Dexter Morgan has made a new life for himself in the snowy, rural upstate New York town of Iron Lake — and, well, it sure is a cozy existence for a former serial killer. Now going by the alias Jim Lindsay, he’s dating the police chief and working at the fish and game store. When we first re-meet him, he spends his days admiring, but not killing, a stunning white buck in the woods and his evenings ordering his usual at the local tavern and maybe participating in a bit of line-dancing.
Showtime’s “Dexter: New Blood” reboots one of the signature series of the 2000s’ Age of TV Antiheroes with Michael C. Hall reprising the title role of the vigilante murderer, and creator Clyde Phillips, a showrunner for the original’s first four seasons, back at the helm. Set in December 2021, the story finds Dexter-as-Jim living his “Northern Exposure”-like existence more than eight years after the original series ended with his convenient disappearance in a hurricane. Now, he’s far from his original stomping grounds in Miami and working hard to fight his addiction to killing and dismembering bad people. But, naturally, we don’t come to “Dexter” for quirky good times, so we’re picking up his tale as the son he left behind, Harrison (Jack Alcott), tracks him down to reconnect and Dexter’s resolve to resist killing starts to unravel.
The sleepy town is soon quite awake, and Dexter’s police chief girlfriend, Angela Bishop (Julia Jones), has a mess of maybe-related, maybe-not crimes to solve. The hard-partying son of a wealthy local family has gone missing. Harrison claims to have stopped a school shooting by slashing the kid who was planning it. And some kind of creepy abduction scheme is picking off troubled girls who come through town.
These many plot strands begin in the first four episodes made available for review, and it remains to be seen whether the show can stick the landing on all of them. The relationship among Dexter, his son and what Dexter calls his “dark passenger” remains the most intriguing. Dexter is fretting not only about how his own urge to kill might endanger Harrison, but also about whether Harrison has inherited a “dark passenger” of his own. This feels like enough to fuel a series, especially because Alcott’s performance as Harrison is as cocky, smart and charismatic as Hall’s as his dad. The abduction-of-girls plotline feels like a tired distraction, as does the (possibly related) introduction of a slick true-crime podcaster nosing around town for good 2021 measure. (Points, though, for her podcast title: “Merry F—ing Kill.”)
Hall, as the ultimate good bad guy, is as riveting to watch as ever. From the jump, we’re rooting hard for him to maintain this beautiful new life he’s built, and, because he’s so appealing, hoping he’ll get away with his crimes. But the show is a victim of its own legacy, beaten at its own game several times over in the 15 years since its premiere as a shocking variation on the antihero. How do you beat Tony Soprano? With a likable serial killer!
At the time, we hadn’t even met Walter White of “Breaking Bad” yet, and Dexter felt pretty subversive. In more recent years, we’ve been treated to truly brilliant variations on Dexter, from the women of “Dead to Me” to Joe Goldberg of “You,” who outdoes Dexter in the witty voiceover department. Both shows use multiple-murderers to explore themes that go beyond the darkness-or-light question at the center of “Dexter”: grief, female friendship, female power, identity in the internet age, toxic masculinity. They’re also very, very funny in a way “Dexter” couldn’t dare to be in its time.
For those reasons, “Dexter” isn’t exactly a vital document of our times. But those unique series, very much a product of the streaming era, are a testament to the power of the original “Dexter,” as uneven as it was in its later seasons. The reboot craze is another such product, resurrecting name-brand shows thought to be resting in peace as a way to draw nostalgic or curious viewers to struggling networks and platforms in an overwhelmed marketplace.
Reboots also allow for do-overs on maligned finales to otherwise great shows, and “Dexter: New Blood” may provide just that for “Dexter,” which made a grand entrance onto the cable-driven 2000s TV scene, but petered out with the character’s unsatisfying disappearance in the end after eight seasons. A series that posed a reasonably provocative question — what determines whether our darkness or our light wins out in the end? — slipped off the screen without a satisfying answer.
We may not mind if Dexter keeps killing, and will likely keep rooting for him no matter what he does. But it would be nice to get some answers this time.
Showtime debuts “Dexter: New Blood” on November 7.