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On NBC's Dracula, and Whether We Need Vampires Anymore

By Genevieve Burgess | Think Pieces | February 7, 2014 | Comments ()


NBCDracula.jpg

For reasons I can’t quite explain, I’ve watched the entire first season of NBC’s new series Dracula. Well, that’s a lie, I can explain that I started watching the series because I’m a fan of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers even if he has a bad habit of throwing shit-fits in airports. I also tend to enjoy Nonso Anozie, and was curious to see how many apple boxes they were going to need to get Meyer’s Dracula in the same frame as Anozie’s Renfield.* Also the advertisements led me to suspect we were getting fairly far afield of Bram Stoker’s original gothic horror but I had hopes that the creators were looking to pull vampires back from the Twilight precipice.

I was right and wrong. There are no Twilight style vampires here. What is here, though, is almost more bewildering: the show is The (Sometimes Sexy) Adventures of a Vampire CEO.

(Spoilers for the first season of Dracula.)

Not only is Dracula masquerading as an American industrialist named Alexander Grayson in this series, his plot to bring down “The Order Draco” involves undermining their business dealings. So, the centuries-old god-forsaken monster is going to exact revenge on the group who made him a vampire by… creating free, wireless, geomagnetic energy in order to make all oil-based fuel obsolete. Because the Order Draco is heavily invested in oil, you see. Who are the Order Draco? GOOD QUESTION! Because while the histories of all the characters from the novel have been rewritten, we get basically no explanation of what this group is except that they’re: 1. Very ancient 2. Very wealthy 3. Very anti-vampire except when they totally made Vlad Tepes (aka Dracula) a vampire that one time.

The only relationship this series has with the novel is the name of some characters and a few vampire characteristics. However, JRM’s Dracula never sleeps in a coffin, you never meet his wives, there are no wolves, and while he does suck some blood it seems to be more of an inconvenience to him. A major plot point is Van Helsing (who is his buddy now) creating a serum that will allow Dracula to walk in the sunlight so that he can… attend a board meeting held at noon and take strolls in the park. This Dracula is not a monster, he is a romantic with an iron deficiency and a sensitivity to UV light. The ancient being of unspeakable savagery, cunning, and strength with the barest veneer of sophistication is nowhere to be seen.

At this point, I don’t know why we bother writing vampire stories anymore if we’re just going to use the title to designate someone as an “outsider” with few other identifiable features. There are ways to achieve Dracula’s backstory without making him THE Dracula. There are ways of setting Edward Cullen apart from his peers without the super-strength and sparkling. There are ways of making all the people on True Blood super sexy but kind of tiresome that have nothing to do with fangs. All it really ends up being is a “dark secret” that results in socially questionable behavior. And with some of the newer adaptations of the myth, there’s less of that than ever before. By the time Rhys-Meyers actually started ripping out throats I felt like cheering, because I hadn’t tuned into a series called Dracula to watch a fictional Nikola Tesla nurse a grudge and a crush. There were very few points in the narrative arc that required Alexander Grayson to be a vampire and most of them involved feats of strength. Vampirism was not at all necessary to the character or to the plot. It was superfluous, and the scenes of him actually acting like a vampire ended up feeling out of step with the rest of the series. I have the same problem with a lot of modern vampire stories.

It seems wrong to say that folklore that has endured for hundreds of years may not have any current cultural value. Bram Stoker’s novel is still a triumph of gothic horror, and if a movie were to truly capture the other-worldly nature of that Dracula and the creeping dread and hopelessness he inspired in the main characters it would be an amazing movie or series. But the urge to humanize the beast seems too strong to resist. The last vampire story I read that truly unnerved me was Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot because it nailed all the traditional vampire traits while updating the setting of the story. With that in my mind, it feels like these modern interpretations are actually damaging the cultural legacy of the vampire. We’ve come hundreds of years from the bloodthirsty beast who is only vulnerable while he’s sleeping to moody dudes who get hung up on human ladies for some reason. Maybe the most dignified way to move forward is to put a stake in vampires for a bit, until we can manage to write them without embarrassing ourselves.

*Answer: none. Very ballsy of JRM, but also satisfying on a certain level.







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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Less Lee Moore

    Of course we need vampires! Check out the films Byzantium and Kiss Of The Damned from some good angst and bloodlust.

  • troublesometots

    Dracula (this version) is such a missed opportunity, I watch it mostly to grouse about how much better it could have been with some small tweaks. I mean look what they have to work with:

    Dracula. Dracula is a badass. He is lusty and powerful and fearless. Sadly CEO Dracula is dull, often looks constipated, and has the worst American accent ever.

