Dracula returns to prime-time television

Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Dracula in NBC's new series premiering Oct. 25. (MCT)
Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Dracula in NBC's new series premiering Oct. 25. (MCT)
By Rich Heldenfels
Akron Beacon Journal via McClatchy-Tribune

Audiences remain intrigued by the idea of Dracula, by the possibility of a monstrous, blood-draining creature who is nonetheless charismatic and certainly sexual if not sexy. It’s no surprise, then, that NBC is trying out a new “Dracula” TV series, premiering at 9 p.m. CST Friday.

But Dracula has long been a character best suited to short-form entertainment: books and movies, where there is some kind of resolution to a story in more or less efficient fashion. And TV series do not work that way. You have to have a bigger story, one that can stretch across 13 or more episodes, perhaps for season after season.

If your main characters are vampires, then there has to be story enough to keep them going, as shows like “True Blood,” “The Vampire Diaries” and “Angel” have tried to do with varying success. But if you’re going to make that show about the big guy, Dracula, then it had better be a really good story you’re going to tell. Or at least a long one.

Or so it seems on NBC’s “Dracula,” which takes a few notes from Bram Stoker’s original novel — there’s a Van Helsing in the series, too, for example — but puts them in service of a sprawling, conspiracy-laden tale that still allows for some nasty carnage. (See if you can get past the early scene where a man is killed and his blood drained onto a near-mummified corpse.)

This Dracula, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, goes to late-19th-century London in the guise of Alexander Grayson, a wealthy American inventor and entrepreneur. Although it looks as if he wants to do business with the wealthy and powerful of London, Dracula/Grayson is really determined to dismantle an old Order of the Dragon, a conspiratorial group who did him an ancient wrong.

In the premiere, his plans are thrown slightly off when he sees Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw), who bears a startling resemblance to a woman from his past. But there is still a war to be waged against his opponents on an old battleground; there was a vampire attack on London eight years earlier, which the Order convinced the public was instead the work of Jack the Ripper.

The “Dracula” series likes to weave in bits like that, much the way “Sleepy Hollow” does, though “Sleepy Hollow” is better at it — and a better show generally. The “Dracula” premiere is painfully slow, and Rhys Meyers is a most peculiar character, creepy and rather unattractive. The dialogue is dreary, the characters’ behavior at times incomprehensible.

There are better ways to get your frights.