Review: Syfy shows some guts by bringing back ‘Van Helsing’ and flipping the typical post-apocalyptic tale


Oh Syfy, you crazy outlier of a network.

Just when it would seem to any reasonable group of people, that the last thing television needs is another post-apocalyptic tale of vampires run amok, you give us “Van Helsing.”

A title that still evokes snickers among anyone who saw the unintentionally hilarious Hugh Jackman movie of the same name.

Honestly, bonus points just for having the courage to throw that name up on the screen, though this Van Helsing is, obviously, not that Van Helsing.


This is Vanessa Van Helsing (Kelly Overton), Syfy’s latest tough-as-nails heroine who we are told, right from the get-go, is humanity’s only hope.

As we are shown, in the opening scene, when, startled out of sleep in what appears to be a laboratory, Vanessa takes out a team of vamps who, and this is important, appear to have been looking for her.

Turns out, a plague born of a volcanic eruption (in Yellowstone!) has descended on the land though Vanessa has pretty much slept through it. Guarding her in a makeshift modern fortress is the handsome soldier Axel (Jonathan Scarfe), who is also caring for a caged vampire he refers to as “Doc” (Rukiya Bernard). Keeping “Sleeping Beauty” alive is his official mission; keeping Doc “alive” is more personal.

As he is joined by the requisite motley band o’ survivors, what this all means and how it came to is slowly (and partially) revealed during the two-hour premiere.

And while the plague may appear accidental there are, certain … shall we say elements? … who have been waiting for this moment. Ancients who also anticipated, and fear, the presence of person such as Vanessa.

Not because she has the power to kill them; because she has the power to make them human once more.

And that is creator Neil LaBute’s contribution to the canon — the possibility not just that the apocalypse can be survived, but that it can be reversed.

With such a twist, similarities to virtually every vampire/plague-created monster tale are only to be expected and not, necessarily, a bad thing.

It’s tough to beat a good monster tale, that’s why it remains such a popular genre. And for all it’s literary pretensions, the television renaissance rode in on the backs of werewolves, vampires, zombies, white walkers and other supernatural beasties. “True Blood” brought a whole new set of eyeballs to HBO and though “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” may have won the Emmys, “The Walking Dead” was AMC’s first bona-fide hit.

“Van Helsing” is certainly no “Walking Dead.” LaBute, best known for his films (“Nurse Betty,” “Lakeview Terrace”), often seem unsure what to do with so much time on his hands — the characters take forever to make narrative connections that seem immediately obvious and no one seems remotely curious about what exactly is happening to the world.

Yet even as her hours-long insistence that she is nothing “special” grows tedious, Vanessa is delightfully cranky and concerned only with her young daughter, who Axel insists must be dead and we suspect is not.

It’s a tough room these days, television; with so much to choose from, people are now looking for a reason to not watch a new show. “Van Helsing” may not pop, but apocalypses are tough to resist, as are ancient nemeses, and for all its late-in-the-game timing and unfortunate title, “Van Helsing” has both.

‘Van Helsing’

Where: Syfy

When: 10 and 10:55 p.m. Friday

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)