It is a little late to be worrying much over the body of Dracula. From pulp he came and to pulp he shall forever return.
For every serious or even vaguely faithful take on the 1897 Bram Stoker novel — Browning, Murnau, Coppola, Herzog, et al. — there must be 20 or 30 instances where the character is turned to daffier uses. He has been Hammer House of Horrored, Mad Monster Partied, Mel Brooksed, George Hamiltoned, Abbott and Costelloed and Scooby-Dooed from here to Romania and back.
And so, faced with the prospect of NBC’s new “Dracula,” a limited series that begins Friday — just in time, obviously, for Halloween — we should not automatically quail. Whatever it will be, it will not be “Dracula’s Dog” (Albert Band, 1978).
In fact, and somewhat to my own surprise — I have had it up to my neck with vampires, tee-hee, and possess a fitfully low tolerance for star Jonathan Rhys Meyers (possibly just a bad taste left over from “The Tudors”) — I quite like it. Its aspirations and its execution are perfectly in sync; there is no way that Meyers could overact, or, indeed, not act enough, that would not suit the material.
It’s that type of rewrite where familiar characters are emptied of their original content and filled with new flavors, and it’s no surprise to learn that creator Cole Haddon wrote last year’s “The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde” for Dark Horse Comics, where this happens quite a lot. (The show runner is Dan Knauf, who created HBO’s “Carnivale.”)
Here, Dracula — kinda sensitive, sorta civilized, not a bad guy except for killing strangers to drink their blood — has returned to do battle with the Order of the Dragon, a historic chivalric order to which the historic Vlad the Impaler historically belonged. (He is an undead man with a mission.) In this telling, they have become one of those secret societies that go through the ages controlling important things and dealing violently with any members who violate their code or forget to give the secret handshake.
For reasons not immediately revealed, they were responsible for the death of Vlad’s wife — who bears a startling resemblance to … Mina Murray (Jessica de Gouw), now a medical student. Their traditional sympathetic vibrations are established in the series’ opening minutes, at an introductory ball thrown by our exsanguinating antihero, who has come to London (world headquarters of the Order, seemingly) in the guise of industrialist Alexander Grayson, “as American as God, guns and bourbon.”
Right away you can see that this is not your great-great-great-great-grandfather’s “Dracula.”
Also present at the party are good-time girl Lucy Westenra (Katie McGrath) and Mina’s beau Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), now a “very ambitious” journalist. Renfield (Nonso Anozie) is no longer the fly-eating inmate of an insane asylum but Dracula’s black American Jeeves, who keeps his boss in order and does not hesitate to give him guff. Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann) arrives in due time, with surprises of his own.
The Victorian setting and a “scientific” subplot — Dracula plans to undermine the Order’s plans for a fossil-fuel future with free energy from the electromagnetosphere or some such — give it that old steampunk feel. (There is, indeed, steam.) Morally ambiguous aristocratic vampire huntress Lady Jayne (Victoria Smurfit) is likewise conceived as a 21st century vision of neo-Gothic Victorian badness, all impudent cleavage and cinched waist.
Shot on location in Budapest — an architectural candy box that looks nothing like London, but does look Awesome! (said with rock ‘n’ roll face and hand shapes) — the production is sumptuous; the money is on the screen. Some lovely matte paintings, along with applications of fog and rain, fill in local period detail.
This being “Dracula,” there is, of course, a good deal of blood (and this being 2013, some martial-artsy fight scenes, with the usual bursts of slow motion) and some sexy stuff you might want to keep from younger or impressionable children. The rest of you may proceed with my dark blessing.
When: 10 p.m. Friday
Rating: TV-14-V (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with an advisory for violence)