Review: Dracula TV show


Reviewing the new Dracula TV show has been an interesting process for me. If you follow me on Tumblr, then you know that on the night of the series premier I live blogged my sister’s reactions to the show as she live blogged watching it. It was an interesting night that led to my sister repeatedly thumping one of her copies of the original novel on the coach while yelling NO!, and drinking enough that she declared that she could not feel her feet.

After it was over, I declared that I was going to write a full review. However, to be fair to the show, I could not just review the pilot; I needed to watch several episodes in order to do this properly. She said I was braver than she, while clutching her fanged bunny Clovis for support.

So here it is. Fair warning, there will be spoilers, so enter freely and of your own will.

For those not in the know, the new Dracula series is a reimagining of the tale. Still set in Victorian England, the story now has Dracula pretending to be an American inventor and industrialist, named Alexander Grayson, in order to promote a new type of energy. His goal is to undermine the financial might of his ancient enemies, the Order of the Dragon, by reducing the worth of their oil holdings.

I think I pulled something writing that last sentence.

Having watched the first few episodes I have drawn the conclusion that this show was pitched as something other than Dracula and that it was repurposed, probably due to executive demands that it be based on a familiar property.

Of all the characters only Lucy Westenra acts anything like her counterpart in the original novel, and even she has significant changes.

Starting with Dracula, he is far from the monster in the novel, in fact he seems more of the noble monster trope here. He is out for revenge on the Order of the Dragon for killing his wife and turning him into a vampire. The show has also gone with the reincarnated lost love angle that has been used so often it almost seems a must for vampire stories.

Speaking of that reincarnated love, Mina has gone from a school teacher to a medical student studying under Professor Van Helsing.

Her Fiancé, Jonathan Harker, has gone from being a solicitor to a journalist hired by Dracula to investigate his rivals.

Lucy is still a rich high society girl, presented as a Victorian party girl. The one change here is that she harbors secret romantic feelings for Mina.

In one of the biggest changes from the novel, Renfield has gone from a madman whom Dracula enslaves to a trusted manservant who can counter Dracula’s instructions for Dracula’s benefit without repercussions and whose advice Dracula values.

But that pales in comparison to Van Helsing. In the novel he is Dracula’s arch nemesis and in media his name is synonymous with monster hunter. Here he is the one who frees Dracula from his tomb as he also seeks revenge on the Order of the Dragon for killing his family, and needs the vampire as his partner to accomplish this. He even goes so far as to try and find a way to allow Dracula to walk in the daylight.

For the order of the Dragon they are so generic in being bad guys that even reading a synopsis of episodes it is difficult for me to tell who is who.

The one exception is the order’s female vampire hunter, Lady Jayne Wetherby. Not suspecting that Grayson is in fact Dracula she starts an affair with him, while the order wants to ruin him as a business rival. She seems to serve the dual purpose of having a female vampire slayer in the show, and to have a character Dracula can have sex with every episode.

Another issue I have is the anachronisms throughout the show. In 1881, when Van Helsing frees Dracula, he uses a battery powered flashlight. In a scene in 1896 you see Dracula wearing s modern style wristwatch. You also have the female characters wearing off the shoulder dresses to society events. I think a lot of this is due to the show having a very steampunk sensibility, with Dracula as a pastiche of Nikola Tesla and his goal of bringing broadcast power to England. I think more of it is due to the show being more concerned with eye candy than any kind of accuracy.

Overall, this show feels like it was meant to be an entirely original franchise and it had Dracula tagged on for name recognition. The sad thing is I would probably be more tolerant of it, had it been an entirely original idea. One of my biggest issues with it is the complete rewriting of the classic characters. Were Renfield and Van Helsing original characters I would have no problem with their behavior. I would also have been just fine with the struggle between an American industrialist vampire and a Victorian secret society were the industrialist not Dracula.

Also, not everything is terrible. The production designs and cinematography are both terrific. The show looks incredible.

In the end, this is a show that could have been great, had they made it anything other than Dracula. As it is, I cannot get past that fact as it is too distracting.

I give Dracula a D on the Fanboy News Network grading scale. It is a very disappointing effort.

The Hole Behind Midnight Episode 3

hole behind midnight cover sketches.inddAnd here is Episode 3 of the Hole Behind Midnight audio book podcast. Book by Clinton J Boomer. Audiobook produced by Julie Hoverson

Royden Poole’s night isn’t getting any better, but he might have a little help now, provided he has enough cash on him.

The Hole Behind Midnight is meant for Mature Audiences and contains strong language and adult themes. There we warned you.

You can find the main sight for the podcast here.

And is you are interested in the book, you can find details here.

If your looking for me in this episode forget it, I’m not back for a couple of episodes, but listen anyway, this is good stuff.

A visit to Night Vale

NightVale_2718653bI think it says something about the nature of Welcome to Night Vale that I had no idea how to start out this column. Do I try for witty and meta like the show itself? Do I just pass as it is rapidly gaining a huge fandom? Or do I just write the column, working from a base assumption that some of you are familiar with it, while others might need some background?

Yeah, lets go what that last one.

For the uninitiated, Welcome to Night Vale is a Podcast produced by Commonplace Books, that takes the form of a community radio show from the small town of Night Vale. That seems simple enough.

Okay, but Night Vale is a place operating in its own reality. All conspiracy theories are true, unnatural horrors are commonplace, and everyday mundane truths (like the existence of mountains) are considered mythical.

Imagine Prairie Home Companion as if it was written by Rod Serling and directed by David Lynch.

Welcome to Night Vale is the brain child of Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, who write all the episodes (although they have had a few guest writers recently). The show’s single regular performer is Cecil Baldwin, with most episodes having only his performance. Guest actors have recently started appearing, but are infrequent. The show’s theme song, as well as all background music, is performed by the band Disparition.

The show in many ways has a very straight forward format. Each episode is 20 to 30 minutes long, and is basically a new broadcast from Night Vale Community Radio. Our news broadcaster Cecil starts the show with a cryptic statement that ends with him saying “Welcome to Night Vale”. After the theme song Cecil begins the show proper. The first story is the major theme of the episode, usually detailing an event occurring in town that will be revisited several times during the episode. There will also be a word from the sponsor, traffic, community calendar (which fans now know usually foreshadows upcoming episodes), and (of course) the Weather (which is a musical performance from an independent artist).  After the Weather is a final report tying up the episode’s main plot, and Cecil’s signature sign off “Good Night Night Vale, Good Night.” This is followed by credits and a proverb read by an unnamed female voice.

The show has several ongoing storylines related through Cecil’s reports. There is the ongoing mystery of the Man in the Tan Leather jacket whom several people have met, but no one can remember any detail about him except the jacket and his deer skin suitcase full of flies. There is also the upcoming election for the position of Mayor of Night Vale. Mayor Miriam Winchelle has decided to not run again, and two candidates have stepped forward to run. The first is Hiram McDaniels (voiced by Venture Brothers creator Jackson Publick), a character first introduced while being sought by the Sheriff’s secret police. Hiram is an 18 foot five-headed dragon, and his crime? Fraud. The other candidate is The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home (voiced by former child star Mara Wilson). She is exactly what she sounds like, you never see her, but she is there. She knows all about you, and thinks that this makes her uniquely qualified to be Mayor.

These are just a small sample of the growing story. But one thing the fans have latched onto is the growing romance between Cecil and Carlos, the leader of a team of scientists who have come to study Night Vale.

At no point is there any mention of the sexual orientation of either Cecil or Carlos. It is just presented as a romance between two people just like you would encounter in real life. In fact the relationship is honestly the most normal thing that ever gets any regular mention in the show. With the exception of the episode detailing their first date, it is normally just a subplot mentioned in passing during the episodes, but the fact that it is very normal has become a favorite subject of the fans.

What makes Welcome to Night Vale stand out is the writing. Fink and Cranor have a very distinct sensibility (as bizarre as it may seem), and it means that you never know what to expect from the show. Be it a mysterious glowing mind controlling cloud that becomes head of the Night Vale school board, or invasion of a tiny race of people leaving under the local bowling alley, Night Vale has a unique voice. And it looks to be inspiring a new generation of podcasters to explore the format of audio drama.

So if you have a taste for the strange, and a half hour to spare now and again, check it out.

