NBC’s Dracula could be a tough sell to audiences. It is set at the end of the 19th century in London and stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the eponymous vampire. He poses as an American businessman to cover for the fact that he is in England to hunt down and kill the members of the Order of the Dragon, a secret society who, centuries ago, killed Dracula’s beloved wife. The current incarnation of the Order of the Dragon is more involved with oil and business dealings than with pillaging and village burning. (Sound familiar?) After viewing early cuts of the first two episodes, I am undecided about the show. The production quality is clearly top-notch, but period pieces are difficult to pull off on television, especially on a network. I appreciate that NBC president Bob Goldblatt (formerly the head of Showtime) is trying to bring a premium cable aesthetic to the network, and I support it fully. Whether or not it will work remains to be seen.
Here are a few things you should know about Dracula, which premieres on October 25th.
The Characters We Know and Love Are All Here... With a Twist
Dracula is posing as an American investor, Alexander Grayson, who has come to Britain to seek revenge on the secret society who, centuries ago, slaughtered his wife while pillaging his village. Van Helsing, rather than hunting Dracula, exhumed him. His family was killed by the same group that killed Dracula’s wife, and Van Helsing has the means to wreak vengeance on them, but not the strength or ferocity. Their shared pain makes them strange bedfellows.
Jonathan Harker is a reporter who is lured into business with Grayson, and Mina Murray is his girlfriend, but this Mina is studying to be a physician. Lucy is still Lucy - a brash social-climber; and Renfield is not crazy - he is Grayson’s valet.
It Is Akin to Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula
There have been zillions of depictions of Dracula throughout movie history. NBC’s Dracula feels very much along the lines of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 classic. It is lush, sexy, and gothic. Like Hannibal, Dracula feels far more cinematic than any other show on network television.
Much Of the Traditional Vampire Lore Is Still Here
Dracula cannot step into sunlight, but Van Helsing is trying to devise a “cure” for that. Additionally, Dracula can semi-fly, has fangs, is sensitive to religious icons, and is beguiling and seductive.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers is a Perfect Dracula
He is sexy, charming and arrogant, all the traits a classic on-screen Dracula needs. Granted, there are some kind of cheesy moments (like Dracula in an attack-crouch, fangs bared and bloody) but it is stylized enough to work.
I understand why he needs to pose as an American (he was only unearthed eight years ago, and with America still being the “wild west,” no one questions missing records), but I still find his American accent awkward and distracting. I honestly can’t think of another project in which Meyers plays an American.
The Violence is Minimal; the Sex is Not
Much of the killing in Dracula takes place off-screen. You will see Dracula fang out, and some dripping blood, but for the most part, the bodies remain off-screen. Things start to get a little grislier towards the end of the second episode, so maybe that is the direction the series will take (it was ordered straight to series, so there should be a dozen episodes in the can). The sex is surprisingly lurid for network television. Maybe it is just Meyers’ intensity that makes the sex scenes seem hotter. Maybe it is the fact that, in lieu of nudity, the women wear corsets to bed. Whatever it is, it is clearly the sex that makes this a 10pm show.
There Are Other Supernatural Creatures in This World
In episode two, we are introduced to a pair of opium-smoking seers. They aren’t in the episode much, but it seems like they will be back, and could be very, very weird. (In a good way, of course.) Additionally, some of the characters mention that Jack the Ripper was actually a vampire who tore up his victims to hide the vampire evidence. This is mentioned in passing, but I sense it will come up again.