Dracula: Pilot Review

Count Dracula comes to NBC with a new television series starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers that's a drastic reinvention of the legend.

NBC’s Dracula is a slick, lavish reinvention of the Dracula mythos. It’s got a solid cast, high production values, and a terrific lead in Jonathan Rhys Meyers. However, for whatever reason, it seems to lack (sigh) bite. Why is this? Read on…

The pilot episode of NBC’s Dracula opens in Romania, 1881, as a pair of mysterious adventurers arrive in an underground tomb. No points for guessing whose tomb it is. An offering of blood revives Dracula in a terrific display of gore and special effects…and then we flash forward a few years. Dracula is now “Alexander Grayson,” an American inventor and industrialist, who has come to London not to buy real estate, but to offer the world free, wireless electrical power that would make Edison and Tesla turn green with envy. Alright.

Why is a vampire doing this? To ruin the robber barons, captains of industry, and oil magnates who make up The Order of The Dragon…a group that Dracula has sworn to destroy because of their habit of rolling over the innocent. Dude, weren’t you once known as Vlad the Impaler? Ah, but the Order of the Dragon were also responsible for the death of Dracula’s beloved wife…who bears an uncanny resemblance to the young Mina Murray.

There you have it. This isn’t a branch or an offshoot of the traditional Dracula legend, but rather a wholesale reinvention for television. Most of the traditional players are present and accounted for: Jonathan Harker (a journalist in this version of the tale, played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen), Lucy Westenra (Katie McGrath), Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw), Abraham Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann who, funny enough, plays Dracula himself in Dario Argento’s recent Dracula offering), Renfield (Nonso Anozie)…all in recognizable, if tweaked form. We see the seeds of the inevitable romantic triangle with Jonathan Harker, Mina, and “Alexander.” Lucy is her coquettish self. Abraham Van Helsing is a professor of…something or other (with Mina as one of his students).

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Look, a straight adaptation of Dracula for a show that hopes to run for years is obviously not going to work, but some of this is bound to leave viewers scratching their heads. Why, exactly, is Dracula putting on an American disguise? Furthermore, why cast an Irish actor like Rhys Meyers to play a Romanian nobleman who is then putting on an American accent? Would Dracula’s disguise be less effective if he were Romanian? Is this an instance of the network feeling that without an “American” lead character for audiences to hang their hats on, then Dracula will be dead in the water?

It’s a shame, as Jonathan Rhys Meyers is a real screen presence, and there are moments when he gets to display that raw sexual magnetism that is both a hallmark of his career and something you’d generally expect from the lord of the vampires. But an even slightly more traditional take on the part would probably allow Meyers to breathe. It’s all too artificial, and one gets the feeling that even Dracula doesn’t believe his deception. He’s neither the haunted romantic or the menacing foreign symbol of disease…in fact, he’s altogether too agreeable and polite.

Dracula isn’t without its high points. It doesn’t shy away from gore or eroticism, and there’s a wonderfully bizarre moment involving the transfer of a severed head that is so out there that it wouldn’t be out of place in a BPRD scene in one of Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy movies. There’s also Dracula’s rooftop fight with a vampire hunter (who has a delightful arsenal of vampire-killing tools)  which is an exciting visual, and there’s some real promise here for what the show is capable of visually.

The historical setting and Dracula’s place in society also open the door to the possibility of other impressive figures from literature and real-life to make an appearance. Jack The Ripper is mentioned in passing, as are Edison and Tesla (the latter being a natural fit given the subject matter). But what about Dracula and Houdini? Dracula and Sherlock Holmes? If NBC’s Dracula is willing to have a little fun with its rather offbeat, strange take on the Dracula legend, then there is plenty of potential for this show to rise from the grave in future episodes.

Dracula premieres on NBC on Friday, October 25th, at 10 PM.

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2.5 out of 5