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NEW SEASON REVIEW

I want a Bowl Till You Bleed bowling shirt.

That nifty blue number provides the droll punchline of a "coiled and ready

to strike" comment in Michael C. Hall's sly narration of "Dexter" when

Showtime's acclaimed serial-killer saga kicks off a second season tomorrow

night. Our title (anti)hero has hit the alleys with his team of cop compadres

while sweating the jones of going 38 days without offing some other serial

striker. Killing his own (evilly homicidal) brother is going to be hard to top.

In case you missed last season (and really, you should've been there), this

gem of icy-cool irony returns with one of the sharpest "previously on" reels

you'll ever see - six swift minutes neatly encapsulating not only the whole of

last season's relationships and events but its deliciously dark-humored tone.

"Dexter" is dexterously on its game, where its suddenly blundering

protagonist isn't. Unnerved after feeling forced to murder his just-discovered

blood brother (to save the adopted sister the fiend was threatening), Hall's

blood-spatter specialist for the Miami police doesn't yet know the half of it.

Or the 10th of it. Our normally cool and collected avenger bollixes up his next

takedown of a killer the cops can't touch. Then he's hapless with a

bloodthirsty "Bigfoot" gang assassin. In the meantime, debris from his previous

dissections surfaces, becoming job-one for his own police force and, more

perilously, the high-tech investigative team of an FBI "rock star" (Keith

Carradine).

Showrunners Clyde Phillips and Daniel Cerone deftly weave so many plot

threads, these early episodes are practically plaid. Dexter continues being

shadowed by the cocky detective colleague (Erik King) who's taken a "humbling

interest in my personal life."

The abused women Dexter feels obliged to protect - the caretaker

girlfriend (Julie Benz) with the druggie ex and the fragile cop sister

(Jennifer Carpenter) still shaken from her own almost-murder - now show

glimmers of getting hip to his tricks, to which Dexter responds with

too-creative lies that dig him ever deeper.

And Dexter's devil-inside-me drives are dangerously out of sync. When he

says there's something "wrong" with him, that means he's unable to efficiently

execute his own perverse evil - which comes off like some twisted double

negative canceling itself out.

All this moral-ethical-personal confusion unreels with remarkable precision

in what is likely TV's most profoundly polished series. The shiny tropical

production design, the evocative use of film and light (by Dix Hills

cinematographer Romeo Tirone), the resonant flashbacks and nightmares, the

flavor of Miami's ethnic melange, the nimble orchestral score - all of

"Dexter's" details are cannily observed and revealed. They also reverberate.

When a woman is murdered, her little girl sees her blood being hosed off the

street.

Consequences loom large, too, in Hall, who played the gay brother on "Six

Feet Under" and here has his emotions coiled in an entirely different way.

Though his brain-centered Dexter claims not to have a heart, Hall stirringly

exhibits everything from sweetness with his sister to the jaunty delight of the

hunt to orgasmic ecstasy at its fruition. He also aces the scripts' lyrical

narration, calling his suspicious colleague "a human bloodhound incited by the

scent of darkness." It's here he confides in us with humor, fear, puzzlement,

pride.

In other words, he brings us in on it. The versatility of both actor and

character leaves you pondering which way is up. "You can't be a killer and a

hero," his brother warned Dexter at his end. "It doesn't work that way."

But "Dexter" works like gangbusters.

DEXTER. Michael C. Hall's tour de force as a serial killer of serial killers

returns with its provocative drama and wit firing on all cylinders. Second

season premieres tomorrow night at 9 on Showtime.

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