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5 Shows like Dexter: Ambiguous Protagonists

Jonny_Sweet_itcher_contributorDo you like your TV police detectives to come with an unhealthy dose of mental derangement? To check out other great shows like ‘Dexter’, watch ‘Spiral’, ‘Luther’ or ‘The Blacklist’. ~ Jonny Sweet

A Killer Undercover

Dexter’s juggling act of uncovering the most depraved and debauched criminals and putting them behind bars – and carving some of them up to satisfy his own insane and insatiable bloodlust – is what makes the show so appealing. This extreme embodiment of mankind’s flaws and virtues in one murderous (yet principled) character seduces and disgusts in equal measure; as such, it’s no wonder the series has been such a success worldwide.
If you’ve gotten to the end of the detective’s odd odyssey and are craving more TV shows like ‘Dexter’ which showcase the battle between good and evil raging inside the mind of its protagonist, fear not. Crime drama has always been a popular choice for TV broadcasters, and over the last decade, a perceived need to innovate has led to more and more morally ambiguous characters. To sample a handful of shows similar to ‘Dexter’, check out this short list of five series from different parts of the globe.
‘The Blacklist’ (Sony Pictures Television, 2013-present)

James Spader stars as the renegade Navy officer Raymond Reddington (or “Red”, for short) who turned fugitive two decades prior to the series setting, even making it onto the ’10 Most Wanted’ list, only to hand himself in to the authorities in Washington D.C.

The catch? Red has spent his years in criminal exile compiling a list of the most dangerous terrorists in the world, the majority of which are so cunning that the FBI does not even know of their existence. Red is willing to trade this information for his own immunity from prosecution – and extended communication with a rookie female detective, Elizabeth Keen.

Similarity Match: 90%
‘The Blacklist’ is equal parts ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and ‘Dexter’, as the main protagonist uses his criminal skill-set to track down other fugitives.

‘True Detective’ (HBO, 2014-present)

The unique idea of having each season revolve around a different set of characters in a different setting, and, crucially with different leading actors, makes ‘True Detective’ one of the most innovative series like ‘Dexter’ on this list, or indeed one of the most innovative series in recent memory.

With the second season about to premiere, it’s unclear just how fucked up the new protagonists, played by Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell, will be; but if their predecessors (played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson) are anything to go by, these detectives will also be truly unhinged.

Similarity Match: 80%
Like ‘Dexter’, ‘True Detective’ revolves around the unstable mental states of the talented detectives of the title – but unlike ‘Dexter’, the show changes its cast list and setting between seasons.

‘Luther’ (BBC Drama Productions, 2010-present)

Idris Elba carries this tightly-wound detective thriller series as John Luther, the unconventional maverick who might not always play by the book, but damn sure gets results. Elba is hugely compelling as the sympathetic but sometimes unlawful detective, while an excellent supporting cast and an intriguing script make for TV that is very hard to turn off.

Though not an outright killer like ‘Dexter’, the series pilot begins with Luther’s questionable role in the inducement of a coma of a prime suspect in one of his cases.

Similarity Match: 75%
The eponymous detective ‘Luther’ might not quite as murderously inclined as the one in ‘Dexter’, but he certainly doesn’t mind stepping on toes (or fingers) when necessary.

‘Spiral’ (Canal+, 2005-present)

This French detective series, originally entitled Engrenages, could most accurately be translated as “a spiral of violence”, or perhaps “getting caught up in the spiral”. It was put on hiatus after its first season in 2005, but since has enjoyed a popular worldwide resurgence, with a new season every two years and exportation to more than 70 countries.

It focuses on a team of French law enforcers, ranging from a nonconformist police captain and her two subordinates to a judge and various magistrates. Though none are quite as psychotic as Dexter, all of them are dysfunctional in one way or another, whether it be drug abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder or an inability to form personal relationships.

Similarity Match: 70%
‘Spiral’ is a grittier, in some ways more realistic version of ‘Dexter’, though without the mass-murderer-posing-as-detective shtick that the latter deploys.

‘Death Note’ (ABC2, 2006-07)

Okay, so ‘Death Note’ is a Japanese anime series adapted from a graphic novel-style manga. Comparisons with ‘Dexter’ might not be immediately forthcoming – but bear with me. Even if you’ve never watched anime before or hadn’t been aware of an interest in the format, you should give ‘Death Note’ a go, especially if you like ‘Dexter’.

Why? Its premise is fascinating, that’s why. Imagine an ordinary citizen (a gifted university student, say) had the power to kill indiscriminately, inducing death in any manner he chose, simply by writing down the name of his intended victim in a magical journal he has encountered called the ‘Death Note’. Sound ridiculous? Perhaps it is, a little bit; especially when you factor in the shinigamis… but it’s also bloody brilliant.

Similarity Match: 65%
‘Death Note’ may be animated, supernatural and written in Japanese… but like ‘Dexter’, it shares a serial killer who attempts to act in the best interests of all when embarking upon his murderous sprees.


Any More TV Series Like ‘Dexter’?

Do you agree with my list? Do you have any more to contribute?
As a certified television addict, I’m always on the lookout for more great shows to put on my “to watch” list.
Any suggestions you can pop in the comments section below would be greatly appreciated.
I′m Jonny, an English Literature graduate who decided careers and mortgages were too mundane, and travelling, film, music and books were much more enticing. I have recently made a very comfortable nest for myself in Santiago de Chile, and on itcher Mag where I regularly contribute eloquent waffle on all manner of media.
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