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Dracula: Series Premiere

By Becky Kifer · October 29, 2013

Hide your kids, hide your wife, the most famous vampire of all time is coming to take steamy baths alone and stare at you from a distance. If Dracula is NBC’s answer to the ongoing sexy nightstalker zeitgeist, Whedon help us.

For as unjustifiably bad as it is at times, we all know True Blood gets viewers because of its use of soft-core nudity. Dracula, on the other hand, is free to heave all the bosoms it wants, but is still limited by primetime standards. The most risqué shot of the series thus far: the faint beginnings of Jonathan Rhys Meyers' hellion happy trail. (Oh, saucy.) So, if the alluring advertising campaign is a bust, what else does the new program have to offer? Well, as of right now, it’s providing about as much substance as a vampire’s reflection.

A limited-series (as of now), Dracula is co-run by Carnivàle sire Daniel Knauf and comics writer Cole Haddon. Paired on Friday nights with Grimm—the low sodium soup of television shows—this new incarnation of Bram Stoker’s legendary bloodsucker is all blood, less suck. And I mean in the literal Hoover sense, not quality.  Although there’s plenty of splatter galore, the first episode of Dracula only shows a single on-camera bite.  I’m not sure what to do with a vampire who drinks more whiskey than AB Negative.

The victim, a moaning young woman, seems pretty into it until Dracula pulls back to reveal a goatee so coated in clotted blood it appears he tore into a jelly doughnut. This moment aside, the fact that the main character is a vampire is fairly irrelevant this first episode. The majority of the story focuses on Dracula’s quest for vengeance at the murder of his beloved by taking down the secret organization that killed her. The fact that this happened 500 years prior is semantics. It could have happened a decade ago and the outcome would be the same. He may be undead, but the bulk of the plot is really about behind-the-scenes corporate scheming. It’s sort of like Revenge, but with more beheading.

Freed from entombment by frenemy Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann), Meyers’ Dracula plays an elaborate long con by setting himself up as Alexander Grayson, an American entrepreneur who’s come to Victorian England promoting a new system of wireless electricity. (This involves harnessing energy from the magnetosphere and using a mechanical contraption that, as far as I can tell, looks like something out of a steampunk Titanic boiler room.)

As he works his way into the upper crust, Dracula plots against an ancient cult called The Order of the Dragon, religious zealots who condemned him for heresy and burned his wife alive. Their members are legion, with leading positions in “business, politics and oil.” (Are we sure this is set in 1896?)

During his first introduction into high society, Dracula encounters Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw), a young medical student who is the spitting image of his dead wife, and her enterprising reporter fiancé Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Adamant about his mission, but thrown by Mina’s presence, Dracula sets out to rein destruction upon his enemies not by murder, but monopolizing their business interests. (One… two… three… foreclosure. Ah ah ah!)

A few weeks prior to its premiere, NBC released Dracula Rising, an animated prequel webseries set in the 1400s. Impaled bodies, goat sacrifice, plague rats dropped onto Turkish troops—why are we watching clip-clopping Hansom cabs roaming 19th century England when we could have that? The season-to-come stinger at the end of the episode implies we may yet get to delve into this, but until then we’re left to yawn at the dealings of Victorian one-percenters. (The stinger also has a network voiceover speedily telling us to set our DVRs “to record the entire season.” You can almost hear the follow-up plea: “Look, we know you’re out on Friday night, but at least give us some Live+7 day ratings? Please? Come on, we brought back Community, doesn’t that count for anything with you ingrates?”)

Such a unique backstory, yet we’re forced to spend the majority of the episode waiting for the weird. And when it does arrive, it comes in the last ten minutes in the form of a rooftop sword fight with Spartacus-levels of slow-mo. It’s so far out of left field (and right field, and center field) that it’s like we stepped into an entirely different show. (And why did Spartacus get away with such absurdities? Nudity. I sense a theme here.)

As with any renowned adaptation, we tend to expect too much too soon. The unfairness of this fact is negated by the easy, instant name recognition that lends itself to effortless advertising. You have my interest, now earn it. (In this vein, Dracula’s fellow NBC fiend-fest Hannibal hit the right balance out of the gate.) Perhaps it was the direct-to-series commitment, but the first episode feels more like a second or third—slow paced, recovering from the whirlwind of story thrown at you in the first go-around. If only we’d gotten the chance to be excited and/or intrigued.

We know nothing about this Dracula, save for his penchant for blood (and whiskey; lots of whiskey). He was Vlad the Impaler once upon a time—was he evil as a human? Is he evil now? Can a vampire be conflicted about his ethics? He’s only seen killing sworn enemies, but what of his late night lassie snack? Do we relate to him if he kills her? Or can he take his blood to-go and spare her? The episode doesn’t tell us.

With the premiere achieving respectable ratings for A.) Friday night in the year 2013, and B.) NBC, the next question to be answered is whether or not those numbers are based on name recognition, or the type of quality programming that brings viewers back. Next week will tell. For a few executives, I imagine that’s scarier than facing down Dracula himself.