Did we really need another “Dracula”? Hasn’t the tale of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” pretty much been done to death (or un-death) over the last century, from Bela Lugosi’s original 1931 version to Gary Oldman’s stylish 1992 version?
Yet, one could have asked if we really needed another Sherlock Holmes story, and then Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss came up with a clever modern update with the BBC’s “Sherlock” starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Now Moffat and Gatiss have turned their eye on Stoker’s tale with “Dracula,” a new Netflix/BBC One co-production that premiered last weekend in the U.S. on Netflix.
Like “Sherlock,” this season of “Dracula” is three movie-length episodes, connected to each other, each taking a piece of Stoker’s novel and spinning a new story out of it. The first and most successful of the three is the most directly inspired by Stoker’s novel, set in 1897, following unsuspecting lawyer Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan) as he arrives at Dracula’s Transylvanian castle to help the Count with some legal matters.
A month later, Harker escapes from the castle, looking deathly ill, and flees to a nearby convent, where he tells his story of what happened to a sardonic nun named Agatha (the wonderful Dolly Wells). The episode elegantly shifts back and forth between past and present as Harker recounts the mysteries of Castle Dracula and his enigmatic host.
As Dracula, Claes Bang (“The Square”) is a seductive, fearsome and surprisingly witty vampire, fond of purring bloodsucking puns like “You’re looking quite drained” at his prey. While there are a couple of jumps here and there, the show isn’t very scary, although it is gory in sometimes creative ways.
Gatiss and Moffat stay close to the staples of the Dracula legend — fear of the sun, a fascination with bats — along with some new twists. Most significantly, when Dracula sucks the blood of his victims, he also imbibes something of the victim’s identity, like a bloodsucking Zelig.
In the second episode, on a long voyage to England, Drac varies his diet between the upper-class passengers and working-class Russian sailors. That episode isn’t as successful for me as the first one, and the attempt to use a conversation (this time between Dracula and Agatha) as a framing device feels a little forced.
The final episode places Dracula in modern-day London, and while it’s fun to see him adjust to life in 2020, something gets lost without the historical setting and the atmosphere of the first two episodes.
Still, the creepy charm of the first two episodes makes me think there’s still plenty of life in “Dracula” for future seasons. Being immortal means you have a lot of stories to tell.
Also on streaming: Earlier in the week, I wrote about Madison native Sarayu Blue, who has a big supporting role on the new Netflix series “Medical Police.” It premieres on Friday (today) and it’s a very funny riff on both the medical procedural and globe-hopping thriller. Erinn Hayes and Rob Huebel reprise their roles from Adult Swim’s “Children’s Hospital” as doctors hunting down the terrorists behind a pandemic. It’s very silly and very funny, with cameos from Jason Schwartzman, Rob Corddry and Lake Bell.