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Dexter: New Blood feels more like a ghostly reanimation than a fresh monstrosity

  • "That's good or bad, depending on what you were expecting," says Alison Foreman of Showtime's Dexter revival. She adds: "Across eight seasons, the original series cycled viewers through a never-ending ebb and flow of guilt that saw Dexter constantly fighting his urge to kill. That he and his 'Dark Passenger' would inevitably go back to murdering became one of the show's most well-known beats; so much so that Dexter's repetitive nature became a common point of criticism in its later seasons. Still, reviving the series without it is practically unthinkable. And so, by the time New Blood delivers Jim's inevitable first victim (so, that's what? Dexter's 100th?), you'll feel a stale familiarity creeping in. The premiere episode sees Dexter — er, Jim — going through the same motions fans know and love to varying effect. The tongue-in-cheek nature of the original carries over into this one. But it's a bumpy ride, with certain jokes landing better than others. In one scene, he'll lie about being squeamish around blood and it'll play well. In another, he'll remark he's not much of a hunter and it'll feel staid. You can chalk this up to an overarching sense that each and every member of the New Blood creative team knew they would be under extreme scrutiny from fans and critics. The result is a surprisingly timid thriller that makes you wonder if anything riskier was even considered."

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    • Dexter: New Blood is ridiculously entertaining: "The best thing about Dexter: New Blood is that it is unapologetically fun," says Meghan O'Keefe. "The episodes sent to critics are full of dark — borderline campy — humor and some truly compelling human drama. The vibe of Iron Lake is Twin Peaks-light. The needle drops are cheeky. The tone of the mystery closer to Hulu’s recent hit Only Murders in the Building than, say, Mare of Easttown. (There’s even a murder mystery podcaster element!) Most importantly, Dexter: New Blood tackles Dexter’s own unfinished business. Namely, his son. Did Harrison inherit his father’s darkness? And can Dexter be the father figure to Harrison that Harry Morgan was for him? What’s good about Dexter: New Blood might turn other people off, though. I found the show’s pulpy energy to be a welcome respite from the dark, 'gritty' tone of other prestige murder mysteries. Dexter: New Blood isn’t operating at the same level as contemporary shows (like the aforementioned Mare), but it is serving up the best elements of classic Dexter. It’s bold, it’s bloody, and it’s full of great performances. Most notably from returning stars Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter. Dexter: New Blood is not trying to revolutionize the art form, nor does it. The limited series is instead circling back to a beloved TV character to give him — and fans — a proper send off. In that, Dexter: New Blood is a triumph. It’s a pulpy, witty, bloody fun time."
    • Dexter: New Blood goes a long way to set about redeeming itself and providing something fresh: "Actually, there’s plenty to love here, but I get it if you feel reluctant to let go of finale resentment," says Kimberly Ricci. "I felt the same way, but I would encourage O.G. Dexter fans to not be afraid of being excited about this revival. Clyde Phillips and Michael C. Hall (along with everyone involved) did not go into this endeavor lightly. They know their butts are on the line if they pull another lumberjack affair, and from what I’ve seen so far, they’re committed to making things right, all while putting the leading man on the hot seat, as he very well should be. Dexter Morgan couldn’t hide forever, so go take a look at what he’s doing these days. You’ll dig the new vibes, and the old ones as well."
    • Dexter: New Blood beats an already-tired story to death: "Who is Dexter: New Blood for?" asks Alan Sepinwall. "I ask this not to sound snarky or incredulous about the idea of doing a sequel series to Dexter, the beloved, and then reviled, drama starring Michael C. Hall as a serial-killer vigilante who only targets other murderers. We live in the age of IP, when no title that was once associated with a hit can ever be considered too radioactive for some kind of reboot or revival. Sure, everyone is still mad about Hall’s Dexter Morgan turning into a lumberjack — really, about most of the final four of the show’s eight seasons — but plenty of other series with loathed finales have come back in recent years, from Roseanne and Will & Grace to upcoming variations on Game of Thrones and How I Met Your Mother. The only surprising thing about a new Dexter story is that it took Showtime this long to revisit what was once its most popular series. What is dead may never die, and that includes lumberjacks. No, I ask who New Blood is for because it is genuinely hard to tell based on the four episodes critics were given to review. Is it meant for viewers who loved the early years of Dexter and are glad to have Hall reuniting with original showrunner Clyde Phillips? For people who stuck it out through the increasingly miserable and aimless post-Phillips years and want some kind of apology for how badly the show went awry? For fans who love Dexter in all his incarnations, even the ones involving flannel and logging trucks? Or maybe it’s just for crime buffs with Peak TV decision fatigue who want to watch something they’ve heard of, even if they don’t really remember that season where the entire audience figured out way in advance that Edward James Olmos was dead the whole time. New Blood seems simultaneously designed to appeal to all of those constituencies and none of them. (OK, anyone who somehow enjoyed Season Eight will likely be happy.) It is competently told but a bit dull. And, like its title character at this stage of his life, it seems too conflicted about all this blood and gore to enjoy any of it."
