Last week saw the premiere of AMC’s Interview with the Vampire TV show, an uncalled-for small-screen adaptation of a beloved vampire film that repackages the genre’s familiar tropes – primarily, a heedless young female hemovore reined in by her older male handler, who constantly wrestles with the cloudy morality of their untenable lifestyle – with a more diverse cast and timely nods to the now. Those not taken with the update of Anne Rice’s dark fable yet invested in its basic setup will be relieved to find that this week brings another series fitting that exact description, complete with matching sexual metaphors. Though this viewer would also be disappointed to discover that Let the Right One In, a reimagining of the Swedish bestseller that’s already spawned two well-regarded movies, suffers from the same ailment of needless elongation due to a surfeit of subplots padding the original text. A feature’s worth of history cannot always be made to fill a serial run time, but it seems that that’s not going to stop anyone from trying.
This odd twinning comes not from a sudden demand for vampiric content in specific, but a vaster decline in television’s green-lighting protocols. An addiction to intellectual property has convinced executives that anything anyone has enjoyed at any point in the past should and must be revived to reap the bounties of name recognition. This shaky, oft-disproved logic is at its most problematic in the case of cinema-to-TV conversion, which invariably occupies its many hours with world-building that overdraws on premises already realized to completion. As for the new project created by playwright Andrew Hinderaker (his experience in the macabre on Penny Dreadful qualifying him for the gig), that means an offbeat inflection on usual bloodsucker lore also needs to accommodate a murder mystery, a cop procedural, a sci- fi soap opera and the occasional dash of haute restaurant drama straight out of The Bear. With so many plates a-spinning, the relationships between characters get winnowed down to simpler and more conventional forms, somehow developed less in eight hours than they’ve already been in two, twice over.
In John Ajvide Lindqvist’s source novel, the little vampire was a 200-year-old castrato stuck in a barely pubescent body, looked after by a kindly pedophile atoning for his sins. The Swedish and American films eased up on the button-pushing while maintaining the unusual tension of their central pair, the older companion cast as a duty-bound guardian looking on his procuring of victims as a roundabout moral obligation. In the latest iteration, Mark Kane (Demián Bichir, a world-class talent stiffed on A-list status despite an Oscar nomination and a Tarantino role to his credit) really is dad to young Eleanor (Madison Taylor Baez), going on her 10th year as an unageing 12-year-old. His de ella love de ella for her is a parent’s love for their child de ella, clean and sympathy-friendly. They wind up back in their home of New York after scouring the globe for a cure to her condition, a grabbier mission that supplants the tentative, awkward bonding between Eleanor and her sole friend of her Isaiah (Ian Foreman) as the writing’s prevailing focus.
Isaiah opens the door for a herd of tertiary characters, first among them his mother (Anika Noni Rose), the cop assigned to a case linked to Eleanor in the kind of narrative contrivance that exposes a cheap reliance on week-to-week stoking of tension for its own sake. (Of course, she and Mark flirt with the prospect of a romance – but will she uncover his secret? Stay tuned to find out!) Most tiresome of all is a seemingly isolated B-plot set in the lab where the scion (Grace Gummer ) to the opioid empire built by her father (Zeljko Ivanek) tries to make good by devising a vampire antidote. On the one hand, these passages do not enrich the main action in any meaningful way and build to an equally pointless twist trying to announce itself as a jaw-dropper; on the other, this is where we meet the vampire monkey, the clear breakout star of the show.
And on the matter of things being thrown in without much of an argument for why – much attention is drawn to the Latino heritage of the leads, though this dimension of their identities has neither been incorporated in a holistic capacity, nor left alone to stand as a self-evident reframing. An exchange in Spanish here and a discussion about Mexican cuisine there give the impression of asking for credit after slapping a fresh coat of diversity on a generic character schematic. Like pretty much everything else about this show – not you, Demián Bichir, you’re innocent in all this – this facet has little to justify its own existence. Even in an intellectually wall-down version, this concept has nonetheless been made unwieldy by expansion, saddled with anonymous cityscape cinematography where the original had frosty atmosphere, and forced into open-endedness allowing for another season. It’s hard to imagine the consumer demanding this, and yet the presumed whims of a market are as much a motivating factor here as any artistic inspiration.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism