Dracula, Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”
Written by Cole Haddon and Daniel Knauf
Directed by Steve Shill
Airs Fridays at 10pm (ET) on NBC
Dracula is one of literature’s most enduring and adapted characters. What often sets each production apart is their ability to put a new (and believable) twist on the classic character. Expectations may be low going into any new version but the most surprising aspect of NBC’s take on Dracula is that it’s actually very good.
Opening in 1881 Romania, two explorers awaken Dracula (Jonathan Rhys Myers) in a perfectly bloody manner and by the time 1896 rolls around Dracula is living in London and has reinvented himself as the rich, devastatingly handsome, brutally smart American inventor Alexander Grayson, who in the pilot brashly introduces a free, wireless power source that threatens to put England’s rich oil suppliers out of business.
Much like Fox’s Sleepy Hollow and even NBC’s own Hannibal, Dracula succeeds because it gives us a fresh twist on a well-known story. Instead of tossing out what we already know Dracula keeps the same scary, rather lonely, sexy tone that’s often there but presents us with characters and situations we already know and tweaks them just enough to make them interesting. For example this version of Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson- Cohen) is a deeply ambitious journalist. Sure he’s still in love with Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw) but she is a feisty medical student, studying under Professor Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann), who’s now secretly working with Dracula.
The pilot also introduces us to the mysterious Order of the Dragon, a secret group of powerful businessmen who know about vampires and more than likely had something to do with our protagonist’s “death” and the actual death of his wife hundreds of years ago. Everyone loves a good revenge story and placing Dracula in the middle of this secret society is just too good to resist.
Dracula looks and feels exactly how you would want it too. There are stunning set pieces and gorgeous costumes. The early party scenes are well lit and colorful while the outdoor, evening scenes are dark and shadowy. Dracula also benefits from Jonathan Rhys Meyers as its lead. Of course he brings the sex appeal, but you can also tell just how much fun he’s having playing Dracula. He’s cheeky, funny, terrifying, sexy, and vicious often all in the span of one scene.
Dracula does what all good pilots should do- give their audience questions they want answers to. Who is the Order of the Dragon? Why does Grayson want to destroy them? Why did they initially entomb Grayson/Dracula? The show is hopelessly intriguing and deliciously clever (turns out in this version of the story Jack the Ripper was a vampire). Despite a few kinks, unless handled properly the revenge story could get stale after a while, the Dracula pilot shows a lot of promise, most of which is found in the unique twists on familiar characters, beautiful images, and a vivacious performance by Rhys Meyers.