Created by journalist and comic book writer Cole Haddon in his first TV endeavor, and run by the genius behind “Carnivale” Daniel Knauf, NBC’s “Dracula” was one of the shows of the new season I was looking forward to. A steampunk version of Dracula on the small screen sounds so intriguing, let’s see how it actually holds up.
The casting seems a bit desperate. No offense to the actors themselves but I kinda get the sense that the casting calls for Dracula and Jonathan Harker definitely read Johnny Depp type and David Tennant type. That said, Oliver Jackson-Cohen is a suitable Harker, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, formerly of “The Tudors” rocks the title role with old school Depp-ish style, humor, and charm.
I dig the new Renfield, played by Nonso Anozie, most recently seen in “Game of Thrones,” he’s more Michael Clarke Duncan and Lothar than Dwight Frye or Arte Johnson. I really like him a lot. Thomas Kretschmann, himself a former film Dracula, plays Van Helsing, a rather bland, detached Van Helsing. He also has more than a little old school The Master from “Doctor Who” in there as well. While interesting, I have always thought obsession was more the character’s main thrust. And then we have Jessica DeGouw as Mina Murray. I previously thought her run as the Huntress was the gutter low point of TV’s current best superhero drama, “Arrow.” Here, however, I think she’s found her groove.
The Order of the Dragon
After a bloody resurrection in the first few minutes of the premiere, which might have turned the stomachs of the “Downton Abbey” audience this show might have had a chance to court otherwise, our Dracula sets himself up in London as an American entrepreneur, Alexander Grayson, whose technology is nothing less than Tesla-cular. The Brits hate him. Especially those he calls the Order of the Dragon.
This Order seems to be an Illuminati type organization of the rich and powerful in London aristocracy, and Alexander Grayson wants to destroy them. I found this suspect from the start, after all we’re talking about Dracula, El Dracul. He is The Dragon. Perhaps we will learn more as we go along, but for now, the Order of the Dragon are the bad guys. And of course the real twist is that Dracula and Van Helsing are uneasy allies against them.
Much like the aforementioned “Arrow,” our vampiric anti-hero’s secret origin is told in flashback, episode by episode. We find that it is Van Helsing that initially freed Dracula to recruit the monster in a vendetta against the Order of the Dragon. It seems the Order not only killed Dracula’s wife, but also Van Helsing’s wife and children. Thus, uneasy partners.
The master plan, in retrospect from our time, is a doomed one. It is the hope that Grayson’s new free wireless electricity will wrench the Order’s power from them by removing society’s dependency upon oil and coal. Riiight. Sounds good on paper but I just don’t think it’s going to work. Despite logic, it seems to be on track, except for Mina.
The Trouble with Women
Besides his principal mission, and oscillating between charming and monstrous, Dracula is also romancing and feeding on Mina and Lady Jayne, in that order. Like some previous versions of the story, Mina is the spitting image of his dead wife. He wants her of her own free will, difficult, as she is quite the willful woman.
Lady Jayne Wetherby is another story. Played by Victoria Smurfit, a favorite of the BBC drama set whose career goes back to “Ballykissangel,” she is the vampire’s first feast. A dangerous snack, she may be allied with the Order of the Dragon. Dracula simply takes her using his powers, Mina on the other hand, he employs Harker just to get closer to her. Both snacks seem to be getting in the way. Especially when he discovers Jayne is a vampire hunter.
Too Hot for TV?
One complaint that has popped up this past week, notably in Christian right wing publications and websites is the allegation that “Dracula,” aired at 10 PM on Friday nights is too sexy and too violent for television. Hmmm… Interesting. I’m guessing these same complainers have never seen “Hannibal” or “Revenge” and thank goodness these Tea Party wannabes seem blissfully unaware of “True Blood.” Maybe twenty seconds of violence over the space of three episodes might be a bit much for the Family Hour, but that ends at nine o’clock.
Now as far as sex goes, the show is as softcore erotic as they can do on network television, but let’s face it, there’s not all that much of that either. I do know what has the religious right in an uproar though. Two kisses in the second episode. What’s so bad about those two kisses? They’re shared between men. And there’s the bugaboo right there. They hate that. I bet it’s not the erotic they are worried about, but the homoerotic. I wonder if it had been a man and a woman, or two women… would they be so crazy about it?
Of course, if the forces of the Right just wait a while, they shouldn’t have to do any work at all. “Dracula” may fall flat and be off the air soon any way. Ratings are not great, even with “Grimm” as a lead-in, and NBC put it on Friday nights, a death slot for genre shows. In the history of television, only one genre series has really thrived on Friday evenings – “The X-Files,” and trust me, this is no “X-Files.”
Besides the exceedingly difficult quest to wrap a series around an evil villain character, there are serious problems with that character’s portrayal. Dracula is played flat with no, you’ll pardon the expression, soul. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is handcuffed in this performance within a performance. He is playing the fake Bruce Wayne persona to the real Batman. We know Alexander Grayson is the mask, and a mask with a bad American accent, and that’s not who we want. Let Dracula be Dracula, damn it!
If you’d like to read Marie Gilbert‘s impressions of the first two episodes, you can do so here and here. And please don’t forget to check out her review of episode three, called curiously enough, “Goblin Merchant Men” tomorrow morning. “Dracula” airs Friday nights at ten on NBC, see it while it lasts.