    Jonathan Rhys-Meyers does a great job with brooding and lusty. Were it not for the shitty script he should be the perfect guy to sexy scare the seedy streets of London.

    The cast in general is gorgeous and reasonably talented. And entirely misused. Nonso could make a great partner for Dracula - outcast yet also powerful and with great presence. Sadly he has little else to do but stand around and listen while Jonathan complains about the slow progress of his business dealings. Victoria Smurfit (possibly the most unfortunate last name ever) sells the lusty powerful vampire hunter and a fantastic foil for Dracula. But they somehow neutered their relationship so that the growing realization that she's schtupping the enemy has no bite. Van Helsing is Van Boring. I mean somehow they even made a sexy lady crush (with the stunning Katie McGrath who could easily stand in for Kiera Knightely) flat.

    And you totally nailed it with Order Draco - Worst. Villainous. Secret. Society. Ever.

    I keep watching it mostly to make snarky comments and grumble about what a wasted opportunity this was. Because the basic premise of sexy dracula with a decent cast of talented and gorgeous actors should be fairly fun. Or at least better than average. But the writers have totally blown this opportunity with wooden dialog, pointless plot developments, and emphasizing the stupid things like Dracula's desperation to walk in the park instead of all the fun sexytimes and violence inherent in a Dracula story.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    I enjoyed the show but the actress that plays Mina makes me want to punch her in her sulky little face.

  • CardinalChunder

    In the late nineties there was a TV show in the UK called Ultraviolet. They updated vampires to a modern setting by making them the embodiment of 'others'. There was a lot of focus on whether or not there was anything left of the people you knew once they were turned, giving emotional and moral stakes (heh) to the people hunting them, and whether the vampires were hellbent on world domination, or just trying to survive against an implacable enemy that wanted to kill them for just being what they were.

    They managed to preserve the ambiguity, which led to some great standoffs and psychological games being played between the two sides, while making it all feel very sinister.

    The execution could be spotty, with a romantic sub plot you wanted them to just stop pissing about with and it only lasted a series, but it was a great concept for modernising the vampire myth and light years ahead of 'Curse these people for giving me these powers and mild inconveniences that don't actually make me evil, also have some cleavage and steampunk concepts' bullshit going on here.

    Also, it had a pre wire Idris Elba.

  • BlackRabbit

    That show was great and thank you for mentioning it.

  • Nobody seems to realize this but True Blood vamps are stand-ins for elite parasitic criminals who control the message. They're just like us, don't you know. We want to have a 'beer' with them, don't you know. Except when we do he'll suck us dry, dump our body on the lawn, tell Joe Lawman he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about 'what body?' and Joe Lawman slinks away to tell the Mr. Reporterman that Mr. Vampireman is all that and a bag of chips. Mr. Reporterman dutifully writes that down and Mr. Big Name Publisher Man makes it front page news, saturates the news cycle with it, and won't let up until everybody forgets about your cold, dead body on Mr. Vampireman's lawn...

  • BlackRabbit

    If you like Dracula pick up The New Annotated Dracula. Interesting deconstruction of the story based on the premise that the book is an account of actual events altered after the fact, and brings up some fun ideas, such as the suggestion that Quincy Morris was in league with the Count.

  • BizzyBzz

    I watch this show because there are several hot men in it. Hubba, hubba.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    That's my favorite reason to watch anything.

  • Dennis Albert Ramirez

    i suppose i'm not a traditionalist. i don't care that adaptations/remakes/reboots aren't exact to their sources, and i prefer they don't be. i also don't care that mythological or other culturally traditional material like vampires stick to what "they are supposed to be", especially when some "traditional" vampire and werewolf lore are fairly modern as of early Hollywood. i enjoy when people do their own interpretations of an idea. even if they turn out terrible, i appreciate the idea to go crazy with it.

    i only watched a few episodes of Dracula, but this is probably the only show that I read spoiler reviews for just to keep up with the story. primarily because of how crazy the ideas were, the relationships being completely different from what i expected and how they would justify and play those out (from what i understand though, the finally sets some relationships back towards the original versions, which is also cool).

    the execution wasn't all there for me (hence why i just read about it via watching it, but i appreciated the imagination of the writers who seemed like they were having a blast with the concept, as if the novel never existed and a bunch of nerds just got the idea for it today.

    so, so many versions of Dracula have happened that i dig what they tried to do with this one.

    talking about his makes me want to go read Anno Dracula again

  • oui

    I haven't watched it yet. But the way I heard it from friends, they made it sound like he's a President of the Blood Bank Association of North America, revolutionizing Socialist Medicine one cadaver at a time.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    I feel the real question is whether we need NBC any more. Sure, Community, but someone else can always pick that up.

