by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & oilet paper slowly soaks up blood from a shaving mishap. A knife hacks through flesh that turns out to be a ham steak. An egg is cooked over-easy, then gutted with knife and fork and splashed with Tabasco sauce. Filmed in slow motion with shots tight enough to see individual pores of skin and fibers of paper, the opening credits of Dexter do a better job of foreshadowing the series' central tension than any show I can think of. For a serial killer trying to live in society, creating normalcy is an act of detail, patience and precision.
Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) has had the desire to kill since childhood, when he was left for days in a cargo container filled with his mother's blood. Harry (James Remar), the Miami police officer who found him, discovered the boy's bloodlust early in life and tried to channel it into things like target shooting and boar hunting.
Harry's effort was valiant but futile. No tusked swine could fill the big, murder-shaped void in Dexter's soul. So Harry began letting the boy loose on society, reigning him in through a series of commandments designed to send him after only other sociopaths.
Dexter's a serial killer, but only of other serial killers.
This backstory unfolded gradually in Season One until Dexter's past and his present collided in the brother he didn't remember having. Also locked in that cargo container as a child, also impossibly scarred, also a serial killer, Dexter had to kill him. In Season Two, Dexter's all broken up about it.
While uniformly good and often great, episodes of Dexter don't touch as keenly and artfully on the show's premise as the credits do. The idea is to humanize Dexter, and since he can't confide his darkness to any of the other characters, he ends up confessing to the audience through abundant, often obvious voice-overs.
It's indelicate, but there's a certain charm to it. Having hidden his bloodlust for so long, Dexter isn't great at expressing it. Hall, though, beautifully renders Dexter's side he shows to the public -- his waxen smile, his even temperament.
It isn't perfect, but the paradox of the citizen serial killer is interesting enough and executed with enough zest to keep me happy for another season or two.
TiVo-Worthy & r & & r &
The brightest spot on NBC's new lineup, this dramedy about a burnout who accidentally downloads the nation's entire intelligence network into his Stanford-expelled brain has more dramatic possibilities than Journeyman and better production values than Bionic Woman, the network's great trite hope. Plus, it's intermittently funny. (NBC, Mondays, 8 pm)
They weren't the first commercial characters to get a TV show (that would be Earnest) or the most insipid (that would be Baby Bob). Still, Cavemen feels like a kick in the face of intelligent television. (ABC, Tuesdays, 8 pm)
Speaking of ridiculous premises -- but this time, one with potential -- Reaper's the story of a kid whose parents sold the soul of their firstborn to Satan in order to save the father's life. Sam Oliver, the kid in question, comes into the devil's employ on his 21st birthday and must find a way to schedule videogame marathons around assignments that involve sucking evil souls back into hell. (CW, Tuesdays, 9 pm)