DRACULA Recap: “The Blood Is the Life”

     October 25, 2013


One must wonder, instinctively, about a series which premieres in the graveyard Friday slot and uses a perpetually on-the-bubble series (Grimm) as its lead-in.  Is NBC trying to bury Dracula?  Though all magical beings are generally popular at the moment, vampires seem to be (for now, anyway), making room for witches.  Regardless, if you’re going to make a show about a supernatural being, and it’s going to be based on a historical novel, then the best route these days in such a saturated market is to go full-on with the crazy (see: Sleepy Hollow).  Unfortunately for Dracula, the show takes itself pretty seriously.  Hit the jump for more.

dracula-the-blood-is-the-life-jonathan-rhys-meyersLike Sleepy Hollow, which bears almost no resemblance to the material on which it’s based, Dracula employs all of the right names, though under very different circumstances: Dracula (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) himself is posing as an American industrialist, Alexander Grayson, whose grand designs of revenge include alternative energy sources.  Medical student Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw) is possibly a reincarnation of his burned-at-the-stake wife, and her ambitious boyfriend Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is a journalist, not a lawyer. Renfield (Nonso Anozie) is not an insane lawyer (the show backs away from lawyers in general, it seems), but Dracula’s trusted assistant.  Perhaps most bizarrely, Dr. Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann) is in cahoots with Dracula, who he brought back to life.  He must really believe in wireless energy.

What Sleepy Hollow has managed to do successfully is take an old story and put it in a modern setting while making that transition also the point.  Ichabod (Tom Mison) never changes out of his Revolutionary period clothes, and the show’s humor and acknowledgment of its own ridiculousness (usually through Ichabod) is what keeps it from just being high camp.

Dracula, though, is a bit of a mess.  Keeping the story at the turn of the 20th century leads to (though shouldn’t have to) stilted conversations and stuffy attitudes.  Also, Dracula’s seductive nature is no longer all that titillating — modern audiences expect it (that and more, if you watch True Blood).  There needs to be something else at play.  Aside from his vampirism (which isn’t discussed an awful lot, nor is there a sense of connection between Dracula and other vampires, or what the mythology is), Dracula isn’t much more than a weird guy who is obsessed with bringing down oil tycoons.  If this was set in present day, he would seemingly fit in well with the Occupy movement.

dracula-the-blood-is-the-lifeDracula was in a hurry to introduce every well-known character we could think of, and in its fervor it didn’t take time to develop any of them with any interest (aside from Victoria Smurfit as Lady Jane, who kicks ass).  There is also, like just about every show on right now, that subplot about a secret society — this time, the Order of the Dragon — which to the show’s credit does tie in some with the historical Vlad the Impaler.

Granted, this is a pilot, and its point is to parade out all of the recognizable names and tropes and setups so that the story can move forward from there, which is why I’m sticking with it for at least three weeks.  The series (which was ordered straight to series last year without a pilot) still needs to find its way, but there’s certainly hope: Carnivale‘s Daniel Knauf is acting as showrunner and head writer, so hopefully over the next few weeks Dracula will flesh out more (literally?)

Episode Rating: C

Musings and Miscellanea: 

— The show is almost entirely populated with an English and Irish cast.  No wonder there are so many disparaging American remarks!  Meyers’ American accent is very good, though, especially given he’s surrounded by English ones (which can often have a negative effect on American-playing actors)

— Doesn’t anyone Alexander meets think those red-tinged eyes are weird?

dracula-season-1-episode-1— How did Dracula get from the grave to becoming a member of high society?  Was Renfield just standing around waiting for him?  Presumably Van Helsing helped him, which is just so bizarre given the canon mythology.

— “Visionary, delusional, egomaniac” – Harker’s description of Alexander.

— If only Dracula had been able to bring down those oil tycoons and give us wireless power from geomagnetism.  Alas.

— Jack the Ripper was another vampire, of course, why wouldn’t he be?  The show kind of cut off just before we could figure out who that little vampire gremlin was Lady Jane had locked up in the basement, but it’s odd in a way that the vampires don’t work together.  I guess there will be more on that in the future.

— What did you guys think of those effects?  Especially the sudden slow-mo in the fight scene?

This goes out to the Achewood fans, in memory of Bela Lugosi.