Here we have two additional reasons to give up on Melrose Place. Why keep watching that increasingly sorry mess when you now have these new super-fab Fox soaps to add to your already decadent viewing schedule? Profit and Kindred: The Embraced could not be more different from each other. Lean and gratifyingly mean, Profit is about Jim Profit (Adrian Pasdar), a ruthless businessman snaking his way up the corporate ladder; the wonderfully complicated Kindred: The Embraced features five clans of vampires, snarling and sucking in contemporary San Francisco.
Mind you, I didn’t want to be drawn into either of these series. Big-business hugger-mugger bores me stiff. And as far as classy vampires go, let me put it this way: Anne Rice novels have always struck me as literature for people who don’t know who Angela Carter or Jonathan Carroll are. But Profit and Kindred are uncommonly sharp shows.
Jim Profit tells us his story via voiceovers delivered in a rattlesnake murmur. He’s the new junior vice president of acquisitions for the very powerful Gracen & Gracen, and as Jim very bluntly tells us, ”I want to be president of acquisitions.” To accomplish this, he brownnoses and backstabs his way across the corporation, tapping into confidential computer files with the wicked ambition of a cyber-Sammy Glick. All this, plus sex: In the series premiere, we haven’t even arrived at the first commercial before Profit is being fondled by a bombshell. Moans Jim: ”Hi, Mom.” Yikes!
Turns out ”Mom” is Profit’s stepmother, played to a perfect blowsy turn by Lisa Blount. She’s giving Profit a taste of his own medicine, blackmailing him for lovin’ and money because she knows that he tried to kill his abusive father. This is the wittily nasty subtext in Profit: When Jim was a child, his father kept the boy in a cardboard moving box; young Jim’s only contact with the world was a hole through which he watched a flickering TV day after day. This, we’re supposed to believe, is why Profit is the soulless sociopath he is. In addition to being terrifically addictive television, Profit also contains the strongest anti-TV message anyone has sneaked onto the medium.
Just as the structure of Profit is as sleekly simple as its title, so Kindred: The Embraced is knottily mystifying. This much can be ascertained. San Francisco harbors a quintet of vampire tribes: The Ventrue (savvy aristos), The Brujah (thuggish mobsters), The Gangrels (model-handsome punks), The Nosferatu (the oldest and most traditionally vampire-like), and The Torreadors (arty types). Together, they form The Kindred, and for a human to have blood withdrawn by any of them is to be ”embraced.”
Kindred is The Godfather soaked in blood. The vampires’ chief opponents are one another (war between the clans breaks out) and a human cop played by C. Thomas Howell. As a protagonist, Howell is hopelessly lightweight; he’s the biggest name in the cast, yet you want someone to sink fangs into his neck ASAP. Far more appealing is the elegant, intelligent prince of the Ventrue, Julian Luna (Mark Frankel). This ”boss of all bosses” tries to keep the peace among The Kindred even as he’s being drawn romantically to a human reporter (Kelly Rutherford) whom he knows he should not, um, embrace.
Both Kindred’s Frankel and Profit’s Pasdar are stage-trained actors who bring two distinctive brands of menace to the small screen. They’re playing heavies, but sympathetically. If Profit has the edge right now, it’s because its antihero is such an instant gas. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the dense allure of Kindred, notwithstanding Howell, proves equally habit-forming.