    • Dexter: New Blood is a surprisingly welcome return to the franchise’s brand of heady nonsense, self-conscious but not overly precious about its meta awareness: "Michael C. Hall, who plays Dexter, looks much the same as he always did, his feathery Caesar cut still intact, his nerdy affect as deliberately hollow as ever," says Richard Lawson. "He’s cold, though. Not cold in the sense of his barely in-check sociopathy, but actually cold—he’s in small-town upstate New York, awash in snowy white and living in a humble cabin. The series is smart enough to make a Fargo joke pretty early on; otherwise, its studied aping of that series (rather than the movie) would start to seem like minor theft. The show works well in this new milieu. The humid heat of Miami was an aptly grotesque complement to Dexter’s misdeeds—it ickily heightened all the reek and squish. But the northern setting allows the series to move away from the ironic glare and into something more meditative. Dexter, now called Jim, works at a sporting goods store (lots of guns and knives everywhere) and satiates his appetite for murder by going on physically intense solo hunts in the woods behind his home. He hasn’t killed a human in nearly a decade. That’s not all that’s changed: for the first almost hour of New Blood, Dexter’s grating voiceover—truly the original series’ chief sin—is gone. It does come back eventually, I’m afraid, but it’s not quite so loquacious. Age and time and relocation has slowed that internal monologue some."
    • Unfortunately, while Dexter: New Blood helps replace the bad taste of the original series finale, it doesn’t do much to redefine much about Dexter: "With the change of setting, the show’s tone has changed," says LaToya Ferguson. "Conversational double meanings remind the audience that Dexter was/is a serial killer, which has always been a part of the series’ charm, even if it ultimately borders on a morbid type of dad humor. But the genuine coldness of the location (it was filmed in Western Massachusetts) feels like it has sapped a lot of the energy out of the series. At the same time, the setting and its unpleasantness also feel strangely necessary for Dexter in his challenge of abstaining. Like old times, Hall’s performance is unsurprisingly good — it’s long seemed that he could nail the Dexter character in his sleep — even when things can be predictable. But Jennifer Carpenter arguably gives the most compelling performance of the series, somehow even livelier as Deb in death, while still being recognizable. (Jamie Chung’s turn as a true-crime podcaster also brings the liveliness in a much-needed way to the series.) Perhaps the best choice Dexter: New Blood made is having Deb be able to return in this version, as Carpenter and Hall’s onscreen chemistry has not dimmed in the past eight years, nor has Carpenter’s ability to swear in frustration. Dexter: New Blood can’t undo what the original series finale did. It follows up on the new world order it established but doesn’t follow down that lumberjack path. Dexter: New Blood is still Dexter, though, so all the strengths are there as well as all the weaknesses."
    • The new episodes do not return the show to its early prestige by any measure: "Yes, the finale was a flannel-lined insult, but the second four of the show’s eight seasons — which included an ill-advised incest theme — were a disappointment, too," says Matthew Gilbert. “Dexter began its life in 2006 as an extraordinary, pulpy neo-noir about a serial killer who killed serial killers with a fetishistic drive. Rich in visual wit, with kill scenes that had all the design finesse of a Vanity Fair spread, the wry drama made its obsessive murderer into a hero of sorts. It was a beautifully sustained exercise in moral irony, as it premiered in the middle of the anti-hero trend, and Hall was just right — a man mimicking human warmth, trying to direct his demons toward the social good. Importantly, the plotting was super tight, with the kind of step-by-step logic that we expected from the mind of a calculating exterminator. By season five, though, that precision was completely gone, and the writing became as sloppy as Dexter had been meticulous. While the seasonal plot arcs become increasingly forced, and the blood seemed to flow simply to shock us to attention, Showtime continued to order new seasons of their popular show. If Dexter had ended after season four, the one in which John Lithgow was the nefarious Trinity Killer, it might well be regarded now as one of the best of its era. The new episodes do not return the show to its early prestige by any measure; they bring us back to the looser storytelling of the later years."
