Dexter: New Blood feels more like a ghostly reanimation than a fresh monstrosity. That’s good or bad, depending on what you were expecting.
In the supposedly limited series from Showtime, Michael C. Hall reprises his role as Miami serial killer Dexter Morgan. Picking up roughly a decade after the Dexter series finale — which saw the Bay Harbor Butcher fake his death, abandon his son Harrison, and go into hiding as a lumberjack — New Blood begins by introducing us to the do-gooder life of Dexter’s alias Jim Lindsay.
A neighborly outdoorsman living in the fictional New York town of Iron Lake, Jim may look and sound like Dexter. But his flourishing romantic relationship with Chief of Police Angela Bishop (Julia Jones), as well as his job at a local sporting goods store and affinity for church-sponsored line dancing, tell a different story. Yes, Dexter is plagued by visions of his dead sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter), similar to the ones he used to have of his dad. And sure, he sometimes struggles to conceal his insatiable bloodlust, dormant since his last onscreen appearance. But for the most part, Jim is able to keep his old ways at bay.
You know, until he doesn’t.
Oh my god, hi Deb!!
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.
Angela, the latest in a long line of (probably) doomed love interests.
That said, New Blood is arguably a better show than Dexter ever was. In the first four episodes provided to critics, the acting, writing, and world-building feel more akin to an earthbound Twin Peaks than a soapy crime show spinoff. Plus, the cinematography and special effects are vastly improved by the technical leap from 2013 to now. But with so little to judge, it’s hard to suss out whether this narrative arc will disappoint in the same ways the original finale did.
An aged-up Harrison (Jack Alcott) offers reason enough for hope. Though Dexter’s son’s reemergence was to be expected, the arrival of the teenager in Iron Lake offers an emotional center that grounds the revival, even as the all-too-familiar will-they-won’t-they between Dexter and morality starts up again. Similarly, Angela and her daughter Audrey (Johnny Sequoyah) provide a chance at a better life for Harrison and Dexter/Jim that actually writes women well — a massive improvement from the regularly misogynistic original run. That’s all backed by a likable squad room cast (David Magidoff, Alano Miller, Katy Sullivan) similar to the Miami PD of the original, and a subplot involving a popular true-crime podcaster (Jamie Chung), which adds to the fun.
Dexter Morgan, sales associate.
Longtime fans of Dexter are sure to have an entertainment itch scratched with this not-so-new take on a beloved show. But whether they’ll walk away feeling more satisfied than last time is another matter. It’s good, but the possibility that it’ll fall into the same old patterns is a real threat. Perhaps that’s an argument for watching New Blood alone and leaving Dexter off your queue for now.
Dexter: New Blood premieres Sunday, Nov. 7 at 9pm E.T. and airs new episodes weekly.