Monday, January 14, 2008

Blood Ties – season 1 – review (TV Series)

Directed By: Various

First aired: 2007

Contains spoilers

This series completed its first season run on Living TV recently and is not far from a UK DVD release. Just to note that imdb split this into two seasons, I have assumed a standard 22 episode run. It was based on Tanya Huff’s “Vicki Nelson” series of books. Now I must admit that I did enjoy those books – though I have only read the first of the spin off series – and as such the series did have a lot to live up to for me. The first two episodes were based on the first novel and one of the other episodes was loosely based on another in the series. Did it meet expectations?

Well, to be honest, no. There weren’t any major changes. The character Tony was missing – obviously making vampire Henry Fitzroy (Kyle Schmid) openly bisexual was a step too far for the network – and he was replaced with Coreen (Gina Holden), PI Vicki Nelson’s goth assistant. Henry’s job changed and he was now a writer/illustrator of graphic novels rather than a writer of bodice ripping romance tales. This was, one feels, an attempt to be more hip but missed the obvious comic irony of having a vampire the writer of soppy romance novels.

The problem I had with the series didn’t come in the changes but in the substance. I posted a first impression of the show four episodes in and the issue was coming to light then, or at least one of them. However, it would probably be useful to look at what the show is about. Vicki Nelson (Christina Cox) is a PI, she was a homicide cop but a degenerative eye condition threatened to have her desk bound so she left the force and started working for herself. She becomes involved in a case that has an occult basis and through the case meets Henry Fitzroy, vampire and bastard son of Henry VIII.

From then on all her cases begin to verge on the weird and her eyes are opened, metaphorically, to a supernatural world around her. Her contact in law enforcement is Mike Celucci (Dylan Neal), her former partner and lover, who resents Henry both for Vicki’s feelings for him and for what he is. Mike has trouble accepting the supernatural world that his association with Vicki is opening for him.

The vampire lore works well enough, we know that sunlight and stakes through the heart can kill vampires but holy items do not affect them. One of the more interesting ideas is that the vampires are very territorial. A newly turned vampire will stay with the one that created them for a year or so but then the territorial nature kicks in. Two vampires cannot hunt the same city without tearing each other to shreds – a method that keeps vampire numbers down and humanity safer. This has led to a family of human arbitrators who facilitate moves for vampires and help keep the peace by circumventing territorial disputes.

One of the problems I had with the show was just how whiney the characters were. They all endlessly moan. Vicki moans about having two men, which to choose, which to choose. Let’s face it, she’s a no-nonsense PI, why would she moan so much. Mike whines about his job and Henry. Henry whines generally about how terrible the world is and how awful the black arts are. Yes they do have moments surfacing out of the whine, but then they descend again rapidly.

Even the character Coreen, who was generally happy and sparky despite being a goth, whined when the focus of a given episode was on her. Now I’m not suggesting that everyone should have been constantly happy but an endless state of moaning was just not enticing viewing – hands up, who wanted to kill Dawn in the Buffy series due to endless whining? Same principle, just more characters doing it and no centred characters to balance things out. My wife’s favourite saying as this series went on and we watched the show was “Moan, moan, moan!”

The bigger problem was that the episodes just didn’t all work to the same qualitative level. Some episodes had good stories and/or plotting but others just didn’t work. This was apparent within the first four episodes and was a constant through the series. Some episodes felt rushed or badly plotted, some storylines were just a tad boring and, if we are going to be brutally honest, formulaic.

Stand out episodes did appear. Springing to mind was a two part episode (Heart of Ice and Heart of Fire) that starred Julian Sands as an immortal vampire hunter. The character had learnt how to use vampire blood, alchemically processed, to make an elixir of life that did not turn him. A member of the inquisition he used a Chinese device, which stabbed into the heart and robbed the vampire of its powers, as a control mechanism so that he could torture repentance out of them. Julian Sands is fantastic in it, but I do have a soft spot for his work.

Another stand out episode (Wrapped) was the one based on a novel and had the wonderful Danny Trejo as an Aztec mummy brought back to life and stealing the lifeforce (and memories and habits) of victims in his climb back to power. Henry becomes his victim of choice as his dark lifeforce would make him invincible. What probably helped these standout episodes, as well as guest actors I enjoy, was the fact that they strayed from formula and added interesting elements in.

All that said; the season finale was less a crescendo and more a damp squib. It did less in the way of introducing cliff hanger(s) and more to consolidate each main character’s personal whinge.

Acting wise, of our main cast Cox was fine as Vicki and I find Dylan Neal a very personable screen presence – whinging aside for both of them. The worry was always going to be, would Schmid prove to be more than just a pretty face as Henry. The hinted darkness only came out in whining, but that was the fault of scripts and directors, which was a shame. However there is one episode when another character takes Henry’s form and Schmid did an admirable job, acting exactly like the other character and showed that he had range, if only the show would let him extend it.

I do not regret watching the series but it didn’t necessarily keep me hooked – only my obsessive need to watch programming with vampires did that. Balancing highlight and lowlight moments makes me feel that 5 out of 10 is the way to go with this.

The series’ imdb page is here.

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