NBC’s Dracula is hanging in there, although perhaps not for long. To be fair, it has a terrible time slot assignment, because no one is sitting at home on Friday nights, all ready to tune in. In the age of the DVR we may all no longer be beholden to an airing schedule, but you still give a hint of, well, self-doubt to a show when you shove it in at that time. I admit that’s the reason why I, myself, did not watch Dracula at first.
This was a mistake, I’m now ready to admit. Because Dracula is great fun, assuming you’re into its quasi-Victorian steampunk aesthetic. And who, might I ask, wouldn’t be into a show that makes its first gimmick about vintage Edison light bulbs? The dresses are good, the bedchambers even better. It’s sad that we no longer have much tapestry going on in our mainstream television shows, you know? We’re always waiting for that Downton time of year to come ’round again. There’s a dearth of pageantry on network drama these days that I seem to be missing, which perhaps explains why I am still watching Reign even as it’s not making nearly enough use of Megan Follows.
Anyway: In Dracula, there’s a great deal of Jonathan Rhys Meyers to be admired, even if he looks like he really needs Visine to sponsor basically the rest of his career. (His addictions are allegedly bad enough that NBC held onto most of his salary until they’d finished filming this ten-episode season.) The Qarthian prince who tried to steal one of Daenerys’ dragons on Game of Thrones gets some good work. There is some homoeroticism, which is nice to see because it’s always so bizarre when vampire stuff sidesteps that side of humanity’s sexual predilections. And bonus: all the actors are competent, if not asked to stretch very much. It actually kind of gives a melodrama like Revenge a run for its money in that regard.
But it’s a tricky hook, in the atmosphere of today’s television drama. We live in the age of Ryan Murphy’s ascendancy in the mainstream-horror-show genre, and the way Dracula plays it straight, or at least that the promotional material does, is an odd fit. Sleepy Hollow and (the horrific) Grimm might be sleeper hits, but both stray pretty far from the original stories they seek to cover. Until I watched the show I just assumed it would be a Rhys Meyers scenery-chewing exercise, and it is that, but it has some other interesting elements.
You can overstate the tweaks, of course. It sticks generally to the well-known Stoker frame. There’s a Van Helsing, for example, and a Jonathan Harker. The promo hasn’t focused on the show’s one big innovation: an order of vampire hunters headed by one Lady Jayne Weatherby (Victoria Smurfit), whose manner is that of a sort of cougar-ish, and more regal, Buffy. Pro tip to any network publicists that might be listening: kick-ass women are in, and you need to make it more clear that this show is a struggle between Rhys Meyers and the other kick-ass women.
After all, let’s face it: the problem with the “old” Dracula, meaning the Bram Stoker version, is that it looks sexist to modern tastes. All the women fainting, and all that, suggest an era where women were just waiting to be swept off their feet by the right, if kinda soul-sucking guy. For a good pop television hit — which is what Dracula is aspiring to — that old model needs rejuvenation. Even in the (yes totally awful) Twilight, it was Bella who got to save the day, not Edward. And viewers need to know that Dracula actually has some mojo. It’s hard out there for a network television show, these days.