Saturday, November 16, 2013

21st century retreads and overstuffed tweets

So the husband and I watched NBC's Dracula last night. I might have tweeted about it, somewhat peevishly, and those tweets prompted questions, and sometimes 140 characters aren't enough - especially if you've had a couple of drinks and it's getting late, and anyway, you're still sorting through your thoughts.

Therefore, in somewhat less brief format, here are the two most frequently asked queries with regard to my quickie, sound-bytey commentary. (1). Why on earth would you watch it in the first place?, and (2). Why are you griping about this classic retread, when you've been known to endorse and embrace others that appear equally ludicrous on the surface?

Okay. The first one's easy: I watched the pilot because I am an old goth with a huge soft spot for Dracula - and also because NBC demonstrated with Hannibal that it could actually accomplish something that transcends what I typically think of as "network TV offerings." So I knew it could be done, and I wanted to see it done again.

But I didn't.

Which leads into my second answer: Because this Dracula isn't a retreat, retooling, or a reboot. It's Gatsby goes to Carfax Abbey, plus some Illuminati-style something-or-another and a side smattering of steampunk tech. To which I say, "Fine, sounds like fun, hook it up - but fer chrissake, don't slap the Count's name on it."

Spoilers of the mild and not-very-interesting kind to follow.

Click away - or stop scrolling now, if you'd rather.

Got it?


The point of comparison that several readers (and my husband) brought up, was BBC's Sherlock - in the sense that it's a modern re-imagining of an old and well known story; but let us leave aside the fact that thus far, Dracula is a source-material-contemporary revamping (you see what I did there) of an old and well known story. That's not the important distinction between the two. The distinction is simpler, but bigger than that: Sherlock still holds the shape of its source material; Dracula is virtually unrecognizable.

Or to break it down further, ahem:

"Brilliant asshole with addiction issues fights crime because it's marginally more interesting than generating it, with the help of a beleaguered codependent sidekick whose company he secretly enjoys."

That, my friends, is the shape of Sherlock Holmes - immediately recognizable via the 21st century BBC or even America's Elementary (which I'm no fan of, to be honest; but a lot of you really like it, so, each to her own I say).

And this is the shape of Dracula, as it should be immediately recognizable to even the most casually informed consumer:

"Monstrous but compelling supernatural predator comes to town pursuing power and delicious minions; but a small band of desperately outmatched heroes - aided by a wily academic - mount an effort to thwart the monster before it can wreak further havoc upon their city or their loved ones."

Oversimplifications? Yes, on all counts. And by no means definitive, for that matter. But you see what I'm saying, yes? There's a shape to it that you recognize, and to deviate too far from that shape is to change the story into something else entirely.

So, look - here's what we see playing out on NBC (judging by the pilot, so, like, don't yell at me if this turns out to be ultimately incorrect in some fashion):

"Wily academic resurrects pretty, ethically ambiguous creature because 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' - and they bear a mutual grudge against a secret society run by evil rich people. Now with Bonus! reincarnated love-interest storyline from Coppola's movie, but that's not even Stoker-derived, so it scarcely counts. But okay, I guess."

I mean, no. That's not Dracula. That's some other story! Merely shoe-horning the names of basically every player in the damn novel within a 50-minute spread does not successfully marry the two. There's a tipping point, you see - where "ironically subverting expectations" becomes "building something new from the ground up but giving it an old name for street cred." That's just stupid. And it's not fooling anyone.

The sad thing is, I can see the bones of something really interesting going on in NBC's Dracula - but by forcing it sideways into the old familiar mold, sort of, it just looks like a hot mess to your average old-fashioned fang-enthusiast.

It's hard to escape the sense that someone, somewhere, had a totally cool idea for a vampire series - but couldn't get it green-lit without duct-taping the Count to the front like a sexy, confused figurehead.

Well, congratulations. It's sexy and confusing. But so far, not terribly compelling.

I'll give it the three episodes I'll give almost anything that piques my interest - even if it's piqued in a train-wreck way. (Hell, I gave The Following three episodes, and by the end I just wanted to throw lawn darts at the TV. Or my own head. Whichever.) But given that first taste, all I really expect is two more hours of me yelling, "WHY DIDN'T YOU JUST CALL THIS SOMETHING ELSE???" while wondering how cool it might've been, given the room to breathe in its own sandbox.
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