In the US: Showtime, Sundays, 9pm. Starts September 28
In the UK: Probably FX again, some time next summer
It can't have escaped many people's notice that the story-telling structure of intelligent – and unintelligent – American television has changed substantially over the last few years. As well as the impact of 24, which has made serialised television possible again, The Wire's use of Shakespearean rather than Aristotelian storytelling techniques has spread to other dramas, while premium cable channels and DVD box sets have made “slow burn” TV shows viable.
All of which makes reviewing just the first episode of a new series a pain in the arse – or ass – particularly with something like Dexter. One of the first shows to demonstrate there was life on cable outside of HBO, it's now on its third season and continues to demonstrate that some TV shows can't simply be judged on their first episodes, since all the goodies are in the evolving plot still to come.
Is it any good?
Having exhausted the (not very good) Jeff Lindsay source material, Dexter's producers are venturing into new territory with the third season.
Having abandoned his father's rulebook to become his own man at the end of the second season, Dexter is back to his old tricks but with a new style. But the rest of his life is changing, too. Things are good with girlfriend Rita and her kids. It's all change at the office, too, now Dokes has gone.
If only he didn't have to cope with an unexpected foul-up during one of his 'jobs'. Now he has to deal with Jimmy Smits and his need for justice…
As always, Dexter is an examination of masks and normality. Does the emotionless, empty Dexter, a man who has to fake every 'normal' human interaction, tell us more about what we fake in life and what's normal than we do?
While the obvious focus of the show is Dexter's night owl activities, the show has previously looked at their deviance from the norm. With Smits' arrival, it's looking at how close his activities are to other law enforcers'. And with Rita, the show is looking at the limits of how far it's possible for the seemingly normal to camouflage the terrifyingly abnormal.
All of this it's doing very, very slowly. This first episode of the third series is a slow starter in anyone's terms, bar that foobar that sparks off Dexter's crisis. Instead, it's all about character, fundamentals and commentary. You can see where everything's going, although exactly what happens next will be a delightful surprise, I'm sure. But you're going to need a little patience.
The good news is that this episode is wonderfully self-contained. You really needn't have seen anything more than the “Previously on Dexter” at the beginning to be able to be able to jump right in. The acting's fantastic as always; unlike certain shows I could mention, this really does feel like a recognisable Miami as well; and it's both funny and tense, with the minimum of gore, in case you're a bit sensitive.
Just bear with it.
Here are a rather good YouTube trailer and a behind-the-scenes vid for you: