DRACULA Recap: “The Blood Is the Life”

by     Posted 362 days ago

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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.

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  • enzofloc

    If Allison doesn’t like it much, it must be worth watching.

    AK: Dracula’s seductive nature is no longer all that titillating — modern audiences expect it (that and more, if you watch True Blood).

    Does she know what titillating means? It doesn’t exclusively refer to tits-in-your-face arousal. There is little seductive or subtle about True Blood. I, for one, would welcome a more restrained and sublime take on the vampire mythology.

    • jack

      Titillating: arousing mild sexual excitement or interest…..his nature wasn’t that at all. Maybe they’ll flesh him out more as the season goes along, but I thought the pilot wasn’t anything to write home about

      • enzofloc

        You’re right about the pilot. But at least it wasn’t outlandish and insanely stupid. My point is that True Blood is hardly titillating. Beyond parody, maybe. But there’s nothing mild, subtle or all that intriguing about it (anymore).

  • brNdon

    It reminded me a lot of the first season plot of Arrow. Guy comes back after being away for a while. Has a list of rich individuals to seek revenge on. black sidekick. Also has the chick who played Huntress as Mina.

  • Hamish

    As a big fan of The Tudors, it was almost uncomfortable to watch Jonathan Rhys Meyers not use his own sexy accent while trying to be a sexy vampire. The fake American accent was kind of a turn off.

  • pinkincide

    The wireless Tesla energy thing was fascinating! A bunch of high society types holding lights with an army of grunts beneath them slaving away on arcane machinery to make it work for 30 seconds–that was an unexpected touch of genius. And, hey, an elegant use of lens flares for once (JJ Abrams please take note). The show’s got my eyeballs until it does something unforgivably stupid.

  • Diego Fernando Salazar Proaño

    For a guy who hates what vampires have become (sunlight-sparkling-not-so-dead-undead -if you know what I mean- objects of affections for teenage girls) I was let down when I read they decided to (basically) lift off the plot from Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (which, as a sidenote, was not the plot from the book and Vlad the Impaler was not the inspiration for Dracula. Bram Stoker was almost finished with the manuscript when a friend of his brought to him the name of Dracula that translates as “Son of the Devil”. Long story short: Stoker thought it was cool and changed the name of the vampire, who was going to be called Count Vampire) with the thing about the reincarnation of his dead wife. Then, I wasn’t so sure about the American Industrialist thing either. That being said, the pilot managed to surprise me in many ways: first, his motivations are basic and at same time quite fleshed out, unlike the book, actually which, even when I loved it, I never fully understood why the hell did Dracula want to go to London, and also who the hell was Renfield? He was never a lawyer in the book, his backstory is never explained, so him being Dracula’s sidekick was a pleasant twist. Mina was hot, Lucy was hotter and kinda slutty but not THAT in your face like Coppola’s. Also, great that Dracula seems to be not completely sure if Mina is his reincarnated wife or not. I think Jonathan Rhys-Meyers does a very good portrayal of Dracula IN EVERY SENSE, hitting all the right spots so far. Then, the strongest points in favor of this show: Dracula is a monster. Despite the fact that those he wants to destroy are not lovey-doveys (is it correctly written?), the creators do not shy away to show Dracula seducing other women and sucking their (hey!) blood and, judging for the season preview at the end, they don’t intend on doing it. I’m on a mixed bag about the flashy fight scene in the pilot but I’m willing to let it pass so far, on the other hand, I’d like to see where they take the changes to Van Helsing which are, quite frankly, shocking. No problems on Harker being a journalist: otherwise, he wouldn’t have a reason to go to Dracula’s place and will help (I think) establish his growing suspicions on him, as I doubt there would be episodes where Harker is locked in Carfax and face Dracula’s Brides (the only thing why I would like this to be a Cable show. Don’t judge me, that scene is HOT, even in the book!).
    I’ll give this series the benefit of the doubt and I will tune in next weekend. Sorry for the lengthy post, hope it added something to the debate.

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