As Showtime's Dexter returns to television to atone for its past sins, it's important to remember why the show was a hit in the first place. With his latest entry in the fantastic series "the day (insert show here) died," YouTube's Entertain The Elk touches on the elements that gave Dexter its competitive edge in the '00s. However, there's one glaring omission from his list. Dexter was Superman for the post-Punisher era.
Before the Marvel cinematic universe made superheroes mainstream, film and television flirted with the genre for decades. It's as if the medium was keeping its options open, and superheroes were the well-meaning nerds that were bound to be successful—someday—pining for attention.
Dexter was a show close enough to the superhero genre but with the right amount of bad-boy energy to send television's heart aflutter. Though novel to general audiences, comic fans saw all the tropes. The vigilante hero with a secret identity, bound by a strict moral code, battling an increasingly bizarre series of rogues? Textbook comic book material. The reason Dexter reads like Superhero 101 is because it subconsciously reflects the first superhero, Superman, through an inverted lens. A lens forever darkened by the popularity of murderous antiheroes, like the Punisher.
When I say Dexter is similar to Superman, I don't mean that in terms of power or ability. In that regard, Dexter is more akin to the grounded violence of the Punisher. Besides the physical abilities, Dexter also departs from Superman with the lethal form of "justice" he enacts. Dexter's dealings with his antagonists are influenced by the Punisher's twisted heroism, allowing the viewers to indulge in the dark catharsis of watching criminals die. So how exactly is Dexter like Superman? Dexter mimics the Superman formula with how the character manages his alter ego. However, the similarities truly begin with Superman and Dexter's respective origins.
Dexter and Superman are both adopted by well-meaning parents with an inflexible brand of morality. In Superman's case, it's the Christian scented ethics of middle America, whereas Dexter adheres to law and order from the perspective of the police. There are arguments to be made that both ideologies are immoral at their core, but that's irrelevant. Dexter and Clark Kent use their respective "moral" upbringings as a veritable lodestar.
Harry, Dexter's father, and the Kents witness their children's inherent "gifts" at a young age and recognize their unique capacity for destruction. For Dexter, it's murdering defenseless animals, and for Superman, it's being able to bend a bus in half. Armed with the teachings of their parents, Clark and Dexter venture into the world, hoping to put their "gifts" to good use.
Both characters eventually pick professions that grant them continuous access to information where their talents can be best applied. Superman, ever the boy scout, decides on a career in journalism to screen for impending disasters. Dexter, on the other hand, works forensics to scout and subsequently butcher serial killers before his cop compatriots catch wind of it. To conceal his identity, Superman hides his inherent perfection under the guise of being a bumbling doofus. Dexter goes the opposite route. Veiling the vile thoughts that churn behind his skull with a chipper, plastic persona, Dexter parades around as a paragon of virtue. And if that wasn't enough, both characters are bedeviled by an insecure bald antagonist that questions their motives.
In my opinion, the further Dexter strayed from its intentional Superman similarities, the further the show slipped from greatness. Hopefully, Dexter can stick the landing this time. Dexter's new season is currently airing on Showtime.