I’m a big Dracula fan. As such, I often bemoan how there’s never really been a 100% accurate live-action version of Bram Stoker’s original novel. But even the loosest adaptation would look at NBC’s new Dracula series and yell, “DUDE, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!” I don’t know the answer, but it’s definitely going to be worth watching to find out.
Seriously, about all this miniseries has in common with the book is some character names and the fact that the title character has a habit of drinking people’s blood. But not only does this mean that annoying Dracula purists like me no longer have any idea where the story is going, but also frees the showmakers to go completely off the vampiric rails, so to speak. Let me just run down the characters and you’ll see how different it all is:
• Dracula: Currently masquerading in London as a rich American technology tycoon from America named Alexander Grayson. Why? Because he’s trying to destroy ad Illuminati-esque secret organization called The Order of the Dragon who burned his original wife at the stake back in the 1600s, and also did all that crucifying of people normally attributed to Dracula. His plan: create free electricity using the magnetosphere, so that the Order — which controls the world’s petroleum reserves — goes broke.
• Mina Murray: The spitting image of Dracula’s dead wife, as per usual. However, Mina is also apparently the only female medical student in England, although her hands get all shaky when she tries to perform surgery.
• Jonathan Harker: A very ambitious journalist; Dracula, in his Grayson guise, gives him the exclusive first interview on his plan to create free electricity for everyone and transform the world. He and Mina are in love, but he feels she deserves someone better, and thus it’s all unspoken.
• Renfield: Dracula’s non-bug-eating, hyper-competent, and incredibly snarky Man Friday. He’s a lot of fun. Played by Xaro Xhoan Daxos from Game of Thrones.
• Lucy Westenra: Mina’s friend who is constantly baring a great amount of cleavage.
• Abraham Van Helsing: A professor at the medical school where Mina is a student. Oh, his family was apparently killed by the Order of the Dragon too so HE WOKE DRACULA UP AND TEAMED UP WITH HIM TO TAKE DOWN THE ORDER.
That’s how insane this miniseries is willing to go; Dracula and Van Helsing are working together. It’s like the one rule every adaptation of Dracula follows, and this miniseries not only breaks it, it shoots the pieces into the sun.
Anyways, that’s just the classic characters. There’s a whole set of evil Order of the Dragon people, all of whom are super rich and super smarmy; the first one that insults Dracula gets turned into a juice box on his way home. But by far the greatest and most ridiculous new addition is Lady Jane. She is pretty much an older, less mopey Buffy the Vampire Slayer in big, puffy dresses; she’s a vampire hunter for the Order of the Dragon, who apparently have dealt with them before (hilariously, apparently Jack the Ripper was just an elaborate cover-up for a vampire attack, perpetrated by the Order). She has a dojo of sorts, where she practices attacks punching bags with a katana. And she has the hots for ol’ Alexander Grayson, to the point where she’ll allow him to fingerbang her at the opera.
Seriously, this show is nuts. Somehow, Dracula is fighting an evil society that controls the world — with wealth, and, as they mention over and over again, oil — and had a nasty crucifixion habit in the 16th century. In his quest for vengeance, Dracula may or may not want to create free electricity and give it to the people of the world to free them from the Order’s yoke. Seriously, despite drinking a fair amount of blood and murdering a few folk, Dracula's quest for revenge is played no more evil than Liam Neeson in Taken. He’s the hero here, at least so far.
Although the absurdity is lots of fun, the show is held together by sterling production values. The sets are amazing, and as sumptuous as anything you’d see on Downton Abbey. Although Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ American accent is almost cartoonishly bad, the smoldering charisma he displayed in The Tudors makes him the perfect Dracula, at least for this very particular version. He’s fascinating and sexy, but still clearly dangerous. Honestly, the way the plot has shaped up this Dracula should be so justified in his actions he’d be defanged (sorry), but Rhys Meyers has a sort of smoldering sensibility that makes him seem like he could snap and start slitting open throats at any moment, and he’s definitely thinking about it.
If you enjoy Sleepy Hollow, I can’t imagine you not enjoying Dracula. It’s absurd, but completely unapologetic about it, and while no one’s going to accuse it of being brilliant, it’s still massively entertaining. I don’t know if Dracula can maintain this level of fun for the rest of the miniseries, but I wouldn’t bet against it.
• I had never heard of the Order of the Dragon until this evening, but it was a real thing and Vlad Tepes was a member. I thought the show just didn’t want to use the Templars like every other show and movie that needs an ancient cabal of people secretly ruling the world.
• Seriously, either Jonathan Rhys Meyer’s American accent is terrible or he is actively making fun of how Americans talk. I’m fine with it either way.
• The slow-motion, 300-esque fight scene between Dracula and Lady Jane’s vampire-hunting co-worker was exceedingly arbitrary, but it was short and not badly handled. The show didn’t need it, but I didn’t mind it, either.
• As a journalist (kind of) I laughed out loud at Jonathan’s interview notes. I think he thought he was doing a therapy session.
• I’m curious if the show will explain anything about the other, previous vampires in London, and how they got there, and/or what they were doing. I assume they’ll only bother if they have an answer crazy enough to be entertaining.
• I also laughed out loud as Lady Jane’s ridiculous dojo scene. Seriously, this show doesn’t give a single shit, and I love it for it.
• Also very well done: Dracula and Harker’s handshake in the sun.
• The guy playing Van Helsing is Thomas Kretschmann, who also payed Dracula in the terrible 2012 Dario Argento movie Dracula 3D. Small world.