And try not to think about the Faceless Old Woman who Secretly Lives in Your Home, unless you intend to vote for her, in which case I’m sure she won’t mind.



The Hole Behind Midnight Episode 2

hole behind midnight cover sketches.inddAnd here is episode 2 of the Hole Behind Midnight audio book podcast. Book by Clinton J Boomer. Audiobook produced by Julie Hoverson.

Royden Poole’s annoying trip to the police station has taken a definite turn for the worse. So of course he needs to figure out why everything has gone to hell, oh and not get killed by the murderous clown.

The Hole Behind Midnight is meant for Mature Audiences and contains strong language and adult themes. There we warned you.

You can find the main sight for the podcast here.

And is you are interested in the book, you can find details here.

And I do show up in this episode. See if you can guess who I am.

Surprisingly good TV Shows

sleepyhollowEvery TV season the networks hope to lure in viewers for their new programs, and that will require a lot of pre-publicity on the shows. When deciding what you are going to watch, a lot of judgment goes into trying to decide what you are going to watch and what is not worth your time. Over the last three TV seasons, I have come to learn that I cannot trust my initial assessment of shows based on preview material. I can name six shows, two from each of the last three seasons, that I was convinced were going to suck, and now are shows I don’t want to miss.

These shows are Once Upon a time, Grimm, Arrow, Hannibal, Sleepy Hollow, and The Blacklist.

So what was it about these shows that caused my initial dismissal of them, and what do they have that has made them appointment viewing?

Let’s find out.

For the first question, my answer is that I didn’t think any of them would be a sustainable series and be able to get up to nine episodes. For everything, but The Blacklist, a big part of my negative view was due to their being adaptations. Once Upon a Time and Grimm took it a step further, in that they were both shows using fairy tales as their basis, and I figured one would eventually cannibalize the other. In the case of Arrow, it was another superhero show on the CW and so I was expecting another watered down and drawn out story like Smallville. Hannibal was doubted because I didn’t see how a network TV show could possibility go to the dark places that the story would demand. With Sleepy Hollow I will admit that I assumed it was going to be a Twilight like take on the story. Finally, The Blacklist just seemed to be a thin premise that I could not see sustaining a season believably.

Clearly, I was wrong on all counts.

Once Upon a Time and Grimm are nothing alike, I don’t even think of them as having a common origin point anymore. Arrow is not watered down in the least. Watching Hannibal I am regularly shocked at how far the network has allowed this series to push the imagery. Sleepy Hollow, while nothing like the story that inspired it, is not following in the Twilight path. And The Blacklist is a fun series that teases at a greater mystery.

But I think there is more to it than my being wrong in my initial assumptions. All of these shows have two things in common that make me tune in week after week.

First is the fact that there is focus on characters and their story arcs. I am invested in what happens to these people and want to see where they are going. Even the worst written of these six shows (Once upon a Time) has me hooked by this, even for the villains.

The other thing is the overall story and series mythology. Each show is going somewhere and doing it at a good pace. To use Smallville as an example again, they dragged out their main arc, Clark Kent becoming Superman, for 10 years. By the end, it just felt ridiculous. In contrast. Arrow dealt with its main arc (Oliver going after the people on his father’s list in the first season) and wrapped that up; Once Upon a Time also wrapped up its main arc (breaking the curse on Storybrooke) in the first season. Both of these series then went on to have new arcs in their following seasons.

So good characters and good story pacing, really this is what we should want from any series.

And to wrap up, I would like to point out that I am not always wrong. I had bad feelings about both Dracula and The Tomorrow People. I was not wrong. In fact the only reason I am still watching Dracula is to give it a fair shot for when I review it, so you have that to look forward to.

If you have not checked out any of the series I have focused on here, I would recommend giving them a try. Of course, we will have to see how the rest of the season plays out. And maybe we will visit them again after this season is over.

The Hole Behind Midnight Episode 1

hole behind midnight cover sketches.inddA while ago I mentioned I was working on an audiobook. Well it is now being released as a podcast.  I have received permission from the producer to link to it here. So this is going to be done much like the Hermes and Hekate Roadshow was.

So here is episode one of The Hole Behind Midnight. Book by Clinton J Boomer. Audiobook produced by Julie Hoverson.