    • Dexter: New Blood is neither as bad as Seasons 6 through 8 nor as good as Seasons 1 through 4: "It’s a story about a man trying to move on and find a place in a new world, frustratingly told within a show that seems determined to pretend that nothing in the television landscape has changed at all," says Daniel Fienberg, adding: "Knowing what we know about Dexter, it’s charming to watch Hall’s version of feigned normalcy, though any sense of freshness requires that you forget the premise of the original show: Dexter killed bad people by night and pretended to be a robotic Everyman by day. The only difference here is that 'Jim Lindsay' wears a parka, reflecting the series’ transition from steamy, neon-lit, stucco-heavy Miami to the snowy, woodsy, bucolic Northeast. This is a very different Dexter, one without sardonic voiceovers or the comfortingly vicious repetition of the breakfast-preparing opening credits. Don’t worry. The revamped mood won’t last long....As you can see, Dexter: New Blood is trying to move the franchise forward and backsliding at the same time. That mirrors its protagonist, who has become very rusty at the very bad thing that used to come so naturally. If Dexter Morgan arrived on TV as part of a creative vanguard, he returns at the back of the creative pack. It isn’t that Dexter was ever exactly sui generis. He was always inspired by Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley and by countless pulp antiheroes whose attempts to retain social status ignite a downward spiral of criminality. However, since Dexter ended in 2013, the show’s rhythms and overall template have become archetypal."
    • Dexter: New Blood lacks the original series' vitality: "It’s an uneven, borderline implausible, overwrought crime drama that asks too many smart characters to do too many dumb things and is curiously lacking the same electric and bloody energy of its predecessor," says Richard Roeper. "Dexter Morgan nearly always carried himself with the distant demeanor of the unempathetic sociopath. But, even as his new life begins to unravel all around him, we keep hoping he’ll WAKE UP and get smart and take matters into his own hands with more conviction."
    • Dexter needs to stay buried: "In the current era of TV, New Blood is the latest revival indulging the idea that fans always deserve to get more of the things they liked, because they can — creative dead-ends and supposedly final endings be damned. But this time at least, Dexter did not act alone," says James Poniewozik. "This fall brought us the Sopranos prequel movie, The Many Saints of Newark, a well-made and pointless exercise in remember-when (as Tony once put it, 'the lowest form of conversation') that allowed stars like Vera Farmiga and Corey Stoll to trot out their impersonations of beloved characters while adding nothing to the original story beyond a hint of sadness. Because fan bases existed and the checks cleared, we got more Gilmore Girls, Roseanne, Will & Grace, Arrested Development and Veronica Mars, plus the Breaking Bad movie El Camino — efforts that played on the affection for TV classics without building on them. This December, a de-Samantha-fied Sex and the City will return in the form of HBO Max’s And Just Like That …Good, bad or adequate, though, the collective effect of all these continuations and extensions is to rob finales of finality. It denies artists and audiences the power of believing that 'The End' is the end. Maybe the New Blood season could serve as a do-over, a for-real-this-time finale for Dexter after its unsatisfying first try. But would anyone bet on that?"
    • Dexter: New Blood has too many of the original's flaws, but it's fun having the show back: "The original Dexter finale was bad, and fans were understandably disappointed," says Kristen Baldwin. "Still, I think it's fair to say that most of us were able to move on. Was the world clamoring for more Dexter? No. But it's also hard to fault Phillips, Hall, Carpenter, and company for accepting Showtime's offer to burnish the tarnished legacy of this once-great series. Without seeing all 10 episodes, it's impossible to say yet whether New Blood succeeds. The revival wrestles with some of the same problems that plagued the original, from a penchant for toothless 'will Dexter get caught?' fakeouts, to lazy logistical cheats (go ahead and stroll right into that crime scene, Dexter, even though you now work in retail). There's a decided and familiar lack of subtlety, too. The opening sequence is set to Iggy Pop's 'The Passenger,' an on-the-nose reference to Dexter's so-called 'dark passenger,' and the writing has its share of groaners. "Humans have always dealt with death through rituals," muses Dexter in one of his many grave voice-overs. 'I guess mine are just a little unique.' They were, and maybe still are. It's kind of fun seeing Dexter again, with its serial killer-meets-dad jokes charm. As far as nostalgic do-overs go, this one may not be perfect, but at the very least it's not dead on arrival."
    • Dexter Morgan is intriguing again: "As much as Dexter: New Blood echoes its predecessor, it does acknowledge that times have changed a little since Dexter (and Dexter) disappeared," says Jen Chaney. "Cameras are rolling in even more public spaces now than they were in the 2010s, making it harder for potential criminals to do things that won’t be captured on video, and in an Only Murders in the Building-esque flourish, a true-crime podcaster played by Jamie Chung also begins to take an interest in what’s going on in Iron Lake. Even in the most remote places in America, there are always eyes watching and microphones ready to record. The series also pokes around the edges of some timely social issues, particularly with regard to the class divisions between the rich and the middle class, as well as the divide between Iron Lake residents and the indigenous people who live on the adjacent Seneca reservation. It is not at all clear whether Dexter: New Blood will have something meaningful to say about any of this or if it’s simply attempting to broaden its prestige ambitions beyond its usual crime parameters. It feels premature to say that the Dexter saga has fully regained its footing, considering that critics were shown just four episodes in advance out of a total of ten — what’s that old saying? 'Fool me once, murder show, shame on you. Fool me twice, murder show, shame on me.' At the very least, though, credit should be given to Phillips, his collaborators, and the cast for accomplishing one thing that seemed like it couldn’t be done: Nearly a decade after that notorious finale, Dexter Morgan is intriguing again."
