NBC’s Dracula

Lately it seems like the Spellbound Scribes have been on a bit of a television kick. Shauna’s been documenting her experiences watching all seven seasons of Buffy (here’s a link to her #BuffyWatch Part Four post) and Mandy made a compelling case for watching Arrow in The Awesomeness that is Felicity Smoak. In the interest of finishing out the trilogy, I figured I’d do a post about one of my own television favorites.

dracula-nbc

NBC’s Dracula.

Hush, you. I can hear your eyes rolling from here.

(I tried not to make this post too spoiler-ish, but there might be one or two things you want to avoid if you plan on watching.) Now, I found a lot to like in the series’ first season, beyond just the handsome young man who played Dracula (ahem, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, ahem). They’ve completely reimagined the story, giving Dracula a new persona as American businessman Alexander Grayson. His overarching goal is to take down the Order of the Dragon, the nefarious group who turned him into a vampire back in the day. The only people who know his true identity are his ally Van Helsing and his man Renfield, and his biggest challenge is subduing his growing emotional attachment to Mina, who appears to be the reincarnation of his former wife.

It’s all very complicated.

There were some pseudo-Steampunk moments in Grayson’s lab, with his new electrical technology designed to make the Order’s oil resources obsolete, and there were some interesting ideas about a woman’s role in the Victorian era, as Mina struggled to be taken seriously as a medical student.  And of course, the costumes and sets were absolutely gorgeous, giving me an hour every Friday night – or more often Sunday afternoon On-Demand – of pretty fabulous visual candy.

I love the way the writers remodeled stale characters. Van Helsing becomes a fractious ally after he resurrects Dracula in order to wreak revenge on the Order, and Renfield’s a black lawyer who goes to work for Grayson after no one in America will hire him, and who is the only one his boss even begins to listen to. I also really love the honesty in their take on the vampire myth. Dracula kills. There’s blood. He drains pretty shopgirls who are innocent and good, and he makes a mess when he does it.

And no one can stop him.

He’s fiercely loyal. When some offshoot of the Order kidnaps and tortures Renfield, the gore’s a’flying when Dracula tracks them down. He’s tormented by his need to have revenge on the Order for turning him into a monster, and blackmails a business associate to chip away at the Order’s strength, which results in the man’s death and the suicide of his lover. Oh well. He seduces the Order’s chief hunter and imagines it’s Mina in his bed. He welcomes his long time (as in hundreds of years) right-hand guy, and then set him up to be killed in order to reach his goal.

Not a nice guy.

DRACULA24

But SO compelling.

And possibly that’s why the ratings weren’t what NBC had hoped for, and why they still haven’t committed to a second season. I mean, JRM is as pretty as they come, and I love the way he flips between a cultured English accent and a broad American drawl, but this is not your grandmother’s Dracula, and the evil almost but not quite overtakes the sympathy I felt while watching him.

It’s a fascinating study in creating a difficult hero, and for that alone I’d LOVE to see a second season. But I also want more episodes because…

  • OMG what happened to Renfield?!? The finale left him bleeding on the ground. He can’t die! He’s my favorite!!
  • Mina and Grayson finally did the deed, after an entire season of waiting, and while I admit to finding the scene a little anticlimactic, I wonder what a strong-minded young woman like Mina would do with a vampire lover. That’s if she even knows he’s a vampire, which isn’t clear from the finale.
  • Lucy the naughty lesbian – and newly turned vampire – promises to be so much fun to watch.
  • Both Van Helsing and Jonathan Harker are now enemies, and there are plenty of ways Dracula/Grayson could mess with them.
  • MORE STEAMPUNK. Instead of just hinting, bring it out more. Just sayin’…

So now it’s your turn. Did you watch Dracula? Would you like to see a second season? Or would you rather use the time to catch up on last week’s episode of Supernatural?

Peace,

Liv

Why Should I Care?

Whether you’re creating media or consuming it, there’s one question that needs to be answered. If you want to hook a reader or a viewer or a listener — or if you’re any of those things settling down to give of your time to someone’s art — four little words lie behind everything you are about to do.

Why Should I Care?

It sounds like a rude question. It kind of is, most of the time you might hear it. But when you’re talking about media and art, it’s the single most important question that keeps you as a consumer engaged and you as a creator the ability to captivate people.

You can’t just dump rose petals on the ground and expect everything to be hunky-dory.

Image by D Sharon Pruitt, creative commons free use with attribution, via Flickr.
Image by D Sharon Pruitt, creative commons free use with attribution, via Flickr.

In the past six months, I’ve seen two particularly noteworthy examples of television that answered this question particularly well. As such, this post will contain some spoilers for Doctor Who (Episode 4.08, Silence in the Library and it the following 4.09) and How I Met Your Mother (Episode 9.16, How Your Mother Met Me). You’ve been warned.

Both of these episodes have something major in common: they introduce a brand new character. In the instance of HIMYM, this character has hitherto been ultimately a concept, the M at the end of HIMYM, a barely-faced, barely explored entity who has somehow powered the entire show. Even though we’ve seen her a couple times, this is the first chance we’ve had to really get to know her. In Doctor Who, River Song shows up for the first time in this episode — but we’re working with almost blank slates for both of these characters.

Let’s start with Doctor Who.

River Song, Doctor Who, the Doctor, Silence in the Library
River Song and the Doctor in Silence in the Library.

Silence in the Library

They say you have one page to hook a reader. I think you have 20-40 minutes of television to hook a viewer. Some factors can make that number skew a bit — if you’re watching something everyone has told you to, you might be more prone to give it a few episodes before throwing in the towel. When I read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I gave it 100 pages — and I’m glad I did. But let’s say you have one episode. One single slot of time in which to snag someone’s attention and make them care. Make them feel something.

Give them a question.

When River Song waltzes into the library with her archaeology team, one of the first things she does is give you a question. She knows the Doctor. Her reaction to him is one that makes that question. She knows him. And personally — maybe intimately. But he doesn’t know her yet. Even better, she refuses to tell him more.

Hint at the question’s answers.

Later in the episode, River is seen using a sonic screwdriver that’s more advanced than what the Doctor has. When asked where she got it, she replies that he gave it to her. This is another breadcrumb in the question — why would a future Doctor give River his sonic screwdriver?

When you answer the question, make it breed more questions.

Throughout this fabulous two-parter, the story of River’s interaction with the Doctor doesn’t so much unfold as play peek-a-boo. When it’s revealed that the Doctor gave River his screwdriver, it makes him wonder why…which makes us wonder why. And when we discover that he can use it to save her life, well, my mind immediately went to wondering who this woman was, that he cared enough to make sure she had it. More questions.

Not only that, but River sacrifices herself for the Doctor — something he (and we the viewers) don’t understand. When she answers that question, it makes more. Who is this woman, this woman so determined to make sure the Doctor still meets her in her own past? What happens with them? Why is she so special? Even in asking those questions, she becomes special. She is a fascinating character.

By the end of this two-parter, I was a blubbery mess of tears for a character I’d just met. Even though I knew she’d turn up later, this was a perfect answer to the why should I care question. I cared because she came to life. Because she left things unanswered, yet her story begged me to find out more.

How I Met Your Mother, Cristin Milioti, The Mother, Ted Mosby, ukulele, music, la vie en rose, powerful song, acting, beautiful acting
Cristin Milioti sings La Vie en Rose in How I Met Your Mother season 9

How Your Mother Met Me

The entire basis of the show How I Met Your Mother is the story of Ted Mosby’s journey to finding his wife. For the show’s run, we’ve seen glimpses of her, an ankle here, a yellow umbrella there — but until the final episode of season 8, we’d never seen her face.

This season, we’ve gotten a few more chances to meet her. I’ll be honest and say that I approached season 9 with no small amount of trepidation. Having invested in these characters and this story for so long, I knew I wanted the chance to actually get to know this person. I didn’t want the show to end with Ted and The Mother shaking hands…and scene.

I wanted to see who she was, know she was a person, know she fit in with the others in the group. In short, I wanted to know her. So I am entirely thrilled to be able to say that  a couple weeks ago, an episode of How I Met Your Mother (cheekily titled How Your Mother Met Me — including a redone opening credit montage) was the episode I’ve been waiting for…for EIGHT LONG YEARS.

They made me care as much for The Mother (it’s driving me crazy not to know her name) as I do for all the other principal cast members.

They gave her a backstory.

This is a tricky thing. This doesn’t mean they told us where she went to high school and that she used to hate artichokes and now thinks they’re the bee’s knees. No. They didn’t do that. Instead they showed her at the East Side MacLaren’s (with a charming tie-in to the main group at their West Side MacLaren’s) at her 21st birthday, waiting for her boyfriend to show up.

And he didn’t.

Instead she got a call I think every one of us dreads.

He wasn’t going to show up. Not that night or ever again. Her boyfriend had passed away.

Anyone who has ever gotten a call like that (and I have) probably couldn’t help but feel something at that moment.

Prior to that moment, she wasn’t sad. She was happy. Excited to see what her boyfriend would get her this year because every other year he’d gotten her amazing things. And when she gets home finally after his memorial, she opens the gift he’d gotten her. It’s a ukulele.

We got to see her overcome her backstory.

Losing someone like that hurts like someone blew a hole in the middle of your torso. Two years ago, I was in the car five minutes from work, discussing random things with my husband who was driving — when I saw I had a message from an Ohio number. It was my cousin Andrea. She was calling to let me know that my cousin Nate had been killed in a car accident. It was a week after his 30th birthday. His baby girl (who is my namesake) turned 1 the day after his funeral. I still feel that hole. It doesn’t go away.

HIMYM did a fantastic job of showing how that hole does not go away. As we saw The Mother go through her grief, meet someone new, and be on the response side of a proposal, we saw that hole.

It culminated when she went outside to ask her dead boyfriend Max if it was okay for her to move on. Boy, was I feeling feelings.

She went back inside and told her boyfriend no. She packed up her bags and left. She returned to the hotel where Barney and Robin were to be married (her band was to play the next day), and she took her ukulele out of her case. Then she went out onto her balcony and sang one of the most stirring renditions of La Vie en Rose that I’ve ever heard. I had tears running down my face and goosebumps all over my arms when the camera panned over to show Ted listening in silence on the other side of the wall between their balconies.

And holy explosion of farting German cows, did I care.

These are two examples of how media made me care — and judging by the Facebook comments on HIMYM’s page (for once, positive), I wasn’t the only one. The comments that a few months ago were judging Cristin Milioti on her dentition were now proclaiming how much they loved her.

I look forward to every River Song episode — and now I am sincerely looking forward to the final episodes of How I Met Your Mother. Because the writers restored some of my faith in the show by finally allowing me to get to know this woman I’ve waited eight years to see — and making her fantastic.

As media creators, it’s our job to make that happen — not just answer the question of why consumers should care, but hammer it home and make them feel something.

Ichabod: A Man For The Ages

A few years ago, my fifteen year old daughter and I watched all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – a mother-daughter bonding ritual I can highly recommend. We watched the first couple seasons of Angel together, and a few episodes of Bones. Lately we’ve been trying to find another series to share. We started season one of Supernatural and watched a few episodes of The X Files, though neither really clicked for us.

And then…

We saw the trailer for Fox’s new series, Sleepy Hollow. My daughter was lukewarm about it, but I thought it looked awesome, and did some arm-twisting to get her to watch the first episode. Three episodes in and she’s already doing a little arm-twisting of her own, insisting her brother watch along with us.

I think we found our series.

And, I think I found a new fan-girl crush. (Though perhaps I won’t mention it to the children.)  Ichabod Crane, as played by Tom Mison, is one of the two best things about the show. The other best this is Abby, played by Nicole Beharie. She’s a police lieutenant, sort of an Agent Scully to Ichabod’s Agent Mulder.  The interaction between the two of them is pretty compelling and makes the show worth watching.

Because really, you can’t think too hard about the plot or your brain will break.

I’m not alone in my appreciation for Mr. Crane. In this post from StarPulse.com, the author pretty much trashes the show, but has some very complementary things to say about the hero:

Suprisingly, I loved Tom Mison as Ichabod. I had absolutely no expectations going in, but he knocked Ichabod’s contemporary Renaissance man out of the park. He’s so charming and adorable that I literally threw my undies at the screen.

And I’m right there with her.

Well, sort of. There were children in the room. Teenagers. You know.

Of course, while watching the show, I had to put my writer’s hat on. True confessions: I rarely take it off. Anywhoodle, out of the striking visuals, on-screen chemistry, and loopy plotlines, I pulled a more serious question. What is it about Ichabod that had him catching panties within minutes of the premier?

What makes a compelling hero?

A while ago I wrote a post on heroes for the Crimson Romance authors blog, and here’s how I answered that question. Good heroes rely on attributes besides their looks. They stand up for what’s right. They may break a few rules, but they get the job done. Whether they’re charming bad boys, swashbuckling adventurers, or deadly competent fighters, they face their internal and external demons to win the day.

Mr. Crane covers that ground pretty well. He died in a Revolutionary War battle, but 250 years later he comes back to life. Instead of freaking out over cell phones and Starbucks, he jumps into trying to save the world from the Headless Horseman.  Abby drinks some weird Indian potion to fight the Sandman, and he takes a swig, so she won’t have to battle alone. His wife from back in the day is trapped in some kind of purgatory, and he’s going to save her, too.

Most importantly, he works from a core of confidence that communicates itself from the moment he crawls up through the dirt. It’s that confidence that allows him to get involved in a murder investigation, when he’s not actually a cop – and totally sell it. It’s that confidence that allows him to show humor and  vulnerability and charm. It’s that confidence that makes him a leader.

It’s that confidence that pulls a girl’s panties right off her butt.

His long coat doesn’t hurt, either.

Sleepy Hollow Dude
Ichabod Crane

I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but it’s possible Ichabod Crane could turn out to be a candidate for the Epic Coats Club. What do you think? Have you watched the show? Are you a member of the Ichabod Crane Fan Club?

epic coat club bnw
Who is your favorite member of the Epic Coat Club?