  • Three_nineteen

    If you want blood and gore and bloodthirsty "beasts" on NBC, watch Hannibal.

  • e jerry powell

    And considering the turn for the banal that "Blacklist" has taken, the Spader needs to be rescued by another network.

  • Krissy

    I am a bit of a Vampire buff (if you cant tell by my avatar picture) and I couldn't muddle through this show. I watch a lot of REALLY questionable Vampire fare (Dracula 2000...best guilty pleasure of all time) and I just couldnt stomach the inane nature of this show.

    I dont know how everyone else feels but I miss the "bad vampires". I miss the preadators who actually feed on, kill people and get to them by using their unnatural sexual prowess. I miss fangs, messy bloody faces and carnage. It seems that THIS sort of vampire wouldnt play well on TV because the masses only want to see different incarnations of The Cullens from Twilight. How far the mighty have fallen. Today's vampires have lost their edge and their proverbial balls.

  • emmalita

    So far, the nadir of vampire books I've read was the one about the omni-sexual vampire bar owner with a spanking fetish. I died, both from laughing and from shame.

  • Alice

    I tried with this show, but boring. So mind-numbingly boring. Your review was so much better (and interesting) than this show deserved.

  • I've got a story I shelved for a while featuring vampires based on the pre-Dracula lore. They're bestial, withered up corpses reanimated with disease that cause a hemorrhagic fever in their victims. Blood accumulates in the victim's stomach and lungs, and just before death, the vampire creeps in at night and sucks it all out through their mouth.

    Something about Dracula as CEO makes me want to go back to working on that story.

  • idiosynchronic

    " . . creating free, wireless, geomagnetic energy in order to make all oil-based fuel obsolete. . . watch a fictional Nikola Tesla nurse a grudge and a crush."

    I'd watch the shit out of that, personally. But wrapping Henry the Ate 'round it and making it so . . tedious . . then, no. I tuned in a few weeks back and it was boringly awful. Even my wife, who has watched The Tudors obsessively, was going on about why I was bothering to watch a few minutes.

  • Ozioma

    I think what helped The Tudors was the supporting cast that made up for Jonathan Rhys-Meyer's shortcomings, especially Natalie Dormer and James Frain. That, and the series stayed more or less faithful to the basic story. With Dracula, no-one has really stood out aside from Nonso Anozie.

  • If you're a writer, and you want to adapt a legend or bring it to modern times, you have to at least know what are the elements that have allowed that legend to stand. There has to be a kernel of what you spin tied back to the legend. Look at The Strain, for example. It completely redefines what vampires are and yet, keeps them as the dangerous monsters they are that live off blood.

    But I guess that's the point, being a vampire is now akin to being an X-man. It's all about being misunderstood and heroic.

  • Krissy

    YES! I agree about The Strain although I thought that story walked dangerously close to a comparison of a zombie outbreak as well.

  • The description of the pale, mindless vampires does it.

  • Ozioma

    I really, really tried but I got bored after the sixth or so episode. I take it that the show didn't get any better.

  • $88871049

    my Aunty Eva recently got a nice 12 month
    old Audi allroad Wagon by working off of a macbook... look at this site J­u­m­p­9­9­9­.­ℂ­o­m

  • e jerry powell

    STFU

  • Uriah_Creep

    She's trying to get you an Audi, ingrate!

  • e jerry powell

    I prefer VOLVOS, thank you very much...

    :-D

  • stella

    Omg are you Edward Cullen? All he drives is volvos.

  • e jerry powell

    Uh, no. I am a mortal enemy to all things Stephenie Meyer.

    And I just don't get the whole vampire thing anymore. I gave up on "True Blood" after Andy knocked up that faerie Maurella.

  • Uriah_Creep

    Really? Based on our extensive history on this very personal internet world, I would have taken you for an Audi A7 driver. ^_^

    Full disclosure: I drive an Audi, although it's not an A7, regrettably. Great cars.

  • e jerry powell

    For no reason at all:
    I have owned 2 Volvos, a Nissan Maxima, a Toyota mini-pickup, 2 Jeep Cherokee Laredos, a Mazda 626, and I currently haul my cello around in a silver Kia Rondo.

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