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Review: NBC’s Dracula

Last week brought us the premiere of NBC’s Dracula, in which the title character arrives in 19th century London under the guise of an American industrialist, but if you’re expecting a scintillating commentary on the evils of early capitalism, think again. Actually, if you’re expecting anything even vaguely logical, you may want to think again, as Dracula appears to have embraced the spaghetti pot of television writing: namely, throwing it all against the wall and seeing what sticks.

If the pilot was any indicator, NBC has a big mess on its kitchen floor now. If the network is wise, it has a herd of linguine-loving dogs to take care of the problem and we can all carry on as though none of this ever happened, but alas, this seems unlikely. Astonishingly, Dracula dominated Friday night ratings; evidently more people than I’d ever imagined were in rhapsodies of delight over an opportunity to see Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (The Tudors) affect an absolutely terrible 19th century American accent and gaze meaningfully at tittering British ladies who really ought to know better when it comes to consorting with vampires.

The writers, it would seem, cannot decide precisely what Dracula is about. Is it a retelling of Bram Stoker’s novel? All the usual suspects (Renfield, Lucy, and more) seem to be assembled and they’re all more or less in the right place, though Lucy has of course been upgraded for modern sensibilities. But perhaps it’s about Dracula’s bloodthirsty need for revenge against a secret society filled with the wealthy and powerful! His need for revenge drives an agenda so all-consuming that he’s willing to tear paragons of society to shreds in their doorways on his way to getting what he wants! Dracula even provides us with vivid flashbacks of Mrs. Dracula writhing in the flames of an execution pyre, just in case we’re unclear on his motivations.

But perhaps it’s about the secret motivations of the man who revives Dracula after he’s buried deep underground! (Or maybe this is tied with the whole revenge thing. Perhaps they BOTH have something to gain from taking down the Order of Something or Other.) Or maybe it really is a commentary on capitalism and these little subplots are all elaborate foils designed to distract us from the thrust of the work. It could also, of course, be a delve into 19th century oil politics and the future of energy and the environment; Dracula has evidently invented wireless electricity and is eager to demonstrate its vast superiority to petroleum-derived energy.

It could also, of course, be about his various seductions of women. Evidently we viewers are supposed to find him sultry (or is it sexy?) as he wanders about the horribly inaccurate sets casting long glances at women and occasionally compelling them to swoon in his arms. Or maybe they’re just swooning with embarrassment because their costumes are so anachronistic that even a high school theatre production would be a little ashamed to show them on stage. Perhaps they wasted the money they meant to use for costuming research on blood packets or false teeth or something.

With so many options, it’s a wonder Dracula doesn’t have a bit of an identity crisis. Poor thing, with such a fractured self-image, how will it ever be able to play with all the nice children?

Maybe it’s just a big hot steaming mess, entrails strewn at will across the television screen. If the producers are waiting to see what will grab viewers so they can adjust the tale from there, they may be making a mistake; the hodge-podge of plot elements, costuming, and everything else is more likely to be a turnoff than anything else, because there’s nothing, and no one, to grab on to. Even Dracula isn’t all that exciting as a character, right down to his strangely creepy hair, and the show has a disturbingly high percentage of absolutely terrible fake moustaches, which demonstrates a real lack of commitment on the part of the actors.

Who, after all, would refuse to grow a moustache, unless, of course, said actor feared that a production wasn’t long for this Earth? The lack of dedication to the craft represented by great big hairy caterpillars awkwardly and often skewedly glued onto the faces of half the male cast speaks volumes to the limited faith on the part of the show’s own actors that it has a chance of success. And really, who can blame them; after reading the script, there must have been a collective howl of misery loud enough to call Dracula’s wolves out of the darkness.

I’m not entirely sure who to hold responsible for this travesty. Bram Stoker can hardly be held accountable for what people have done with his classic work now that it’s in the public domain, any more than Michelangelo can do anything about those dreadful David fridge magnet sets. Obviously, creators Cole Hadden and Daniel Knauf must be brought to task, but really, it took an army to make something so unilaterally terrible. This may be the worst thing to happen to Anglo-American relations since the War of 1812.