Sometimes you can do more fun stuff on television than you can in movies. They seem to care less about how much money you pull in on opening weekend. You basically show them an outline of what you want to do, they give you half the budget you’re used to, and when it’s done they show it twenty times a week whether people respond to it or not. If you’re smart enough to make your movie for the right channel, you can fill it with whatever tits and gore you feel like your story requires.

I didn’t know this at the time. As a result, my first made for TV movie, Dexter, is surprisingly sparing in both. In fact, there are many things about Dexter I’d do differently if I only had the chance. Not make it at all, for one.

Dexter is a show about a really handsome and clean serial killer who only murders other killers — kind of a South Beach Dirty Harry, or an Ikea Punisher, if you prefer. He’s basically a bad guy you have no chance of not liking. As serial killers go, he’s more Cap’n Crunch than Crazyshitz Berkowitz.

But rather than focus on the killing, Dexter is all about how he keeps his regular life together. See, to avoid arousing suspicion, Dexter must appear normal to the outside world. That means having a job (blood-splatter expert/competitive steak-eater), having a girlfriend (severely damaged wife of a meth addict), and having a sister (hermaphrodite whose post-birth coin-toss landed on “Tails” for girl). It’s important to keep in mind that Dexter doesn’t actually care about any of these things. Everything not killing-related is just one giant Beard to him. You’ll want to remember that when he’s running around trying to save all those people he doesn’t actually like.

At first Dexter is all introductions. First and foremost, we learn about Dexter himself and all of his freaky OCD fetish bullshit. Basically, Dexter uses his killer instinct like a Spidey-sense to sniff out other killers. He follows them around long enough to make sure his hunch is correct. Then, before they can kill their next victim, he emerges from the darkness and gives them a super-shot of unconscious. Dexter takes them to a secluded place, and covers everything in plastic while shrink-wrapping the killer. When the killer finally wakes up, Dexter cuts their cheek, puts their blood on a slide as a kind of trophy, tells them why they’re about to die, and finally gets to dying them.

Like leaving a calling card, Dexter always kills people the same way, by cleanly cutting their necks twice with an electric knife. Or sometimes a regular knife. Or sometimes he just stabs them in the chest. Occasionally he practices amateur tattooing on them first. He’s really a beast of habit.

When he’s done killing, he saws them into itty bitty pieces and throws them into that gigantic lake which surrounds most of Florida. Then he has a beer and a steak cooked very rare.

While all this is going on, Dexter often flashes back to his adoptive father, Ajax. Having spent many years on Homicide, Ajax knows he has a killer on his hands when little Dexter poisons his wife, Ajett. Instead of turning the kid over, he teaches little Dexter how to use his mental illness for the sake of good, while also teaching him how to never get caught.

But all this attention spent on Dexter means no attention for his sister, Debster. This dooms Debster to a life of constantly fighting for Daddy’s attention by becoming starting quarterback on the high school football team, becoming a Marine, becoming a cop, and having sex with men who beat her up. Sadly, Daddy dies before ever looking at her a second time and his last words are, “Dex, tell What’sherface she’s not in the will because I forgot her name.”

For some odd reason, the same thing which drives Dexter to kill is also a real boner shrinker. This puts him in a bind because a significant other is detrimental to his Joe The Plumber facade. What he needs is a paraplegic or something, but instead settles for a severely abused waif. She has two kids for him to bond with even though he continually insists he’s too much of a monster to care about people.

At work, Dexter has to deal with a handful of cops with varying degrees of boring subplot. Each one of these characters was ultimately a mistake. None of them really added anything to the story, and they were all so much better on Oz.

So that’s the basic set-up. We can now tell the story…

There’s this dude out there killing people, and Dexter’s really shocked because it’s not him. Plus, the way he’s cutting up bodies and leaving them for the police really makes Dexter jealous. Dexter decides that he has to find this guy so he can kill him and maybe read his diary or something. But as the killings continue, the remains seem to be speaking directly to Dexter. The killer knows that Dexter is a killer! Now Dekster has to kill the killer so the killer kan’t kill him first.

The police find out that the bad guy drives around an ice cream truck so they dub him the Ice Cream Truck Killer. Dexter thinks that’s a pretty stupid name. While cooking a steak, he wonders aloud if this show’s really as good as everyone says it is.

Meanwhile, Debster breaks up with Joey Buttafuoco, and begins dating a guy who doesn’t hit her so much (played by Latin Heart-throb Marc Anthony). She thinks he’s on the up-and-up because his day job is selling ice cream out of his ice cream truck. She figures no one who wants to give kids ice cream can be bad unless they’re the Ice Cream Truck Killer.

It turns out he’s the Ice Cream Truck Killer. But that’s not all. Once he’s gathered Debster and Dexter’s fake family and held them hostage, real answers start coming out. Apparently, Dexter’s real mother was violently murdered in front of his eyes with a chainsaw. Because he blocked the memory, Dexter lived the rest of his life completely unaware that he had a brother who loved ice cream. When Ajax decided to adopt Dexter, he left behind the 2nd kid because the 2nd kid had dark hair and Ajax was a racist. Well that dark-haired kid eating the bloody ice cream cone is now the Ice Cream Truck Killer! Behold the powers of nature vs. nurture.

His plan is simple: since he loves to kill and he knows Dexter loves to kill, why don’t they hook up and kill people together, starting with Debster and the fake family. But rather than kill a bunch of people he doesn’t really care about, Dexter decides to instead kill his brother and have another monotone voice over about what a lonely monster he is. At this point, his girlfriend starts growing a pair and now wants to have sex. As she pulls him into the bedroom, Dexter looks at the camera and rolls his eyes. Freeze Frame. Aw, Dexter!!!

Not sure where I went wrong with this film. I suppose it should have had more killing and less crap with the other cops. I don’t think I sold Dexter much as a real killer, either. But something must have held me while filming and editing because the finished product is almost twelve hours long. That’s longer than it takes to actually wrap someone up, kill them, and get rid of the body, even on nights when I’m sick or something.

(three stars)

Twitter, where Dexter is all anyone ever talks about. Even David Lynch and Weird Al and female porn stars love it.