ShawConnect TV critic Brent Furdyk samples the upcoming pilots for a first look at the 2013 fall TV season
Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Victoria Smurfit, Thomas Kretschmann, Jessica De Gouw, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Nonso Anozie, Katie McGrath
The gist: Bram Stoker’s iconic vampire is reimagined yet again in this period piece set in Victorian London, courtesy of Downton Abbey exec producers Colin Callender and Gareth Neame. Meyers (best known as young Henry VIII in The Tudors) plays the titular Transylvanian, who moves to London in the guise of American industrialist Alexander Grayson. Dracula/Grayson plans to change the course of history by introducing the world to free energy, which he’s discovered can be drawn (albeit not that easily) from the Earth’s magnetic field; if it takes off, this clean energy source will allow him to wrest control of the world from the wealthy few who control the planet’s oil resources. “They believe [oil] will fuel the next century, and if they control it they control the future,” says Drac/Grayson. “But if I demonstrate the viability of geomagnetic technology — poof. No more money. No more power.”
Drac/Grayson’s desire to topple the Old World Order, however, is part of a devious hidden agenda. The men who rule the world’s oil wealth are members of a nefarious secret society called The Order of the Dragon, with whom Dracula has a bone to pick after they murdered his wife and transformed him into a vampire hundreds of years earlier. Other players in this complex plot of forbidden love and served-cold revenge are Drac/Grayson’s loyal human manservant, Renfield (Anonzie, known to Game of Thrones fans as merchant Xaro Xohan Daxos of Qarth) and legendary vampire-hunter Prof. Van Helsing (Kretschmann), whose relationship with Drac isn’t as cut-and-dried as Bram Stoker led us to believe.
The plan becomes complicated when he encounters a young woman named Mina Murray (DeGouw, last seen as Arrow’s Huntress) who is the spitting image (and perhaps the reincarnation) of his long-dead wife; too bad she’s engaged to social-climbing journalist Jonathan Harker (Jackson-Cohen), although this shouldn’t prove to be too much of an impediment to an immortal, super-powered Nosferatu.
It’s like… Downton Abbey meets Twilight
Sample line: “Before you die, take heart. You will soon be joined in hell by scores of your brethren. I will destroy your order and everything it stands for.”
IMHO: Meyers makes a suave-but-deadly Dracula, whom we first meet as a seemingly lifeless corpse, as dried and desiccated as a mummy. After returning to life, such as it were, Meyers performs a nifty trick by transforming his posh British accent, mid-sentence, into one “as American as God, guns and bourbon.”
An extended scene in which Drac/Grayson hosts a soiree at his mansion is wildly reminiscent of Downton, but serves a purpose to introduce us to all the London high-society types who look down their noses at an American, one of them sneering, “How can we properly mock him if we haven’t laid eyes on the man.”
Naturally, Dracula gets thirsty from time to time and requires some victims, and it’s the Dracula-being-Dracula scenes that really see the series firing on all cylinders. In this regard, Meyers manages to bring something new to a character we’ve seen played by everyone from Bela Lugosi to Gary Oldman, and makes a worthy addition to the Dracula pantheon.
Fun Fact: This 10-episode limited-run series is as international as it gets, filmed in Budapest as a co-production of NBC in the U.S. and the U.K.’s Sky Living network.
Verdict: An old-school vampire saga that’s bloody and bloody good, with a unique twist that refreshes a story that’s been told hundreds of times before. As a result, the show will appeal equally to the Downton Abbey crowd as well as fans of the vampire genre looking for something less silly than Twilight and True Blood.
Prediction: Although conventional wisdom holds that nobody watches TV on Friday nights, Dracula is part of NBC’s strategy to lure viewers to this once-dead night of television. With the bar set low, Dracula has the potential to become a hit (although probably a modest one) when it debuts, fittingly enough, just before Halloween.
DRACULA premieres Friday, October 25 on Global and NBC