By Curt Wagner, @ShowPatrol
7:11 PM CDT, October 22, 2013
When I popped in NBC's new drama "Dracula," I wasn't sure if I was watching a remake of Bram Stoker's classic thriller or ABC's nighttime soap "Revenge."
The traditional players from Stoker's book appear in the stylish retread (9 p.m. CT Oct. 25, NBC; 2.5 stars out of 4), but for a tale of vengeance rather than Dracula's insatiable desire for blood and a special lady.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers sinks his teeth into the iconic role as a Dracula who's more schemer than blood-draining monster. After being revived by a surprising savior, Vlad the Impaler introduces himself to Victorian London as Alexander Grayson, a wealthy American inventor and entrepreneur who wows London's elite with his "free, safe wireless power."
The blood of streetwalkers might fuel Dracula himself, but when it comes to lighting those streets, he's all about his environmentally friendly magnetic power. When he seeks to make deals with the snooty businessmen controlling traditional energy, they call him an "interloping colonial."
You can just hear the Count thinking, "Take it back, sir, or suffer my wrath. Bwahahaha!" Dracula actually anticipated the rejection, because these men are members of the ancient Order of the Dragon, a secret society that did him wrong way back in the 1400s.
Like Emily Thorne on "Revenge," Alexander Grayson wants to avenge the death of a family member at the hands of a wealthy group of conspirators. Emily's father was killed by businessmen led by, coincidentally or not, the Grayson family. The powerful Order killed Dracula's wife and turned him immortal. Little did they know they also were inventing the original vampire.
Dracula isn't the only Stoker character whom executive producer Daniel Knauf tweaks for this production. Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is a journalist who is sucked into Grayson's orbit because his special lady, medical student Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw), reminds the Count of his own murdered wife. Mina's best friend, Lucy Westenra (Katie McGrath), is rich, fabulous and possibly a lesbian—but not Dracula's first victim.
Abraham Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann), a vampire hunter in the original story, saved Dracula and is his ally in destroying the Order—for now.
Stoker's lawyer-turned-mad man Renfield (Nonso Anozie) has been transformed into a freed American slave and attorney who works as Dracula's right-hand man—the only human who won't be drained for backtalking his boss.
The "baddies" here—because in this tale, Dracula wears the white hat—are deliciously droll lords and one kickass lady, Jayne Wetherby (Victoria Smurfit), who is the Order's No. 1 enforcer.
She's the one who covered up a series of vampire murders in London's Whitechapel area years earlier by inventing the tale of Jack the Ripper.
"Dracula" scores with inventive details like that, as well as its sumptuous 19th century sets and costumes. (What else would you expect from the producers of "Downton Abbey?")
Yet "Dracula" lacks bite. It's often dull and heavy-handed. Rhys Meyers is burdened with purposefully heightened dialogue that sounds silly at times. His Dracula is meant to be irresistible, but he's just plain creepy. (I would follow Jackson-Cohen's Harker into a dark alley, however.)
Forget blood or new energy sources—what this "Dracula" needs to survive is more fun.
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