    • The prospect of Dexter’s return was a double-edged sword: "On the one hand, a continuation of the story would allow the series to end on good terms—even the most cynical Dexter fans would have to admit that it’d be virtually impossible to outdo the sheer awfulness of Dexter Morgan: Sad Lumberjack," says Miles Surrey. "On the other hand, the original ending so thoroughly tarnished the show’s legacy and left such a bitter taste in the audience’s mouth that a follow-up wouldn’t receive the benefit of the doubt. But DC is never going to just stop making Batman movies, and Showtime was never going to let Dexter become obsolete. Original series showrunner Clyde Phillips says: “It’s a new era, people watch television differently. I’m not saying we have our fingers on the pulse of the heartbeat of humanity, but we made every effort to make sure that the audience is going to understand the time indeed has passed. And we honor that.”
    • Check out the original Dexter cast Then vs. Now
    • Jamie Chung on why Dexter: New Blood will be different: "I think what we haven't seen in the past are two women coming together to help solve a crime," she says. "In Dexter's past...a lot of the characters were male that kind of drove the story. And so, it's really kind of wonderful to see—a lot of sh*t gets done when two women come together to work together. And I feel like that's a different dynamic."
    • Jennifer Carpenter on deciding to return to Dexter: "Michael and I have stayed in touch and throughout the years and he would bring it up with what would seem like simple questions, but are actually very difficult," she says. "Should we? Could we? How would that look? Would you want to do it? Around May of 2019, it started to get quite real. I was in Los Angeles doing some press and I went over to Showtime's offices to have a conversation about whether Deb would be involved. Some things I felt inspired to say on her behalf. I also just wanted to listen about what it would look like. Dexter was around when cable TV was starting to raise the bar of what content could look like. Fans have been so loyal and enthusiastic. So I wanted certain things from it on their behalf before I was ready to go back."
    • Showrunner Clyde Phillips says "we are doing our damnedest to be as contemporary as possible": “The character has grown, and the audience has grown,” he says. “We touch upon many modern subjects — the opioid crisis, school shootings, how Indigenous people are treated in this country. We are doing our damnedest to be as contemporary as possible.” But the show had to deal with the challenge of filming during the pandemic. “The show takes place in the middle of the winter, and we had written a huge Christmas Day scene where the bad guys confront each other but have to be polite with each other because they’re in a church. But we had to completely rewrite that because we couldn’t have 300 extras in a small church in a small town,” Phillips says. Michael C. Hall adds: “The world has been topsy-turvy and crazy on seemingly all fronts for the past 18 months or two years, and it was actually really nice to commit, collectively — for the cast and crew to focus our energies on something that we had at least some control over. It was logistically challenging because of the testing and the masks and all of that, but it was also therapeutic.”
    • Michael C. Hall is mindful of the parallels between him and Dexter Morgan: “Maybe I’m drawn to characters who have some sort of stormy interiority that they don’t feel free to let out,” he says. “Maybe that’s how I experience my own life. Maybe I experience it less in my life for having the chance to take it into my work.” Then he raised his eyebrows waggishly. “Who knows what I would have done over the past 16 years if I hadn’t been able to simulate all that murder?” he says.
    • Hall says it “immediately felt essential" to have Dexter's sister Deb on New Blood: “Dexter’s relationship with his sister was the fundamental relationship throughout the series proper,” he says. “It always felt difficult to not have that be a component. It felt necessary that it wouldn’t be given that she’s dead, but this is Dexter. We have certain liberties.”
    • Hall didn't want to return "just because we could": "I mean, a part of both the hesitation and the appetite surrounding going back was orbiting the fact that audiences loved the show but were very dissatisfied with the way it ended," he says. "I didn't want to return just because we could, I wanted to return because we discovered a story that felt like it was worth telling. Something like this that is dependent on so many moving parts, you never know exactly how it's all going to go, but ultimately I had enough faith to take the leap. And that had to do with the scripts that were all written, the story we decided to tell, this new context we found for the show, and it had to do with the fact that Clyde Phillips was sitting at the head of the writer’s table. He was responsible for walking the fine tonal line that the show managed to walk back in the day. And Marcos Siega, the directing producer, was also there taking responsibility for the look of the show. So there was this sense of getting the band back together. I didn’t know for sure that it was something that I would do. But it was always something in the back of my mind like Man, I sure do hope that something emerges. I wanted to give the fans, myself and the character a more satisfying and definitive visit."

    TOPICS: Dexter, Showtime, Clyde Phillips, Jamie Chung, Jennifer Carpenter, Michael C. Hall


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