Dexter's Lemons into Lemonade

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This is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore watching television for KCRW, but, before I go on, I'd like to assure you I'm a mild-mannered man. I keep my temper in check. I kill nothing bigger than the occasional mouse -- and nonviolently.

Even so, a wonderful new drama called Dexter has me cheering for someone who goes to savage extremes to make sure certain bad guys get the punishment they deserve.

This fellow Dexter is a serial killer. But more to the point, he's a self-styled safety net who catches, then disposes of, bad people the cops and courts have let fall through the cracks. And watching him on this series (which Showtime will premiere next Sunday) has me convinced that Dexter performs a real public service.

Dramas about vigilante justice -- with victims chasing retribution by taking the law into their own hands -- are hardly new, of course. But that's not what Dexteris about.

Michael C. Hall, so good as the gay mortician brother on HBO's Six Feet Under, stars as Dexter Morgan, whose day job is that of blood-spatter analyst for the Miami Police Department. Hall is perfect at portraying this smart, pleasant if slightly nerdy law-enforcement pro who has a secret: He's a sociopath.

Which means Dexter lacks the human urge to be seeking justice with meticulous murders. He was never a victim of those he stalks and executes. He is simply trying to channel his compulsion in a pro-social way. To be part of the solution, not part of the problem. To turn lemons into lemonade. And if he happens to enjoy the gamesmanship and grisly craft involved in this mission, what's wrong with liking what you do?

In explanatory flashbacks we see Dexter as a lad with his loving foster father, a police detective who early on detected that young Dexter had a, um, problem that neither of them would be able to fix.

"We can't stop this," says Dad. "But maybe we can use it for good. There are people out there who do terrible things, and the police can't catch them all."

Who would dispute that? So, as an adult, Dexter settled into a career that gives him cover to pursue his aberrant avocation: searching, he says, "for the ones that think they beat the system."

The first death sentence we see Dexter carry out is on a respectable family man with a habit of torturing and murdering little boys. Dexter observes that, while he, too, is a killer without a conscience, he would never harm kids. "I have standards," says Dexter, who then lets his power saw do the speaking for him.

I confess, the kick I share with Dexter when he ignores moral niceties to deal with murder by killing, makes me wonder if I've become a Rush Limbaugh ditto-head. Well, if I have, so be it. I love what Dexter represents.

I see him as a super-hero complete with secret identity (that of a mild-mannered blood-spatter expert) penetrating the psyche, and the flesh, of people the world is clearly better off without.

In the best super-hero tradition, Dexter pays a price for his special powers. As he tells viewers, "The willful taking of life leaves you an outsider, forever looking in, searching for company to keep."

Well, Dexter can keep company with me, every Sunday at 10pm. I love the show, and I dig him. Dexter awakens bloodlust in my heart as he goes about his business: making the world safer, one psycho at a time.

Watching television for KCRW, but always nonviolently, this is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore.