Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Camera Obscura
    by John Joseph Adams
June 2006

Does it slay, or does it suck?

Following in the footsteps of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Marvel's vampiric vampire-slayer Blade moves from the big-screen to the small-screen. And like BtVS, Blade brings the scripter of the big-screen adaptations along for the ride. But can David Goyer be the new Joss Whedon?

Blade: The Series
Episodes #101/#102—Series Premiere: "Pilot"
Spike TV
Director: Peter O'Fallon
Writers: David Goyer, Geoff Johns
Starring: Kirk "Sticky" Jones, Jill Wagner, Neil Jackson, Nelson Lee, and Jessica Gower
Air Date: June 28, 2006 at 10 PM on Spike TV
Rated TV14-LSVD / 120 minutes / 2006
(out of four)

In case you missed it, Spike TV is a relatively new cable channel that debuted a few years ago with the primary mission of becoming the number one destination for men on television. Until now, its programming schedule has been dominated by reruns of guy-centric television series and reality shows featuring "ultimate fighters." With Blade: The Series, Spike TV brings us an ultimate fighter of another kind, and makes its first foray into the realm of original, scripted series...with mixed results.

Blade (Jones) is a half-breed vampire, infected with the disease in the womb as his mother was about to give birth. This results in Blade having all of the powers but none of the weaknesses of the vampire kind...except for that pesky yearning for blood. Blade controls that all-consuming hunger with the help of a chemical cocktail he injects on a regular basis, and so instead of killing humans for food, he kills vampires for fun.

In this, the series opener, Blade relocates to Detroit, in pursuit of the vampire house Chthon and its charismatic playboy leader Marcus Van Sciver (Jackson). Joining Blade on his quest to rid the Earth of bloodsuckers is Shen (Lee), Blade's new sidekick and gadget-wizard.

As Blade starts sniffing around, a young man named Zack Starr is killed, and since the police seem to have written the death off as a gang hit, Starr's sister, ex-Army sergeant Krista Starr, starts looking into his death on her own. Eventually, the two investigations lead Blade and Krista to each other. Let it suffice to say much kung-fu action (or vampire-fu, as all vampires seem to know martial arts)—along with a liberal dose of both sword- and gunplay—ensues as Blade tries to track Marcus to Chthon's main headquarters. Though reluctant companions, Blade and Krista work well together, but, of course, not all goes according to plan. And while it suits them both to work initially, things soon change, raising the question: will Krista be Blade's new ally, or a new nemesis?

On paper, it all sounded pretty good. They've got David Goyer, who worked on the Blade feature films, executive producing and writing some of the scripts, and they decided to maintain continuity with the Blade movies rather than start over from scratch. And in the role of Blade, they've got a young actor with the right look to pull it off, but does he have the chops?

With the movie role of Blade being quite ably filled by a tremendously buff Wesley Snipes, Jones had some big shoes to fill. But rather than trying to make the role his own, he instead gives us a poor man's Wesley Snipes. It's as if he's not simply portraying the character of Blade; he's portraying Wesley Snipes portraying Blade.

Though he does it passably well, this was probably a mistake. Look at another vampire franchise that went from a movie to a television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When it transferred from the big to small screen, and changed leads, Sarah Michelle Gellar didn't give us her best Kristy Swanson impression, and the show was all the better for it. Just because Blade chose to maintain continuity where BtVS perhaps did not, that doesn't mean Jones had to try and exactly duplicate Snipes's performances. When a new James Bond shows up, no one expects him to act exactly like the previous one; it should be all about embodying a role, not giving an impersonation. But perhaps Jones'll grow into the role and come to make it his own as the series continues.

If you're wondering why Jones has that "Sticky" middle name, that's because he's also known as Sticky Fingaz, of the rap group Onyx. Though I wasn't previously aware that Sticky Fingaz (or Sticky, as I like to call him) had been acting, he actually has a filmography about as long as the rap sheet of some of his more streetcredworthy rapper contemporaries, including recurring roles in the FX series The Shield and Over There.

If Jones was a poor man's Wesley Snipes, then we might as well call Jill Wagner (Krista) a poor man's (poor woman's?) Amanda Peet. She's lot like her, but without all the talent. She seems a rather dull female lead, though by the end of the episode, enough is revealed about her character to leave her an intriguing puzzle, one that Wagner can hopefully use to distance her character from the trite archetype she starts out as.

The other supporting cast are adequate in their roles. Of this batch, Nelson Lee (Shen) is perhaps the most charismatic, and shows some solid potential for growth into a more interesting character, even if he only showed us the merest glimpses in the pilot. Jackson (Marcus) seems a suitably nasty adversary, though comes off as a bit one-dimensional in what we see of him in the series opener; likewise, his evil sidekick Jessica Gower (the vampiric beauty, Chase) doesn't rise much above the standard sexy woman vampire archetype, though unlike the character of Marcus, she doesn't seem to have as much potential.

The primary problem with the pilot is that it functions too much as a setup for the rest of the series and doesn't work completely on its own—that is, if you were to watch the pilot simply as a two-hour movie, without the promise of more episodes to come, it's unlikely you would have been satisfied. That's a problem with a lot of pilots, especially in SF, Fantasy, or Horror series, and I suppose there's not much to be done about it. One reason is that such shows have to spend much of the time setting up the world in which the show takes place; whereas a show like ER requires no setup (being, as it is, set in the real world, in an emergency room where nothing out of the realm of possibility ever happens), SFnal shows do need setup, sometimes lots of it. But the Blade pilot fails to succeed as a standalone episode despite the fact that it is double-length (a two-hour premiere, to be followed by eleven one-hour episodes); while it does attempt to both tell a complete story while at the same time giving us all the necessary worldbuilding, it unfortunately results in a pilot that just feels overlong.

Also, like a lot of comic book film or television adaptations, much of the dialogue and character actions seem a bit too cartoonish, and so requires a viewer to give the series a little slack. Given that slack, Blade: The Series debuts with an entertaining, action-packed episode, one that will likely please fans of the movies and of ass-kicking vampires in general. All in all, it was fun if middling entertainment, but despite its flaws it did succeed in making me want to watch the next few episodes, which is the ultimate goal of any pilot. And it's far-and-away better than Blade II, though, of course, that's not saying much.

As noted above, Blade: The Series premieres on Wednesday, June 28, 2006 at 10 PM on Spike TV. Encore presentations of the series are scheduled to air on Wednesdays (11:00 PM, ET/PT), Sundays (2:00 AM, ET/PT), and Mondays (10:00 PM, ET/PT).

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