Here's the best possible news about NBC's prime-time revival of literature's most enduring and oft-adapted vampire tale:
It doesn't suck.
Instead, Dracula, a limited-run (10-episode) series that premières Oct. 25 at 9 p.m. on NBC and Global, reworks the timeless saga of the blood-lusting count with a sense of style and period-piece elegance that might allow it to stake its claim to the post-Grimm time-slot beyond its initial short-season introduction.
Dracula, a Brit-American co-production, stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors) as the Count, who in this incarnation has been re-awakened from a century or more of stony slumber and turned loose in Victorian-era London's high society.
Providing the human blood that re-animates Vlad Tepes, a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a. Count Dracula, is Abraham Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann), who in this story is not Dracula's vampire-hunting nemesis (as in Bram Stoker's beloved novel) but instead is seeking the Count's assistance in a revenge plot that spans centuries.
In a storyline twist clearly intended to give Dracula a motivation that might make him at least somewhat sympathetic to TV viewers over the longer term, Van Helsing tells the reawakened vampire he wants help in bringing down a shadowy aristocratic/industrial organization called the Order of the Dragon, which murdered Van Helsing's family and was also responsible, a couple of generations earlier, for the burning at the stake of Dracula's one true love.
And so it is the vampire installs himself in 19th-century London society in the guise of Alexander Grayson, a smooth-talking American entrepreneur aiming to introduce a new wireless-electric technology that will revolutionize England's power industry (and, by extension, bring financial ruin to members of the Order of the Dragon who are invested heavily in oil).
Grayson holds a fancy-dress ball at his mansion, inviting all of London society to witness the unveiling of his wireless wonder. In the crowd, he spots Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw), a lovely young medical student who bears such a striking resemblance to his long-dead wife he is certain she is the reincarnation of the same woman.
Dracula's mission is two-fold: wreak vengeance on the Order, and reclaim his lost love. Each will prove to be rather complicated.
Being the Prince of Darkness means you possess extraordinary powers, but Dracula has all he can handle in the Order of the Dragon. Cloaked in secrecy and armed with centuries' worth of dirty-tricks experience (if this series was set in the present, the Order would be sort of a multinational Enron/Exxon/Haliburton all rolled into one), the organization knows a thing or two about hunting and killing vampires. These creeps are so bad they make it easy for a blood-feasting undead monster to come off as the good guy.
And when it comes to the beautiful Mina, Dracula also demonstrates a level of morality that has not been seen in most other vampire adaptations: it would be easy for him to simply seduce her, bite her and make her one of his kind, but NBC's version of the Count opts instead to rely on more conventional means of persuasion, luring her with conversation and offering her boyfriend a high-paying job within his corporate organization.
It's feels clunky at times, and it's certainly more than a bit soapy, but Dracula does a better-than-expected job of giving viewers a reason to make an emotional investment in its characters and plot twists.
Rhys Meyers, who proved he can play over-the-top power-mad as well as anyone during his run as The Tudors' Henry VIII, exercises a relative amount of restraint in this role. He does pretty well at portraying Dracula as a pretty good guy who just happens to have a few centuries-old bad habits.
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