A few miscellaneous Spoiler Alerts for those who think they need them:
1. At the end of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” Caesar is stabbed to death.
2. At the end of “Hamlet,” Prince Hamlet of Denmark isn’t very spry either.
3. Romeo and Juliet are not going to be around for a sequel to “Romeo and Juliet.” Talk about star-crossed lovers.
4. As Lucy Van Pelt so deflatingly tells Charlie Brown in “Peanuts” about “Citizen Kane,” Rosebud is a sled.
The ultimate spoiler alert, I suppose would be this one: “You’re going to die some day. And so is everyone you know.” But then even though we all know the end of THAT story, we do our best to muddle through in full recognition of our mortality.
So let’s talk about whether you need a spoiler alert for this column about NBC’s wondrous new “Dracula,” whose pilot episode takes to the air after the return of “Grimm” at 10 p.m. Friday opposite CBS’ “Blue Bloods.” (See the interview with star Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in TV Topics.)
It’s quite splendid I assure you. And, in this case, there actually would be a “spoiler alert” necessary if I revealed its ending. But it’s not because I’m not going to.
Some things, it seems, need to be explained in our idiotic new world of coddled narcissists who believe that no journalism should ever tell them anything they prefer not to know until they’re absolutely ready to know it.
For anyone familiar with “Dracula,” there is, indeed, a whopper of a new plot development at the ending of Friday’s pilot episode that needs to be kept under wraps for viewers’ sakes. Anyone telling you in advance is indeed ruining it.
So I won’t. No critic that I know is actually in the business of ruining people’s fun. On the other hand, we’re not in the business of ignoring common literacy or common sense either. If everyone has had an equal chance to see something – i.e. a TV show has aired everywhere or a movie has opened in theaters – it’s open season for critics to comment on everything. Just because someone has stockpiled it in a DVR is a crashing irrelevance.
Critics write for those who want to be informed, as do all journalists, even though the consequences of that aren’t always ideal or even popular. Those who don’t wish to be informed should learn to budget their time accordingly. I wish them all godspeed.
You do need to know, though, how enticing the wild new revisionist “Dracula” is before it hits NBC Friday nights as part of a hugely imaginative new thing on TV these days – taking classic literature out of the deep freeze and cooking up all kinds of post-modern recipes with it.
“Grimm,” which is based on the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and precedes “Dracula” on Friday, was one of the earliest. It doesn’t really work. The new time transplant “Sleepy Hollow” – based on the story by Washington Irving – works and is well-done, but you have to have more patience with witches and covens than I do to watch it with dedication.
CBS’ “Elementary” is the reigning champ by giving us a stupendously inventive 21st century Sherlock Holmes to enthrall us every week – one with Holmes as a recovering heroin addict and alcoholic. Irene Adler and Moriarty have somehow become the same person, and Lucy Liu is playing a completely unexpected new version of Dr. Watson. The tales of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have now been turned into a specimen 21st century invention. Compared to “Elementary,” NBC’s elegantly sinister fantasies about “Hannibal,” from the novels of Thomas Harris, are almost sedate, as brilliantly mounted and performed as they are.
And that brings us back to the elegant and beautifully mounted new “Dracula,” a fellow who has been the hardiest horror fantasy of the past century. That has been true ever since he was first given life in book form by Irish writer Bram Stoker, whose day job for most of his adult life was to manage the theater and professional life of the great actor Sir Henry Irving, an ideal charisma model for suave, deadly Count Dracula.
It is part of the Stoker legend that his wife was considered by many the most beautiful woman in London and was wrested by Stoker from the clutches of her most famous suitor, Oscar Wilde (he had, she said, “curly teeth”). If Stoker hadn’t spent so much of his life catering to Sir Henry, he probably would never have been able to concoct Dracula’s relationship to Renfield and Jonathan Harker, which is where the new NBC “Dracula” – invented by writer Cole Haddon – may be closer to Stoker’s life than most.
Among the many truly wild and revisionist things about the new “Dracula” is a Renfield we’ve never imagined before, much less seen – a suave and beefy black Renfield (Nonso Anozie) who is Dracula’s omni-competent No. 2 in a way that Stoker himself was, most likely, Sir Henry Irving’s.
If some of us will always prefer nutso Dwight Frye for his slavering spider-gobbling performance as Renfield in Tod Browning’s classic 1931 “Dracula,” that’s because Browning’s movie has an 80-year history of being one of the first terrible movies that audiences fall in love with.
Frye fit perfectly into a movie where Dracula was played by poor drug-addled Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi, whose absurd performance as Dracula is one of the most delightful in the history of American film. A good 25 percent of Americans – especially in previous eras – grew up perfecting their Bela Lugosi Dracula impressions. I myself am foolishly proud of my way of speaking the line: “For a man who hass lived only vun lifetime, you’re a vize man, Doctor Van Helsing.”
Our Drac this time, is an American who pretends to explore new energy sources so that he can sample the vintages of blood available to him on the streets of London. He has a newly invented enemy, the Order of the Dragon, who took his dear wife from him once and whose “entitlement” he despises and crusades against.
All of which leads to that whopper of a surprise ending I told you about.
All of these post-modern neo-Gothic inventions in current television are making for awfully good TV. This new “Dracula” seems to me close to the top (where, I must confess, I still think “Elementary” dwells alone.)
Stoker – whose Drac had a hook nose and batwing ears a la Max Schreck in the silent classic “Nosferatu” – would recognize almost nothing about this “Dracula” but it’s a fair bet he’d get a kick out of it.
He was, after all, a man of the theater, a man, no doubt, smart enough to respect an imminent success when it stared him in the face.