Critique and illustration by: Chris Talbot-Heindl
With Downton Abbey and vampires, werewolves, and witches (oh my!) doing so well these days, the next logical step of course was to combine period costumes, speech, and settings with a fantasy/science fiction storyline. I mean, why not?
And two current shows have done just that, NBC’s Dracula, and Fox’s Sleepy Hollow.
And the people are watching it and the ratings are coming in, and they both appear good.
Except, there ain’t much else to watch on broadcast TV these days worth its weight in piss. Truth be told, I don’t much care for either interpretation, but I’m going to watch it anyway as I’ve exhausted most of the archives of sci fi already.
The premise of Dracula is that Van Helsing awakens Dracula from a staked slumber in Victorian England, where he poses as an American entrepreneur. He and Van Helsing have a similar goal, which is to punish those who ruined their respective lives – by turning Dracula into who he is and killing his love, and by burning Van Helsing’s life to the ground, house, wife, and children. The two, along with Renfield, act sneakily to seek revenge on the descendants of the group responsible (since the actual people have been deceased for a century), by destroying them financially (as somehow, they are all oil tycoons), I guess. However, every good plot (and especially one with a supernatural, stronger-than-your-average-man protagonist) needs a good obstacle to overcome, and Dracula has a doozy in the form of common romance novels and Lifetime movies plots – there is a woman in Victorian England who may be the reincarnation of his dead wife.
While the premise has promise, the delivery falls on its face, and as I always point out, the plot holes and inconsistencies are abundant. If you are going to go to all the trouble of making a setting in Victorian England, for the love of god, don’t have flashlights! I mean, really. But the real problems are Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ performance, that it’s supposedly “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (but only in name), and the narrative.
While I find the plot line and version of Dracula to be refreshing in that it isn’t Bram Stoker’s Dracula, (you know a misogynistic asshole who tricks or tempts women into having sex with him), don’t call something it’s not. I had this same problem with the CW’s interpretations of the L.J. Smith books The Vampire Diaries and The Secret Circle, both trilogies I read as a child. Hell, in The Secret Circle, they axed half of the characters before the show even started.
The narrative, on the other hand is a little ridiculous. It’s really the same problem I had with The Avengers, and Nick Fury’s monologue rendition of all the other Marvel plot lines. Don’t tell me what happened in a long and boring monologue, show me something, give me hints, let me find out over time. I know it’s significantly easier to just have a character monologue it to you, but damn, that’s a boring way to deliver the news. In Dracula, I spaced out and had to rewind and re-watch. In Avengers, I fell asleep…twice. I didn’t bother trying for a third.
Oh, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. That was a surprise and a walk through memory lane. As I remember from my sister’s obsession with him, he was the eye candy but not necessarily the talent in some of his previous acting endeavors. In Dracula, I’m afraid the same can be true. Either from bad direction or an acting failing, his delivery is just lackluster, boring, and wooden. My guess is, he was cast for his abs and ability to make Dracula into a humping machine more so than deliver a believable prince of darkness.
Sleepy Hollow does a little better than Dracula. But holy shit, the plot line is confusing and complicated.
Let’s see if I can even provide a synopsis. So Ichabod Crane isn’t a schoolteacher like we all thought, instead he was a British soldier who jumped ship to fight for the American side during the War of Independence. There, he met his Quaker wife, who somehow has an English accent as well, and is a witch. Ichabod was killed on the battlefield fighting a man who couldn’t die, who we now understand to be the headless horseman (who is also now one of the horseman of the apocalypse). Crane’s witchy wife, Katrina, couldn’t see him die, so she did a spell to bring him back, which somehow linked Crane’s life to the horseman’s, which didn’t bring him back, but instead allowed him to sleep in a tomb until modern times, where he awoke when the headless horseman did. When Crane awoke, he found out others had stayed in Sleepy Hollow, who he recognized from his life during the time of the founding fathers. They were all struck down dead by the horseman, so he’s the only one left. He finds Lt. Abbie Mills who is a deputy in modern times, who was planning on leaving Sleepy Hollow to joining the FBI, and he and she are part of some prophecy in the Bible to be witnesses to the end of times. Mills saw a creature in the woods that is somehow connected to Crane’s wife and the horseman as a child with her sister who is now in a mental institution because she spoke of what she saw. All three are integral in stopping or continuing the apocalypse which is upon them. I think that’s accurate and may scratch the surface of the plot line, but I’m not really sure.
I can say that with such a convoluted plot line to work with, the actors do their best. Tom Mison, who plays Ichabod Crane, is endearing as he stumbles through the current century, but oftentimes becomes not quite believable in how in-stride he is taking things. I find myself shouting at the screen, wanting him to freak out, and for the love of god, buy a new outfit. Nicole Beharie, who plays Abbie Mills, had a weak start with some really overdone acting, but she is now in the groove and improving upon the experience of Sleepy Hollow.
However, all this business surrounding the baffling overlapped story ideas is starting to grate a little bit. The mystical, magical business surrounding Katrina and the battle between good and evil, and the horseman of the apocalypse business is tiring and confusing. The best parts are when they strip all of the plot away and just interact. The quirky relationship between Crane (who questions how and when Lt. Mills was “emancipated” in the first episode) and Mills is indeed the most compelling part of the story line. When either interacts with any other character, the dialog, the acting, and the chemistry falls flat.
Truth be told, when watching Sleepy Hollow, I’m not watching the story lines unfold, I’m not caring about Katrina or the heavy-handed battle between good and evil. I’m watching for that sweet, sweet interaction between the Revolutionary soldier brought back to life and the contemporary policewoman with a sordid past. That’s where the interest of the show comes in. Everything else is just a distraction and an unnecessary, complex hot mess.
In both cases, the biggest redemption comes from the opening credits. (Unfortunately, Fox has not released their opening credits scene, so I can’t find it for you, but beneath is the credits for Dracula.)
Hot damn! If they made a show that looked like either one of those credits, I’d watch it, and I would enjoy it.