Televised murder reprised and once again revolting

He’s baaaack and on a TV screen near you! Dexter, that wacky and seemingly affable character who loyal viewers were led to believe had died in a hurricane 10 years ago is, in fact, alive and well and once again up to no good.

Executives at the cable service Showtime never forgot the record-breaking ratings Dexter brought to their bottom line, so they have resurrected this serial killer who preys on serial killers who have avoided prosecution.

The latest series, entitled “Dexter: New Blood,” reveals the main character (portrayed again by actor Michael C. Hall) is alive and well. He has adopted a new name, Jim Lindsay, is living a quiet life in tiny Iron Lake, New York, and, oh yeah, his girlfriend just happens to be the chief of police. He talks to his dead sister, who congratulates Dexter on his ability to keep his homicidal side in check. But when his estranged son finally finds him, that emotional trigger unleashes Dexter’s murderous urges once again.

Last go around Dexter was a forensic lab technician who helped investigate serial killers; despite all the really smart people surrounding him, he was able to become one himself. That never quite made sense to me. Like how no one at the Daily Planet ever figured out that Clark Kent looked exactly like Superman once he took his glasses off.

It is hard for those of us who have covered real-life serial killings and other types of murders to understand how the Dexter plotline — glorification of murder as some sort of acceptable, or at least understandable, activity — passes for entertainment. But here it is again in all its bloody living color.

One of the first columns I ever wrote in this space was about the original Dexter series. That was back in October 2008 when other murder-centric programs like “Cold Case,” “Forensic Files” and “N.C.I.S.” were popular and centered on bringing killers to justice.

“It’s with firsthand certainty that I tell you real murder is never entertaining,” I wrote back then.

“The smell of it hits you the moment you arrive at a scene, the amount of blood can, literally, make you gag and most of the time seeking justice for the dead is a pretty ugly experience. What takes the cast on Law & Order an hour to achieve — from discovery, trial and verdict — often takes years in real life, if it happens at all.”

A decade later, I still believe there is a big difference between TV programs that focus on solving homicides and those that operate from a premise that it is somehow OK to commit murder if the victim is a bad person.

What I wrote so long ago still stands. “Ask the people who clean up crime scenes, a homicide detective or a staffer in the district attorney’s office if murder is entertaining to them.” I opined that they would probably say television never captures the horrible reality of murder.

Truth be told, I am a devotee of the current spate of detective and crime solving shows. “FBI,” “CSI” and even “Bull,” which features a jury consultant and his staff dedicated to finding the truth in each of their court cases. I’m a sucker for a program about justice.

Over the course of my career, I have both appeared on television and written for TV. I am not about censorship or curbing creativity. But isn’t the world an ugly enough place right now? Violent crimes, like murder, are at record highs in many areas of the country. Political and ideological discord is an everyday occurrence. The economy and inflation are a mess. COVID-19 is still infecting and killing too many people. Is it too much to ask for some television programming that is uplifting instead of drenched in violence and horror?

I did watch some of the original episodes of “Dexter” a decade ago because I was curious just how the brain trust at Showtime would handle the topic. I couldn’t fathom how an industry that produced so many programs about the evils of murder could glorify a serial killer. Now I know the formula, and I’m just not in the mood to watch Dexter’s resurrection. Real life is already too challenging.


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