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Fall Results: New Shows

There were three shows I knew I had to start watching this season: Sleepy Hollow, Almost Human and Dracula. I’ve been keeping up with them in their first seasons, and although most of them haven’t finished (and one barely begun), I probably won’t get another chance before Christmas to write about them, so here is my opinion thus far.

Sleepy Hollow 

The idea of making a TV series based on the story of Sleepy Hollow seemed both incredibly stupid and potentially awesome. Would the show follow the aesthetics or plot of the Tim Burton version? Would it go for gritty realism, artistic horror, or tongue-in-cheek humour? I feared an attempt at recreating an American Horror type show, or even worse, going in the opposite direction to full Buffy comedy. In the end, Sleepy Hollow surprised me by finding its own little niche.

It is at times gritty and bloody. The Headless Horseman is creepy, the effects are generally good, and the story is taken seriously. This time Ichabod Crane kills the Horseman during the Revolutionary War, and is killed himself in turn. He is buried, but wakes up centuries later to modern day Sleepy Hollow. The Horseman has awakened as well, and Crane must team up with a local police officer, Lt. Abbie Mills, to stop him and whatever his plan is. She is a no-nonsense woman, well-written, and the way she has to accept what’s going on feels very realistic.

In fact, all the characters are interesting, with the major exception of Crane’s wife Katrina, who appears to him in visions. She doesn’t belong in this show, I feel. Even her dress looks more Burtonesque than the show wants. She is there to give Crane motivation and emotional depth, but the actor, Tom Mison, does this absolutely fine on his own. As for the exposition she gives, the show establishes other means of obtaining information, so she feels completely superfluous until around the ninth episode. Even then, however, it is the fact that she exists, not the character itself, that turns out to be important.

Grittiness and beheadings aside, the show does have a lot of tongue-in-cheek humour, and appears self-aware of its ridiculous premise. Whenever Crane has to deal with modern appliances it can go either one of two ways, both of which are hilarious. Either he grasps it immediately because he recognises some universality about it we ourselves might not realise, or he misses the point completely and we can laugh at his expense.

The plot, unfortunately, doesn’t quite live up to the characters and style of the show. I’m still not sure if I’ve grasped all the plot points thrown our way. So far the episodes have been packed with lore and exposition, and the chess board looks very crowded. That said, I think the payoff is going to be good. They have built a solid world, and I hope they know how to end it. If you enjoy shows like Supernatural you will definitely find a guilty pleasure in this. It’s not a great show yet, but it keeps you hooked because of the main characters and humour.

Dracula 

When I heard Jonathan Rhys Meyers was going to play Dracula, my reaction was basically “Yes, that makes sense.” It seemed like a film that was going to come and go like so many remakes, but when I heard it wasn’t a remake, but a new show, I admit I was intrigued. The world is filled to the brim with vampires on TV of course, but I am an old-school vampire fan, and always willing to give the old Count a chance. Would they set the vampire in modern day so he could finally show up all these teenagers playing vampires? Maybe he could take a little visits to Forks and have a stern word with a few vegan vamps about proper vampire etiquette. Sadly, the show is set in the 19th century, deep in the Victorian era, and far away from high school bloodsuckers. This could created a classic look and feel, of course, but the show doesn’t seem to know how to use its setting in an interesting way.

Dracula is awaked from an imprisoned slumber by Van Helsing, and together they set out to destroy a secret order. To do this, he becomes an American businessman, there to bring a new technology, wireless energy, to the world. He of course meets Mina and her fiance Jonathan, and discovers she looks exactly like his wife. The story so far weaves in the old tale from the book with the new business magnate one. The secret Order is also hellbent on destroying all vampires, so Dracula must avoid their huntress.

The idea of Dracula infiltrating society in a new way is interesting. I do like the conspiracy story, instead of focusing all our attention on the old love story. While incredibly cliche at times, I admit I like the Order. I love Thomas Kretschmann as Van Helsing, who is a refreshing scientific version instead of the action-hero Hugh Jackman type. As for Dracula himself, he is unfortunately a self-hating vampire. Not a vegan by any means, but he knows he is a monster, and cries a lot at the thought of losing his love forever, or killing other vampires, etc. He is ruthless, don’t misunderstand me, and I have nothing against self-hating vampires, but I do feel it has been done to death. When he’s badass and evil, he is good, but his anger management issues feel childish. He’s the oldest vampire on earth! He should be able to control himself a tad more, passionate feelings aside. In the end, he feels a bit like the school-play version of Dracula: Hitting all the melodramatic highs, but wasting the few quiet brooding moments.

That lack of depth is the problems with most of the characters. I put it down to awful writing and pacing. The dialog feels stilted and unrealistic, and some of the acting choices feel thoughtless, like they did one take with one version and just had to use it, even though it didn’t make sense in the context of the rest of the episode. Mina is downright annoying. She is suppose to be this “modern woman in a Victorian world” character, and wants to be a doctor. Fine, you go girl, but then she gets queasy over the sight of blood. What a novel way to prove all those fainting woman stereotypes wrong. She has high morals, and likes to study instead of go out, but when she dumps her boyfriend, she is all about drinking herself into a stupor in a strange bar. A lot of the other characters have the same problem: they’re suppose to be one thing, either smart or independent or caring, but then turn around and do the dumbest things.

There have only been four episodes so far, and I admit the last one was fairly good and maybe the show will finally find its feet and stop babysitting us with bad dialog and unnecessary exposition. For a show that’s suppose to be about the most powerful vampire who ever lived, in possession of wealth, technology and looks, the whole thing feels incredibly poor.

Almost Human 

Android and humans living together. A cop who doesn’t like “synthetics” and yet has to live with a synthetic limb while he is forced to partner up with a robot. It sounds a bit cliche, but Almost Human feels fresh. It stars Karl Urban as the cop, and Michael Ealy as the android who can feel – one of a whole line of androids who were discontinued due to emotional problems. Thankfully, there’s no “emotion chip” that can be switched off. Instead, the show focuses on what it means to be human, when the android ends and the soul begins, and some interesting crime fighting.

Those questions about androids and electric sheep are old, but the show dares to ask them in a frank manner, which together with the solid characters makes for good drama. Urban’s take of the rough, disillusioned detective is so spot-on you almost expect him to do a Bones grumble. At the same time, the show doesn’t drag out his development. They could have made the whole first season about him learning to get along with his new partner, but instead they let the actions of the characters affect and change them realistically. The same goes for the android, Dorian. He is not confused by his emotions, but has to deal with other, emotionless android and the humans’ treatment of them. After only two scenes in the first episode, we already have a firm grasp of his personality and how it might clash with the detective’s.

The action in the show is also really good. I don’t know where they got the budget for all of it, but they know exactly where to use it. The cases so far have been great as well. The last one dealt with sex-robots, a subject that one knows has to be brought up in a society that has androids who could pass for human. Almost Human handles it so well, and gives us a compelling and at times unsettling crime procedural episode.

I do hope they haven’t exhausted all their good writers on the first few episodes, because if things keep to this level, I have a new must-watch show.

What did you think?

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