Television Critics Association panels often feel like games of softball, where actors and producers swing at softly lobbed questions along the lines of, "How do you balance so many great projects?"
Monday's "Dexter" panel was a rare exception.
Things took their first turn for the awkward when one reporter asked co-stars and former spouses Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter to describe what they liked about each other's acting. (They paid each other some lovely compliments, with Hall calling Capenter "the best scene partner I've ever had.")
And then things got less comfortable. The show's previous season, it's sixth, was criticized for a widely spoiled reveal involving Edward James Olmos' character. The season was also denied an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama Series after "Dexter" was nominated for four years straight.
One reporter noted -- with tactful phrasing -- that the show's sixth season is also often considered its "sixth best," and asked the writers if they had any changes in mind.
"That's a very loaded question," said executive producer Sara Colleton. "We have the same writers and we are going to do what we do every year, which is to reach down and find something unique and original and true about these characters to advance them."
Added Hall: "Whatever your opinion about ranking the seasons, I will say that for my money 'Dexter' is never more compelling than when he is in trouble. And he's never been in deeper trouble than he is now."
That's because the show is making a change that can't help but heighten the drama: Season 6 ended with Dexter's sister, Deb (Carpenter) catching him in the act of committing a murder. Until now, Dexter (Hall) has been able to conceal his murdering ways from those closest to him.
Several questions later, Carpenter asked if she could return to the "sixth best" question.
"If you had asked that question before we'd shot a single frame this year, that might have hurt my feelings," she told the reporter who asked it. "But because I know what we're doing this year, I'm really excited."
The panelists were also asked what they would do if they, like Deb, discovered their sibling was a serial killer.
"Call the police," said Carpenter.
"I would think it was ironic," said Hall. "Given my day job."