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"Blade" keeps mowing ’em down for viewers (buffy mention)

Wednesday 28 June 2006, by Webmaster

Spike TV, which no longer calls itself a "Network for Men" but still basically is, gets into the original drama business tonight with "Blade: The Series," based on the vampire-hunter movies starring Wesley Snipes (which are based in turn, as so much seems to be nowadays, on a character from Marvel Comics).

Rapper-actor Kirk "Sticky" (previously "Sticky Fingaz") Jones puts on Snipes’ dark glasses here; he is wider and less lithe than his predecessor, and less famous, but quite as adept at deleting the undead.

Vampire films are nearly as old as the movies themselves, and they have never gone away for long. The bloodsucking undead are a staple of low-budget films of both the crassly commercial and arty independent varieties, and every now and then the subject of a major production.

Vampires have proved adaptable to comedy, metaphysical pretentiousness, soft-core pornography and all manner of mad monster mash-ups. There is probably a graduate thesis on a university library shelf somewhere reckoning why we love them so, much more than wolfmen or zombies or mummies - really, they’re the best of all possible monsters, certainly the best-spoken, undeniably the sexiest. And there are the capes, of course.

In "Blade" as elsewhere, movie vampires - as opposed, you know, to the actual kind - tend to be sophisticated, sensual aesthetes who have had hundreds of years to refine their tastes and/or kinky nut cases so jaded by having done everything six thousand times that they push the limits of acceptable behavior at every turn. (That neck-biting isn’t the half of it.)

In more recent films, the focus on the solo vampire has switched to contemplating their social networks - in "Blade" there is a kind of old-blood/new-blood dichotomy - and they tend to hang around in nightclubs, because after all, what else is open when they’re up, except for Kinko’s and 7-Eleven? Like ordinary mortal hipsters, they tend to look down on the squares, which is to say, the merely living. Their hunters, meanwhile, are often monomaniacs with untrendy facial hair and an inferior fashion sense.

A little movie and big TV series called "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" changed all that. "Buffy" unmasked vampires as not only evil, but also as hopelessly uncool in their snobby pretension - just like, you know, the popular kids in high school. The hunters got all the best lines, and the better clothes, and get to enjoy themselves a little.

Blade - who as a comic-book character preceded "Buffy" but as a movie franchise followed her - doesn’t say much, or seem to be having any fun at all. But he does have a certain sort of retro glamour, probably not out of line with the Spike demographic. (With his leathers, and big motorcycle and tattoo, he would not be out of place on something like "American Chopper" or one of those bounty-hunter reality shows.) Like Angel, the "Buffy" character who just says no to blood, he’s a vampire with principles - only half a vampire, actually, his pregnant mother having been bitten by one - and has set himself against his amoral brethren.

"Blade: The Series" is pretty good, really, as these things go. David Goyer, who wrote the "Blade" movies, as well as "Batman Begins," is the series’ executive producer, so there’s some quality control; held over from the movies are the vampire-wannabes, the crooked cops, the scientific search for an improved vampire - in this case, a cure for garlic. (Really.)

It’s not as pop-culturally knowing as "Buffy," which some might account a good thing, but the action is active and the suspense fairly suspenseful. (There’s a little too much slo-mo for my taste, but that is just the price of watching an action show in 2006.) It generally plays by the hallowed (or unhallowed, I suppose) rules of the form - including the Spike-friendly lesbian overtones and Frederick’s of Transylvania nightwear for the women - and there are obvious set-ups and scenes whose end is clearly written in their beginning. But it is not without surprises, or at least questions that remain open longer than you might expect.

The rest of the regular cast includes Neil Jackson as not-quite-head vampire Marcus - he reports to an unseen board of directors - who, as if he didn’t have enough on his pale dead hands already, is campaigning to save the architectural landmarks of Detroit, where the series is set. (Presumably for its abundance of derelict buildings and its disposable human underclass. Or perhaps because the White Stripes come from there.)

Marcus has his eyes set on Krista (Jill Wagner), a beautiful Iraq war vet who falls afoul of him while trying to find the dirty rat who killed her brother, but I think Blade likes her too. Vampiress Chase (Jessica Gower) is in there as well. (I smell trouble.) And Nelson Lee as Shen, Blade’s techie assistant, doesn’t get a girlfriend, just gadgets.

’Blade: The Series’

Where: Spike

When: 10 tonight

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14)