Meet Royden Poole. He is having a bad time lately. He lost his girl friend and most people think he is dead. Too bad the police know the truth and need him to do something for them, because they don’t understand this magic BS and he does.

The Hole Behind Midnight is meant for Mature Audiences and contains strong language and adult themes. There we warned you.

You can find the main sight for the podcast here.

And is you are interested in the book, you can find details here.

And just FYI, I don’t show up in the first episode. Don’t worry I’ll show up soon.

Emperor Norton


Back when I was writing about my early days at Wizards of the Coast I mentioned that ConFrancisco had a person spend the entire convention portraying Emperor Norton. I promised to explain why that was a big deal at a later time.

Well that time has come.

Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, was a prominent and beloved figure in San Francisco during the mid to late 19th century.  Not only was he embraced by the city’s residents, but he also captured the imagination of more than one author, and has been included in many stories and the inspiration for many more. All this has made him a true geek culture icon, as well as a historical one.

He was born Joshua Abraham Norton, in England sometime between 1814 and 1819, bad record keeping prevents us from knowing exactly when. He spent his early life in South Africa, and immigrated to San Francisco in 1849.

A first, he was a successful business man, but after an import venture went south (and the loss of a related lawsuit) Norton left San Francisco in 1858.

Nothing is really known of what happen during the following year, but in 1859 Norton returned to San Francisco and sent letters to several newspapers in the city proclaiming himself Emperor of the United States. The newspapers reprinted these letters, mainly for the humor value, and this just fueled Emperor Norton’s passion to carry on.

Since America was now an Empire, Norton saw no need for congress any longer and made several imperial decrees calling for its disbandment. He also called for the abolishment of both the Republican and Democratic parties, and for the U.S. army to carry out these orders. Naturally, none of these parties paid any attention to these decrees.

However, not every decree Emperor Norton made was outlandish. He called for the formation of a League of Nations decades before it actually happened, and for construction of a suspension bridge or tunnel to connect San Francisco to Oakland.

When not making decrees Emperor Norton would spend his time conducting inspections of the streets and cable cars of the city. He wore a pseudo military uniform that included epaulettes and a beaver hat with a peacock feather.

Now, it would have been easy to dismiss Emperor Norton as just delusional man wandering the streets of San Francisco but for one simple thing: the city loved him.

Businesses sought his patronage and proudly displayed his imperial seal of approval. He ate at the finest restaurants in town, and theaters made sure he had reserved seats. Imperial money he printed himself was accepted by local businesses, and to this day are considered valued collector items.

So beloved was Emperor Norton that he is credited with once stopping an anti-Chinese riot by positioning himself between the rioters and their targets, kneeling and reciting the Lord’s Prayer repeatedly until the mob lost their zeal and went away.

Today anyone acting the way Emperor Norton did would be put under psychiatric care. Well, actually, someone tried that in 1867. A young police officer arrested Norton to have him committed. The city was outraged and the police chief ordered Norton released and issued a formal apology. The Emperor himself issued an imperial pardon to the officer that arrested him. From that day on all police officers saluted Emperor Norton when they passed him on the streets.

On January 8th 1880, Emperor Norton suffered a fatal heart attack while walking. Not surprising, he was impoverished, having less than $10.00 to his name. The business community of San Francisco refused to let him be buried in a pauper’s grave, and paid for what amounted to a state funeral that was attended by 30,000 of the city’s 230,000 residents. His grave stone reads “Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.”

The story of Emperor Norton is one that has captured the imagination of so many that naturally has inspired several authors.

Mark Twain, who lived in San Francisco during Norton’s reign based the character “the King” in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn directly on Norton

Robert Louis Stevenson made Norton a character in his novel The Wreaker.

Neil Gaiman wrote an issue of The Sandman about Norton.

Barbara Hambly included him in her Star Trek novel Ishmael.

Author Christopher Moore has written several supernatural humor novels set in modern day San Francisco. In these novels there is a prominent character called “The Emperor” who is clearly based on Norton.

And that is just scratching the surface of the works he has inspired.

Emperor Norton has even become a religious figure. Discordianism has made him a Saint Second Class.

In the end, there was clearly something special about this man. He may have been living in his own world, but it was a kind place that he managed to share with the rest of us and left us some great stories to keep us inspired.


Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. review


I doubt any series this fall had more anticipation than Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did. It had the best quality any new show could hope for, a pre-existing fan base. As an official part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe it could bring in the fans of those movies, especially The Avengers as it ties directly in to events from that film.

But tying in to one of the most successful films of all time is no guarantee of success. So how does Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fare?

Let’s find out.

The best thing that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  has going for it is the character of Agent Phil Coulson played by Clark Gregg. Coulson has appeared in four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and been the star of two short features. Two years ago I wrote an article called the Eighth Avenger that was speculation based on the fact that Tom Hiddleston had said Loki was going up against eight heroes, and I was trying to figure out who the eighth hero was. Clearly, after the events of The Avengers he was including Coulson in the count of heroes he faced.

Coulson has a huge fan base. Within days of the release of The Avengers there was a fan campaign to bring back Coulson, who was killed during the course of the film. The series is basically the fans getting what they asked for. Marvel even used the fan created hashtag #Coulsonlives in its ad campaign.

For those who have not tuned into the show, the premise is that S.H.I.E.L.D.  Director Nick Fury has given Coulson the go-ahead to form a proactive unit of hand-picked agents whose job will be to investigate strange happenings around the globe.

Making up the team are a mix of agents who Coulson needs to forge into this unit.

First is Melinda May (played by Ming-Na Wen), an old associate of Coulson’s who is something of a legend in S.H.I.E.L.D., but has to be coaxed back into the field after an as yet unexplained incident.

Next is Grant Ward (played by Brett Dalton), an agent who has been trained for solo work (which makes being part of a team uncomfortable for him).

Leo Fitz (played by Iain Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (played by Elizabeth Henstridge) are the team’s scientific support, and work so closely together they are normally referred to as Fitz-Simmons.

Finally you have Skye (played by Chloe Bennet), a hacker who works with the anti-S.H.E.I.L.D.  hacktivist group Rising Tide, who is brought on in part to convince her (and through her the Rising Tide) that S.H.I.E.L.D. are the good guys. This, of course, makes her the audience surrogate and the way the other characters can provide exposition.

Behind the scenes, the series is produced by Joss Whedon, with the show run by his brother Jed and sister-in-law Maurissa Tancharoen, with Jeffrey Bell and Jeph Lobe.

On the plus side, the series has the tie-ins with the Marvel movies, as well as a chance to bring in more characters and concepts from the comics. There have already been cameos in the first two episodes by Cobie Smulders and Samuel L. Jackson, reprising their movie roles and Maria Hill and Nick Fury. The third episode also hints at being the origin story of the Marvel villain Graviton.

You also have Coulson himself, who brings his character’s trademark dry humor to the role, as well as providing the show with the ongoing mystery of how Coulson survived being stabbed with the alien staff by Loki. So far, all we know is that the story Coulson himself has been told is false, and that little things about him are off. Fan speculation is rampant about what the real story is.

There are great performances from the entire cast, but this also points out a couple of the shows weaknesses.

One weakness is that we are not getting an even playing field in regards to character development. Most episodes have had a focus on Skye, and thus she has gotten the majority of that development. Fitz and Simmons, on the other hand, have had almost none and I can’t say I know more about them than at episode five than I did from the pilot.

There is also a huge disconnect in the idea that this is a hand-picked elite team. This idea works great with Coulson, May, and Ward. Fitz and Simmons on the other hand are great in the lab, but every time they take them into the field they come off as borderline incompetents.

Overall, the team has the feel of your standard Whedon show: a talented team of misfits who are great in some areas but terrible in others come together and ultimately form a makeshift family unit. Great in most cases, but this is supposed to be an elite government task force.

This is not to say the show is bad; I am enjoying it very much. The problem is that, considering it is an official Marvel show, there are some pretty high expectations that are not being met and this is leaving people feeling disappointed.

However, I think it is fair to point out that only five episodes have aired. Whedon’s last show Dollhouse basically had similar complaints, but suddenly changed gears and really took off with its sixth episode.

So, for right now, I am going to give Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  a grade of C+. It is a decent effort, but it needs to pick up steam.

At the end of this season I will do another review of the series, and we will see what the final grade is then.