By Alec Stern, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 28, 2013
In a bid to save Friday from its perennial “death-slot” status, the broadcast networks have continued to make significant investments in the modestly rated night. NBC in particular has carved a genre niche, anchored by surprise success “Grimm.” To cash in on that supernatural procedural’s loyal audience, NBC premiered “Dracula,” a take on the classic story of the world’s most famous vampire. In an effort to avoid any bad puns (such as “Dracula” lacks bite or, even worse, “Dracula” sucks), “Dracula” just proves to be an unnecessary iteration, giving its titular character nothing particularly impressive, interesting or new to do. (Fine … perhaps “Dracula” should have never seen the light of day.)
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NBC’s version of “Dracula” catches up with the villain in 19th-century London. Posing as American entrepreneur Alexander Grayson, Dracula’s (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, “The Tudors”) true motive is to exact revenge on those who betrayed him hundreds of years earlier. In the process, he meets Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw, “Arrow”), a prospective surgeon with a mysterious backstory. Thomas Kretschmann (“The River”) also stars as Abraham Van Helsing, a vampire slayer and recurrent character in the Dracula folklore.
Most notably, “Dracula” feels tired. Even when NBC ordered the series in January 2012, vampires were on the downswing. Now, almost two years later, the vampire craze has seemed to run its course. “True Blood” is beginning production on its final season, and it feels ages ago that “Twilight” fandom was in full swing. Supernatural culture is cyclical, and NBC has definitely caught the tail end of the latest vampire trend. On a side note, it seems witches are back in style (see FX’s “American Horror Story: Coven” and Lifetime’s “Witches of East End”).
“Dracula” is also glaringly not fun. Say what you will about HBO’s acclaimed-then-maligned “True Blood,” but the series has never failed in that regard. Of course, narratively, “Blood” has become a crowded mess, but it’s continued to be thrilling, sexy, crazy and fun.
Conversely, “Dracula” is just boring, tied down by multiple confusing storylines and hampered by its 1800s timeline. Dracula as a period piece has been done so many times before that one wonders if a modernized series, á la CBS’s “Elementary,” would have been more exciting. There is also far too much Grayson in the pilot — in other words, there’s more entrepreneurial business talk than bloodsucking and kills. And for a show called “Dracula,” this might be the biggest turnoff.
In terms of NBC’s recent push for more limited, cable-style fare, “Dracula” comes in way behind last spring’s “Hannibal.” With Bryan Fuller (of ABC’s tragically short-lived “Pushing Daisies”) at the helm, the 13-episode origin story was a vibrant, visually enticing thriller that stood on its own. Despite iconic source material, “Hannibal” immediately made a case for itself, wonderfully blending procedural and serial elements and delivering standout performances from leads Mads Mikkelsen (“A Royal Affair”) and Hugh Dancy (“The Big C”). Furthering this new NBC sub-brand, the Peacock has a second season of “Hannibal” planned, as well as “Crossbones,” a 10-episode pirate drama starring John Malkovich.
Whereas “Hannibal” succeeded, “Dracula” fails. Familiar visuals and a trite narrative plague the NBC drama. There’s nothing blatantly wrong in this adaptation, but there’s also nothing different about it. If you’re going to re-imagine a story as oft-told as Dracula’s, then you’re actually going to have to re-imagine something. Because, ultimately, the pilot episode of “Dracula” brings nothing new to the monster’s inspired history.