Fans of kooky, over-the-top, costumed TV series are having a very good year. Joining the ranks of Sleepy Hollow, Reign, and Once Upon A Time in Wonderland, Dracula is NBC’s pick for a new series with so many confusing things going on that it must be entertaining! For a show that recalls everything from The Prestige to Captain Planet in its pilot alone, it certainly delivers.
The pilot episode opens with Dracula’s return from suspended animation. A mysterious figure in a Van Helsing hat (Hint!) and henchman-turned-blood-bag free him from a complex, Underworld-like tomb. Flash forward to Dracula, donning a Victorian-era tuxedo, in a much less undead state. With his righthand man
Xaro Xhoan Daxos R.M. Renfield (Game of Thrones‘ Nonso Anozie), Dracula prepares his new persona, Alexander Grayson the American industrialist, and the game plan for his London society party at his estate, Carfax Manor.
For those familiar with Bram Stoker’s classic or its many film and TV iterations, the book’s characters remain in this series — but with a twist. Renfield works for Dracula but rather than a spastic, obsessive Englishman, he’s a calm, cool, and collected African-American man. Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is an ambitious journalist instead of a naive lawyer. Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw) is a medical student rather than a teacher. Lucy Westenra is still Mina’s flirty, upperclass friend, played with sinister swagger by Merlin’s Katie McGrath.
At Grayson’s lavish party, Dracula presents his latest technological endeavor. To me, the party looks like the “Masquerade” scene in Joel Schumacher’s Phantom whereas the uppity British attendees deem it “distressingly American,” which I guess is the same thing. Straight out of The Prestige (and real history), Dracula illuminates dozens of wireless light bulbs using energy harnessed from the magnetosphere. (I wonder what Neil deGrasse Tyson would tweet!) But geomagnetic technology is dicey — Dracula’s steampunk factory needs coolant systems to be fully operational. The board members of the British Imperial Company have access to high efficiency coolant patents; however, Downton Abbey’s Sir Anthony Strallon, Lord Snobby, and Sir Haughty do not sell their company’s assets to “interloping colonials!”
Turns out the British Imperial Company is a front for the centuries-old Order of the Dragon, an evil Illuminati that has traded in the influence of the cross and sword for private clubs and oil interests. Dracula aims to replace any need for oil with free electrical power, thereby destroying the Order of the Dragon’s revenue stream and the organization itself. This basically makes Dracula a steampunk, undead Captain Planet, which is a mash-up of practically every Millenial’s favorite pop culture references.
Taking a cue from Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, Mina happens to look exactly like Dracula’s lost love, who was brutally burned at the stake by the Order of the Dragon. There is an instant connection between Mina and Grayson, reminding me that The Vampire Diaries’ storyline involving doppelgängers is nothing new in the world of modern vampire tales. Unlike other popular Dracula adaptations, Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann a.k.a. German Liam Neeson) is Dracula’s partner in crime, working to take down the Order, and also responsible for killing Helsing’s loved ones.
Standouts include Rhys Meyers in his element as Dracula and Victoria Smurfit as Jane Weatherby, lover of “Victorian” dresses from Jovani and being naughty at the opera. (I guess Gerard Butler wasn’t interested in the show since he’s already played the Phantom and Dracula.)
With just enough action, intrigue, sex, and style, this first episode sets up the series as derivative yet appealing like The League of Extraordinary Men’s more charming, younger sibling. Will you take a second bite out of NBC’s Dracula?