Dexter: The First Season Studio: Showtime Entertainment Year: 2006 Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Running Time: 10 HRS., 50 MINS Rating: NR Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital, Stereo, Spanish Mono Subtitles: English, Spanish MSRP: $39.98 Release Date: August 21, 2007 Review Date: August 15, 2007 Based on a novel premise, one that combines equal parts “Monk” and “American Psycho,” “Dexter” manages to provide original entertainment and a new twist to a format that has turned desperately routine. Staring Michael C. Hall as the titular sociopath, “Dexter” follows a forensic pathologist who acts in equal parts police officer and vigilante, taking the lives of villains who are just outside the reach of the long arm of the law. Whereas the aforementioned “Monk” takes on OCD with alternating hilarious-and-poignant results, “Dexter” addresses the condition that spawns mass murders and how a man with a proper, moral upbringing under the tutelage of a police officer is able to cope in ordinary society. Asking larger questions about nature and nurture, “Dexter” is a fascinating exploration of the darker side of the human psyche and how it can be tamed--or at least temporarily caged. Translating a pair of novels about Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, this Showtime series is an excellent example of what can be done in serializing literature or graphic novels to create an enjoyable season-long experience for a dedicated viewer. Peppered with nudity, profanity, and gore “Dexter” takes advantage of its location on pay cable. Each episode is part of a larger narrative involving a serial killer and his dance with our protagonist. The individual episodes also show Dexter dealing with dangers to the community, killers who the police cannot apprehend for one reason or another. His methods are trained and refined, designed to leave no trace and unleashing his dark side in a socially-productive manner. The program asks more questions about the nature of Dexters victims: they undoubtedly deserve punishment, but is Dexter right in meting it? Well-filmed, interesting, and tense, “Dexter” is waylaid only by a marginal regular cast. Outside Hall, the cast is lackluster, chewing scenery (Erik King as Sgt. Doakes) or completely out-of-place (Jennifer Carpenter as Dexter’s foster sister, Debra Morgan). The notable exceptions are the exceptionally-sweet Julie Benz who plays Dexter’s girlfriend and David Zayas as Detective Angel Batista. While I may not think much of the actors, the story itself can be called anything but decompressed: Each episode rockets forward the through narrative while following characters who go through tangible growth. By the end of the series every character is in a new place, and the motives for their actions are exposed, fleshing out the motivations for even the most basic member of the ensemble. “Dexter” is original. If nothing else, it has that going for it. In the end, it is a neat story and a set of episodes that present a fantastic product. “Dexter” proves that multi-part adaptations can and should be done in this format, and can be done to great success. Video: Sadly I have little positive to say about the video transfer on this first season. Culled from an HD master, most daylight scenes look fantastic with good color balance and fine detail. Unfortunately that is where the praise halts; dark scenes are littered with compression artifacts and mosquito noise. Black crush wipes out almost everything in dark scenes, and there are other times that the image becomes oversaturated or washed out with too much light. Inconsistent is the best way to describe this Anamorphic, 1.85:1 transfer. Audio: If inconsistent is the best way to describe the video, the single word that comes to mind to describe the audio is “unremarkable.” I listened primarily to the default 2.0 audio, switching occasionally to the 5.1 track, which became immersive only during the hot, Miami-esque music cues. Dialogue comes through clear; effects and music are balanced nicely, but the track is nothing special. Extras: For a Showtime program, this set has a surprising amount of extra features including a pair of commentary tracks from the shows producers who talk about everything from acting to directing, ratings to planning the season arc. Informative and insightful, the commentaries do add something to the viewer’s experience. “Witness in Blood” is a documentary on a blood spatter expert, much like the fictional Dexter’s career. Following a case in Anaheim, this featurette shows how forensics can help solve a crime. The featurette “The Academy of Blood – A Killer Course” is a DVD-Rom extra, and requires a computer to access. Strike one. If you advertise something on a DVD set, make sure it is on the DVD set. Strike two: I could not get it to play on my computer. There are a lot of promotional bonuses found on this DVD set, including a pair of episodes from the show “Brotherhood,” and a DVD-Rom feature that allows the user to download an episode of “The Tudors” and the first two chapters of the forthcoming novel “Dexter in the Dark,” the newest book in the Dexter series. There are also brief promo segments on the first disc, plugging new Fall season offerings on Showtime. There are also text-based biographies of the primary actors in this series, including Michael C. Hall, Julie Benz, and Erik King. Overall: “Dexter” is a fantastic new product. Despite its shortcomings, the program is a lot of gory fun. A well-made program with a good story, “Dexter” is definitely worth a viewing for fans of serial television. Pun intended. The problems with the transfer and the horrible DVD-Rom design should not dissuade you from at least checking out this set.