9 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30

"Dexter" won attention and critical plaudits last season for several reasons, in particular the chilling, anxiety-producing performance from Michael C. Hall and the improbability of a serial killer as a hero. In the second season, some novelty has inevitably worn off, but Dexter is, if anything, more of a paradox and remains one of the most compelling characters on TV.

In the first season, Dexter matched wits with another serial killer, who turned out to be the biological brother he never knew. Even as events of the past haunt him, a much bigger challenge lies ahead. By sheer accident, deep-sea divers stumbled upon his underwater graveyard. An FBI superagent (Keith Carradine) is assigned to track down the Bay Harbor Butcher. Meanwhile, Dexter's compulsion is as strong as ever, though finding a new location for dumping bodies is a must.

Hall brings authenticity to the complex role of a character whose every waking moment is spent covering up some part of his past. The supporting cast (Julie Benz, Jennifer Carpenter, Erik King, C.S. Lee, Lauren Velez, David Zayas and James Remar) is even sharper than before, having had a full season to inhabit the skin of their characters. Meanwhile, the writing and the stories, even without James Manos Jr., who adapted "Dexter" from Jeff Lindsay's novel, remains vital and vivid. Much nominated in its first season, "Dexter" might move into the winner's circle this time around.
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