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Dexter returns, this time hunting for 'New Blood' in upstate New York

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. In 2006, the Showtime cable network introduced a new drama series and protagonist who upped the ante on the idea of central character as antihero. Michael C. Hall, who would play David on HBO's "Six Feet Under," starred as Dexter Morgan, a serial killer who channeled his murderous impulses by preying exclusively on other serial killers. That series ended eight years ago, but now a revival series called "Dexter: New Blood" is on Showtime, with the actor and the character picking up the story a decade later. Our TV critic David Bianculli has this review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: To me, and to many fans of the original Showtime series "Dexter," that show had two endings - one brilliant, one terrible. The brilliant one was at the end of Season 4 when Dexter, played by Michael C. Hall, squared off against another serial killer hiding in plain sight. The Trinity Killer, played by John Lithgow. Lithgow won an Emmy for that season-long guest role, and no wonder. His character, like Dexter's, was unusually, unpredictably complicated and as compelling as he was creepy. And that fourth season finale, as bloody as it was haunting, would have been a perfect ending to the series, inflicting Dexter's childhood trauma on a new generation. Except "Dexter" the series didn't end there. Original showrunner Clyde Phillips, who had adapted the show from the novels by Jeff Lindsay, left, but the TV series continued for another four seasons. And when it ended, it was with a finale as unsatisfying as the one for "Lost." Dexter, after the death of his beloved sister, was making plans to run off to Argentina with his girlfriend, another serial killer who had already left the country with Dexter's young son Harrison. Instead, Dexter faked his own death by steering his boat into the eye of a hurricane, and the series ended with a completely unsatisfying postscript, showing Dexter having adopted a new life and identity alone as a lumberjack in Oregon.

I know that's a lot of baggage and backstory to deal with, but that's the whole point. With this new continuation called "Dexter: New Blood," Clyde Phillips returns and tries to set things right and to sort of reset things. Based on the first four episodes, he's found a good way to move forward while building on Dexter's past - parts of it, anyway. Dexter is back on the East Coast as this series begins but not in Miami, where he used to work as a blood spatter analyst for the local police. He's now safely blended into a small community in upstate New York where he calls himself Jim Lindsay, an obvious nod to Dexter novelist Jeff Lindsay. Jim works at a fish and game store in a place called Iron Lake, selling camping equipment and hunting gear to the locals and to seasonal visitors like Matt, played by Steve M. Robertson, an obnoxious Wall Street trader to whom Dexter takes an instant and understandable dislike.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DEXTER: NEW BLOOD")

STEVE ROBERTSON: (As Matt) Anyway, how about that rifle?

MICHAEL C HALL: (As Jim Lindsay) The Remington 783 will do the job. It's got a good scope, solid construction. You drop it a dozen times, it'll still shoot straight.

ROBERTSON: (As Matt) Yeah, yeah, I hear you, man. Here's the thing - my friend Bill over there...

HALL: (As Jim Lindsay) Yeah.

ROBERTSON: (As Matt) ...He's already got that one, and I want a gun that's going to make his one look like a Super Soaker. So - that one. I want that one.

HALL: (As Jim Lindsay) You sure? That's going to set you back $9,000.

ROBERTSON: (As Matt) I got a nice Christmas bonus at Morgan Stanley.

HALL: (As Jim Lindsay) Oh, OK. You know, this is way more firepower than anything you need hunting around here.

ROBERTSON: (As Matt) Oh, yeah, what do you hunt?

HALL: (As Jim Lindsay) Me - I don't anymore. I haven't killed any animals since I was a teenager.

BIANCULLI: I really like some of the plot developments established in this "Dexter: New Blood" relaunch. But for every inspired choice made, there's another choice that's regrettable. Once again, Dexter has positioned himself in a way that puts him close to law enforcement, and that's cleverly done. But now, instead of being advised, if not haunted, by the spirit of his dead father, Dexter now deals with the spirit of his dead sister, played by Jennifer Carpenter. And that's no upgrade. Most effective is what happens when we learn about the fate of Dexter's now teenage son Harrison, played by Jack Alcott. This new series might justifiably be called "Dexter: The Next Generation." And since the original "Dexter" series built itself around the twisted, convoluted relationship between father and son, it's not only fitting but fascinating that "Dexter: New Blood" explores a similar dynamic, only this time it's with Dexter as the not-so-dear-old dad.

GROSS: David Bianculli is a professor of television studies at Rowan University in New Jersey. He reviewed "Dexter: New Blood," which is now on Showtime. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about the impact of the three conservative justices appointed by Donald Trump to the U.S. Supreme Court. Our guest will be Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Linda Greenhouse, who covered the Supreme Court for The New York Times for decades. She says the new court has given conservatives less than they'd hoped for, though critical cases on abortion and other issues are still pending. She's written a new book called "Justice On The Brink." I hope you'll join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAY ARMANDO'S "CON MI GUAGUANCO")

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.