- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
The specific rules of vampirism will vary from franchise to franchise. Some burn in sunlight while others merely sparkle; some sequester themselves into elaborate caste-based societies while others just sort of lounge around Staten Island. One quality shared by the vast majority of these vampires, however, is that they’re hot, by the most stringent standards of our human society — graced with flawless skin, chiseled cheekbones and, above all, slim, toned physiques.
Reginald (Jacob Batalon), the title character of Syfy’s new comedy Reginald the Vampire, is not hot. His not-hot-ness is neither up for debate nor incidental; it is explicitly the premise of the series, which Harley Peyton has adapted from the Fat Vampire book series by Johnny B. Truant. In theory, it’s a chance to toy with a well-trod genre, to put a fresh spin on the clichés that define it to this day. Alas, half-baked storytelling results in a series that struggles to make much of an impression, even with such an ostensibly unique vampire at its center.
Reginald the Vampire
Cast: Jacob Batalon, Mandela Van Peebles, Savannah Basley, Em Haine, Aren Buchholz, Marguerite Hanna, Thailey Roberge
Creator: Harley Peyton
At the start of the series, Reginald is a regular 20-something human man already feeling ostracized and marginalized on account of his weight. He’s subject to cruel fat jokes by Todd (Aren Buchholz), his boss at Slushy Shack, and bemoans his crush on an endearingly dorky co-worker, Sarah (Em Haine), as totally hopeless. In a questionable stroke of luck, though, his obvious misery happens to win over the sympathy of a mysterious Slushy Shack customer named Maurice (Mandela Van Peebles) — who eventually reveals himself as a vampire and turns Reginald in a moment of mortal crisis, despite knowing they’re bound to attract the disapproval of a larger vampire community obsessed with physical beauty.
Reginald the Vampire‘s single greatest advantage is Batalon, whose puppy-dog charm helps gloss over some of the series’ most glaring shortcomings. His earnestness helps to elevate the sort of uninspired dialogue that has him and Sarah flirting by speaking in song lyrics and muttering “nice” as they get each other’s references. His inherent sweetness keeps Reginald’s self-pity from tipping completely into incel-flavored entitlement, even as the character whines to God that “I was promised so much I did not receive.” (Promised by whom?) And his wide-eyed guilelessness makes it easier to forgive Reginald’s icky tendency to abuse his newfound powers by turning foes into unwilling, unwitting friends.
But even his efforts can go only so far to conceal how thinly conceived Reginald the Vampire really is. Here and there are moments of intriguing pathos, as when Maurice’s tragic backstory is revealed in the unusually downbeat fourth episode, or of playfulness, as when the action screeches to a halt in episode five to watch an undead assassin (Christin Park) dance around in her hotel room with a knife, just because it can. But they’re swallowed up by a world without much texture or nuance. Its entire sprawling society of vampires is apparently driven by stereotypical hungers for blood, beauty and power, and little else; what we see of its human society is so limited in scope that neither Reginald nor his co-workers seem to have a single friend they didn’t meet at the Slushy Shack.
The handling of the show’s central idea doesn’t dig much deeper. The series establishes early on that vampire culture doesn’t merely frown upon the existence of an ordinary-looking vampire — the other vampires regard Reginald as an abomination, an insult to their purity, a threat to their existence. But over the five hourlong episodes sent to critics (of a 10-episode season), there’s not much examination of why lookism is so deeply ingrained in vampire society, or, for that matter, what we in the real world are meant to take away from it beyond the truism that shaming people for their bodies isn’t nice. In the absence of a clear perspective, the vampire attitude toward Reginald can feel like just another way to reduce him to his looks, barraging the character with the same nasty messaging he’s already heard plenty of from the living.
Is Reginald the Vampire intended as wish fulfillment for people who can’t relate to the Robert Pattinsons and Alexander Skarsgårds? For sad sacks who are sure they deserve more? Is the goal here to make vampire stories less exclusionary, or simply to elevate Reginald as the rare exception who deserves entry into the ranks of the pretty and powerful despite his physical plainness? Does it only want to poke fun at how nearly every other vampire show has filled its cast with generic supermodel types? I could not say, from midway through the season, and I don’t know if Reginald the Vampire really could either.
To be sure, there is some appeal in the sheer novelty of watching a basically normal dude get turned into an immortal creature of the night — especially one as inherently likable as Batalon. But it’s one that wears off after a few episodes, as it becomes less and less apparent what else there is to Reginald or his story beyond his extraordinary ordinariness. Reginald the Vampire promises to strip vampires of their otherworldly, unattainable mystique, and in that regard I suppose it succeeds. The disappointment is that it doesn’t have much to offer the genre in its stead.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day