NBC's Dracula: Fangtastic or Bloody Awful?
Dracula, NBC’s new Friday-night offering, features a familiar story, a supernatural lead-in and a proven, easy-on-the-eyes leading man. But are you planning to sink your teeth into the period drama?
The gothic series, which bowed Friday (10/9c), introduces us to Alexander Grayson (The Tudors‘ Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a cocky American industrialist newly arrived in 1890s London. As the hour opens, members of the city’s genteel upper crust flock to Grayson’s palatial home for a gala.
What none of the lords and ladies know is that Grayson is actually Vlad Tepes, a 16th-century warrior cursed into bloodsucking immortality by the ancient Order of the Dragon. “Murder, torture, rape, wholesale slaughter. That is their stock in trade,” Grayson explains, adding that the group’s members now hold powerful positions in politics, business and society.
Tepes spent centuries moldering in a grave until being revived by Abraham Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann, The River), who has his own history with the order. (The monster inside Tepes – the one that impels him to lap blood from his victims’ necks – is the titular Dracula.)
Grayson impresses his gala guests by showing off his revolutionary “wireless power,” which harnesses geomagnetic forces to produce a cleaner form of energy. You know who doesn’t like that? The Order of the Dragon, which derives much of its wealth from its oil holdings.
As the episode progresses, Grayson goes about taking down the order in ways both calculated and rogue, such as when he rips a member’s throat out in a fit of anger. Later, he quickly dispatches one of the order’s hired henchmen, but not before the man realizes exactly whom he’s battling: “Dracula,” he gasps before dying. (For now, however, the rest of the order remains in the dark about the Drac-Grayson connection.)
Grayson’s revenge mission gets sidetracked, though, when he sees young medical student Mina Murray (Arrow‘s Jessica De Gouw) and can’t shake the feeling that she is the reincarnation of his dead wife (also killed by the order). Mina, too, feels a strange connection to the wealthy newcomer – but she’s unaware that he follows her around town, with his trusted confidante Renfield (Game of Thrones‘ Nonso Anozie) in tow. Complicating matters: Mina is engaged to a dashing young reporter, Jonathan Harker (Mr. Selfridge‘s Oliver Jackson-Cohen).
Meanwhile, Grayson engages in a physical relationship with the vampy, though not vampiric, Lady Jayne (Victoria Smurfit, About a Boy). She doesn’t know he’s a powerful creature of the night; he doesn’t know she’s a back-in-the-day Buffy searching for London’s latest fiend.
The series tweaks existing lore in a way that keeps the well-known story fresh. And Rhys Meyers certainly seems to enjoy himself as the impulsive, tortured central character – so does Smurfit as the delightfully aloof Lady Jayne. At the close of the first hour, the series’ weakest points are its sluggish pace and the Mina-Grayson connection. (If you’re intrigued by the latter, hang in; future episodes give De Gouw and Rhys Meyers greater opportunities to sell us on their characters’ infatuation.)