Dracula: TV Review
Fridays at 10 p.m. on NBC, beginning Oct. 25
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Thomas Kretschmann, Nonso Anozie, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
NBC didn't get the memo that vampires are over. Even with a sexy star, there's no real reason for "Dracula" to exist in a crowded world of genre dramas.
Even as a limited series, it's hard to imagine that the world needs another go at Dracula. But NBC believes that a reimagining, or some might think a mangling, of the original is in order and thus summoned Jonathan Rhys Meyers to drink some blood in primetime.
It's difficult and probably foolish to guess at what genre fans will actually watch on purpose, so there's no telling if Dracula will work or not. At least NBC is pairing it with Grimm, so there's some thematic synergy there. But where Grimm is fun and has its own distinct sense of self, even Meyers' always magnetic presence can't make this Dracula stand out.
Part of the problem is that Dracula is all over the map. It wants to be reimagined, apparently, but doesn't do anything dramatic like come at the book from a modern perspective (which worked wonders for at least two iterations of Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock and Elementary) or wholly reinvent elements to challenge existing notions about the dark count.
Instead, it's set in Victorian London in 1896 and this Dracula is masquerading as an American industrialist named Alexander Grayson. Which means that Meyers must speak with an American accent much of the time, a task he can accomplish, but a decision that seems dubious given how he's a lot more riveting speaking like a Brit.
NBC's version of Dracula is created and executive produced by Cole Haddon and written by Daniel Knauf (Carnival), with a string of other executive producers attached, such as former HBO movie exec Colin Callender, Tony Krantz (24) and Gareth Neame (Downton Abbey). It looks like they took the Bram Stoker novel, shook it up a bit, used a lot of the same names in different configurations and then thought about all the movie adaptations and tried to zig a bit where those zagged.
And yet, it feels like … Dracula. Which, in a pop culture world where vampires have grown tiresomely abundant, makes you wonder whether we need another one, even if he's a faux American on a mission to free the world from its addiction to gas and oil.
That last part is true.
"I give to you free, wireless power!" Grayson/Dracula states, dramatically, to London's elite, invited to his Carfax Manor to witness electricity. He hands everyone a light bulb -- one of those cool kind with the filament in loops -- and as he waves his hand with a flourish, all of those light bulbs illuminate in their hands.
Trickery? Sorcery? Nope, science, according to Grayson/Dracula, who has his minions in the kitchen below working up some serious electromagnetic mojo.
He pulls off this stunt because he wants to out all the oil-hoarding power players in London who just so happen to be members of the Order of the Dragon, a nefarious group that enslaved him and killed him. Or rather, "killed" him. Fifteen years prior to the light bulb stunt, Dracula was actually brought back to life by Abraham Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann), who would normally be hunting down vamps like Dracula, because that's what he does, but in this version they are partners because the Order of the Dragon also killed the entirety of Van Helsing's family.
I was having a hard time remembering the book, for starters, but also all the various Dracula movies I've seen. Yet at some point -- whether it was the light bulb or Renfield (Nonso Anozie) being Dracula's assistant or Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) being a journalist -- things began to scramble in this modern manipulation. Unfortunately, they didn't scramble into something thoughtfully new and unique. There's nothing overtly bad about the first two episodes of Dracula, but neither was there anything compelling. Dracula as badass rooftop fighter? Sure, fine. He mauls necks into a bloody mess? OK. But with Fox's Sleepy Hollow and AMC's The Walking Dead delivering thrills along those lines with more inspired storytelling, it's not like viewers will be left wanting.
And that's the thing, really. Dracula's been done. True -- everything's been done, pretty much. But unless there's something beyond biting necks -- even if it's maybe not as beyond as True Blood or emo mopey like Twilight -- there's not much urgency to revisit something that's been revisited countless times already.
Innovate, or vacate.