I signed up to review the pilots of Reign and Dracula for one very simple reason: I like reviewing bad shows. It’s fun. You complain, you nitpick, and no one takes issue with it because everyone knows it wasn’t very good. Unfortunately for me, Reign turned out to be watchable (if only in a guilty pleasure sense) and Dracula...well, it was not a total disaster.
Obviously, it has issues, but I’m not sure anyone was expecting much. The biggest downside of the show to me was that it was mind-crushingly derivative. There was very little, if anything, original about this show. Obviously it’s based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula and its movie adaptations, but it’s more than that. A lot of the aesthetics seem to have been borrowed from Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes series. The fight scene between Dracula and Kruger on the roof was an extremely obvious takeaway. Dracula also appropriated the movies’ slightly steampunk flavor. Just enough of it to keep you interested, not enough to alienate anyone. Although, I’m having a thought: can we still call it steampunk when the technology is based on magnets instead of steam? Or should we change it to magnetpunk? Various bits throughout reminded me of other things as well. There was the Raiders of the Lost Ark opening, The Count of Monte Cristo ballroom scene, the generic teen drama on the CW sleepover scene, I could go on. But instead, let’s just jump to another problem: too much too soon.
It’s a common issue with pilots. It’s actually easier to think of an overstuffed pilot episode than one that was balanced and well paced. Introducing everything in just an hour is a tall order even when you’re not dealing with a show as complicated as this one. Even so, the writers should have spread all this out over the first two or even three episodes and given their characters a chance to settle into their roles. As it was, the pilot was unfocused. I feel like the writers wrote out a bunch of plot points they’re planning on pursuing over the series run (however long or short that will be) and were determined to at least mention all of them once.
And we’re onto our third and final major problem which is less of a problem and more of a worry of mine: is the show too ambitious? I just feel like there’s too much going on and too many explorable possibilities for the show to settle down into a watchable pace. With the Order of the Dragon, Professor Van Helsing, Dracula’s origin, vampire mythology, Dracula’s relationship with Mina and/or previous incarnation of Mina, Mina’s career as a surgeon, Mina and Harker’s relationship, social commentary on the rich (particularly those who own oil companies), engagement with real world history (Edison and Darwin are mentioned and Jack the Ripper is explained), and meta commentary on Dracula canon, I worry that it’s just too much.
I’ve never read Dracula. I’ve never seen a movie with Dracula in it. All of my knowledge of the famous vampire comes second (or third or fourth) hand. Still, I thought I knew enough from “Buffy vs. Dracula” and that black and white episode of Supernatural. Apparently not. My “research” (by definition, the word ‘research’ must be in quotes if it involves Wikipedia) produced some interesting insights into the show I would have otherwise missed. For instance, Renfield (in this version, Dracula’s servant/butler/valet person) is canonically a mental asylum inmate who eats bugs. Mina is not an aspiring surgeon, but a school teacher in the book. Yes, it’s pushing the historical accuracy envelope a bit, but not as much as you might think. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to have her name entered on the General Medical Council’s medical register in 1859, almost forty years before the show is set.
Bottom line: give it a try if you want to; don’t let others talk you out of it. But it’s not amazing, so keep your expectations low.
Bits and Pieces:
I wonder if JRM and Natalie Dormer (Elementary) practiced their American accents together on the set of The Tudors. Both are just bad enough to be distracting.
JRM is not one of the greatest actors of our day, but Dracula is comfortably in his wheelhouse. Now, about that wig...
Speaking of costuming, Lady Jayne’s ensembles were positively cartoonish.
I actually really liked the explanation of Jack the Ripper as a cover-up of vampiric activity. It shows that they’re not taking themselves too seriously.
The cover for the murder that took place in this episode was “killed by a dog.” In Dracula, Dracula could take the shape of a dog, which I did not know until this afternoon. I thought vampires were supposed to turn into bats?
The Order of the Dragon was a real-life chivalric order whose members included Vlad the Impaler, thought to be the historical inspiration behind Dracula. Dracula is a member of the Order in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola version).
Dracula no longer sounds like a word to me.
Harker (about Dracula): “Visionary. Delusional. Egomaniac.”
Dracula / Alexander Grayson: “Your invitation did request my ‘discreet company.’”
Lady Jayne: “Yes it did, though I was concerned, as an American, that you might not understand the meaning of the word ‘discreet.’”
Dracula: “I had to look it up.”