Dracula: Pilot Review

Dracula comes to London at the turn of the last century. By day he is a flamboyant American entrepreneur, by night he’s on a quest to take down a secret society.

My instinctive response to the announcement of a series about Dracula was a bored sigh. I’m not the biggest horror fan in the world and find that it tends to be derivative at the best of times (skipping creativity in favour of rehashing old themes and tropes that weren’t necessarily that great even when they were original) and making a series about not only vampires but The Vampire felt rather doomed from the start. But, there was a smidgeon of hope for originality in the setting and embracing the steampunk potential of the turn of the century.

So after watching the pilot, what do I think? To be honest I’ve got no idea. I’m not sure the show itself really knows what to think. This is not going to be one of my most coherent reviews.

On one hand it’s a bright and colourful romp. All the characters bordering on caricatures, plot bordering on ridiculous and as a whole it borders on pantomime. In tone it most reminded me of the Sherlock Holmes films, with Jonathon Rhys Meyers (The Tudors) channelling Robert Downey Jnr’s energy to play his ‘cover’ of an American entrepreneur bringing technology and charisma to stuffy British society. It’s thoroughly entertaining to watch his smug outmanoeuvring of the various lords and ladies.

On the other hand however, he’s far less interesting and engaging as the predictably dark and broody vampire. He’s not so much a complex character as a completely schizophrenic one with one half presenting interesting questions about motivations and morale standing, the other an outright murderer who slaughters not just those that have wronged him, but random women off the street as well. While the cautious friendship with journalist JOnathon Harker is intriguing on both sides, the long lingering looks at Mina Murry, the reincarnation (?) of his dead wife was considerably more tedious.

Overall the episode is a mess, dozens of clumsy questions raised and characters hinting at secrets and plans. But rather than being intrigued at how it would all fit together, the lack of elegance just left me convinced that the writers themselves were as in the dark as the audience and that they’d left things unsaid so they could work out rationales at a later date. It was vague on so many things it just felt uncertain rather than mysterious – is it an alternate history, how much ‘magic’ is there, who are the good guys? It felt like the writers were basically throwing everything at the audience and seeing what stuck.

I commented on the trailer that I was confused how something could look so expensive and so cheap all at the same time, and I remain confused (and a bit impressed). The sets, locations and costumes are all stunning, but the cast and writing all felt a little C-list. The anachronisms came so thick and fast that by half way through I was doubting whether anything was accurate and was more tempted to spend my time on wikipedia checking everything than I was watching the show. It is a slightly odd production, a joint UK/US series of 10 episodes, broadcast on NBC in the US, Sky Living in the UK and filmed in Bulgaria. It is from the head of the creator of the weird and wonderful Carnivale, but I don’t know whether this is an attempt to be more mainstream, or it’s just been dumbed down, but Dracula really didn’t draw me in the way that Carnivale did.

I was entertained watching it, but that was at least partly because I was watching it with someone else who would join me in mocking it. I think I might stick with it a little longer just because I’m so confused by it. That’s really not a very good recommendation for anyone else to watch it, but I guess it’s not an outright suggestion to avoid it either. There – now you’re as confused about it as I am!

The Upfronts – NBC

nbc network logoThe Peacock network, best known for… um… While other networks have a bit of a personality to them, I’ve never quite been able to look at a show and say “that belongs on NBC”. Judging by the number of cancellations they have, they’re not so sure themselves. Also given the lack of trailers with most of their new shows, I’m not sensing a massive amount of confidence in having found the answer.

What’s out
smashBig shows bowing out are 30 Rock and The Office, both solid performers (although I can’t stand either of ’em) that have come to the end of their run. At the opposite end of the spectrum is a bunch of stuff that never really got started. Matthew Perry notches up another failed show with the cancellation of Go On, while 1600 Penn, Animal Practice, The New Normal and Guys With Kids were all terrible looking freshman comedies although not as bad as Next Caller it would seem given that it was canned before airing a single episode. Do No Harm was an uninspiring drama and Deception was apparently a “prime time soap opera” and I’d never heard of it. Up All Night and Whitney both bow out after 2 seasons. The only cancellation I’m a smidge sad about is Smash, which wobbled about too much and never lived up to the hype, but I kind of loved it anyway (although I haven’t seen the second season).

What’s returning
CommunityLaw and Order still maintains a television presence as Special Victims Unit goes into its fifteenth season! Critical favourites Community, Parks and Recreation and Parenthood could all easily have been pushed out, but NBC is sticking with them. Chicago Fire has been a big success (firemen saving lives and taking their tops off, who knew?) and will spawn a spin-off. Grimm gets a third season and Revolution a second. Still on the fence though is Hannibal which only started very recently.

