he inadvertently stirs and obsessing over the idea that his son may have inherited his disease—yes, there seems to be another killer in the neighborhood.
As before, Hall’s mix of antihero charm and unnerving monstrousness anchors the whole thing, although there’s an intriguing new wrinkle: Dexter’s need to kill is played much more as an addiction than it ever was in the series. He’s contemplative and serious, carrying the full weight of eight seasons worth of sins and collateral damage. There’s no playful wit to the voiceover narration this time; whereas the ghost of Dexter’s father served as a sage mentor, the image he now projects of his sister often berates, questions and even attacks him.