What’s new
The Blacklist – Raymond Reddington (James Spader, Boston Legal) is one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives, but now he’s turned himself in, and is handing the FBI criminals. It looks a bit Following, a bit Silence of the Lambs and I was utterly hooked by the trailer. James Spader is a fantastic piece of casting and I’m perilously close to actually being excited about this one.

The Michael J. Fox Show – Mike Henry (Michael J. Fox, come on, I’m not telling you what he’s been in!), was a top news anchor who’s returning to work after 5 years of dealing with his Parkinson’s Disease and kids. It’s weirdly semi-autobiographical and is trying to find a fine line between self-indulgent, inspiring and manipulative. Given the title… I’m not sure it’s been successful. But Fox’s talent may make it work.

Ironside – a remaking/re-imagining of the 1960’s series. It’s pretty much a standard New York police drama, just with the lead character in a wheelchair. That’s not to say that modulation isn’t an interesting or an important one, just that it feels perilously close to a gimmick.

Sean Saves the World – Pretty standard ‘balancing work with parenting’ thing, it’s just that Sean (Sean Hayes, Will and Grace) is long divorced and gay and his teenage daughter has only just moved in with him. Oh and there’s a difficult mother too. It’s the least funny thing I’ve seen all day and that’s saying something.

Welcome to the Family – Dan (Mike O’Malley, Glee) and Karina (Mary McCormack, The West Wing) think they can finally start their lives again when their daughter graduates and heads to college. The plan falls through when she returns home pregnant. Now the baby’s dad and his parents are on the doorstep and no one gets along. The only thing going for this is the cast and that it’s not as hideous as Sean Saves the World. I still won’t be watching though.

Dracula – Dracula (Jonathan Rhy Meyers, The Tudors) is bringing electricity to 19th Century London, but he’s also pursuing those who made him a vampire. I’ll be honest, I’m confused by both the trailer and the synopsis provided in the press release. It looks expensive, but also a bit rubbish.

About a Boy – Based on the Nick Hornby book (and presumably the Hugh Grant film), “man-child” Will discovers that women find single dad’s irresistible and sets up a deal with his 11 year old neighbour. Sounds annoying, but then I actually liked the film. Mind you I’m not sure the relatively unknown David Walton (Bent? Perfect Couples?) has Hugh Grant’s screen presence.

Believe – I’ll start with the good news, it’s written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) and Exec Produced by J.J. Abrams. The bad news is that the blurb is so awful I lost the will to live half way through. It’s something about a 10 year old girl with ‘magical powers’ like telekinesis and predicting the future who tours from city to city with her protector, a former death row inmate. It sounds cheesy, but maybe the names attached can pull it off, without a trailer it’s hard to predict.

Chicago PD – a spin-off from Chicago Fire based in the local police department with the beat officers and the intelligence unit combating organised crime. Hank Voight (Jason Beghe, Californication) and Antonio Dawson (Jon Seda, Treme) from Chicago Fire will transplant to this series and it will be interesting to see how the former, a villain on Fire, will be allowed to grow. For some reason there are no other fire department shows on television, and Chicago Fire filled that gap well, but given the plethora of cop dramas, I’m not sure that there’s anything special enough to make this stand out.

Crisis – A bus load of teenagers from an elite school are taken hostage, their parents are diplomats, CEOs and even the President, so how far will they go to get their children back, and what will that mean for the country. It’s an interesting and different concept, giving plenty of material for both the families and the officials. It stars Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend’s Wedding) and Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) so it’s certainly got potential.

Crossbones – 1715, Blackbeard (John Malkovich, Being Himself) reigns over an island of pirates. An undercover assassin is sent after him, but finds that maybe Blackbeard isn’t as clearly evil as he seems. It’s a pretty original setting for a television show, but without a trailer, it’s hard to get particularly excited by a synopsis that falls a bit flat.

The Family Guide – the Fisher family are pretty unusual, Dad (J.K. Simmons, The Closer) is blind, Mom (Parker Posey, Louie) is rebelling because she didn’t when she was a teenager, daughter is obsessed with the 80s and son has always been his dad’s eyes but is now being replaced by a dog. It’s narrated from the future by the adult son, looking back the time where they all “discover who we needed to be”. Sigh.

The Night Shift – The night shift at San Antonio Memorial is home to a “special breed” of doctors, now not just challenged to save lives, but also to save money. I like the idea, but the names attached are all a little C-list with Eoin Macken (Gwain from Merlin), Ken Leung (Miles from Lost), Brendan Fehr (Michael from Roswell) and Freddy Rodriguez (Rico from Six Feet Under) – all fun in their roles, but the lack of heavy weights undermines everything a bit.

Undateable – Danny (Chris D’Elia, Whitney) takes on a group of romantically challenged friends in an attempt to teach them everything he knows about love. Sounds hideous.

Links
NBC has more information about all their shows on their website. I guess the trailers may turn up there at some point. The press release and schedule summary are at the Futon Critic.