Or Nah? is a feature where we watch and review the first episode of a new TV show. We’ll let you know if it’s worth checking out. As always, these reviews are the opinion of the reviewer, but we’ll try to adequately explain why you should or shouldn’t give the show a chance and provide shows for comparison.
Van Helsing – S1E1/S1E2 – “Help Me”/”Seen You” | Created by Neil LaBute | Network: SyFy. 13-episode first season. | Starring: Kelly Overton, Jonathan Scarfe, Christopher Heyerdahl, Rukiya Bernard, David Cubitt, Vincent Gale, Hilary Jardine, Aleks Paunovic, Alison Wandzura.
“Vanessa Helsing, distant relative of famous vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing, is resurrected only to find that vampires have taken over the world. She is humanity’s last hope to lead an offensive to take back what has been lost.”
And so reads the official synopsis for the new apocalyptic series from the SyFy network. Echoing a similar trope to that of 12 Monkeys, the world is in shit and it’s up to a ragtag bunch of soldiers and doctors, lead by a mysterious “chosen one” with connections to the past, to put everything back to the way it should be. The powers-that-be at SyFy obviously think that if they can repeat 12 Monkeys successful formula with Van Helsing, then they and their audience will be on to another winner. How that’s going to work out for them remains to be seen.
What’s it about?
The two-part series premiere reverses the story chronologically. Part one opens up in 2019, three years after an event called The Rising. Our titular heroine is lying on a hospital gurney, out for the count for the last three years. She’s important, and we know this because she’s being protected by marines and doctors from vampires that have infested the northwest of America when a volcano erupted in 2013, blotting out the sun’s UV rays. We’re in the thick of the action straight away, and eventually so is the comatose patient. A vampire hoard have infiltrated the hospital and mean to put an end to her. But she wakes just as a vampire bites her and flicks into Buffy-mode. Without giving too much away, for fear of spoiling the potential viewer, strange shit happens – much of it intriguing.
Part two of the premiere deals with what happened at the time of the eruption. We’re introduced to Rukiyo Bernard’s Doc, who it seems will be a vital member of the cast in future episodes. In fact, many of the cast from part one are further fleshed out, including Axel (Jonathan Scarfe), Sam (Christopher Heyerdahl), and thankfully Vanessa herself (True Blood’s Kelly Overton). Vanessa was attacked and bitten on the day of The Rising, leaving her young daughter Dylan alone and distraught.
It’s important to note at this early stage that the name Helsing or even Van Helsing isn’t mentioned in the premiere. It’s enough to know that the vampire leaders know she exists and she’s incredibly important to their plans – whatever they are. Vanessa herself isn’t aware of her importance either. She just wants to escape the hospital and find her daughter.
The Dracula mythos continues to offer plenty of launch pads for burgeoning franchises, to varying degrees of success. The Hugh Jackman movie of the same name promised a different take, but ultimately was classed as a failure. Reimagining the lead as a female is a hark back to the halcyon days of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and should be all the better for it. While the whole end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it thing has been done many times before (12 Monkeys, The Walking Dead, Z Nation), it’s a genre/trope that, done well, can continue to entertain. There’s no doubt in my mind that Van Helsing is entertaining. There’s enough gore and mystery to persuade me to come back and see what happens next.
I don’t want to get too picky, because this is a show that you’ll either like or you won’t. It all on depends whether or not you think vampires are well past their use-by date. Penny Dreadful could’ve been awful, but it wasn’t. Going by the two part premiere, Van Helsing is no Penny Dreadful (no Eva Greene, sadly), but it’s definitely not awful. If I have a quibble, it’s that I got no sense of how The Rising affected the rest of the country and even the world. Is it just the Seattle area that’s under siege? I want to know more. And Axel? Is that the best name Neil LaBute could come up with for his male lead? Come on!
Watch this if you like: 12 Monkeys and anything that has vampires in it.
Van Helsing series premiere
Plot: As mentioned before, it’s the “old reliable”: one woman’s mission to save her daughter and the world from evil-doers. I’ve no problem with this.
Action: There’s plenty of it. And plenty more to come.
Dialogue: Neil LaBute is the man behind a number of productions, such as The Wicker Man (Ugh), Nurse Betty (Okay), as well as being a playwright of some repute. He also sat in the director’s chair for AMC’s Hell On Wheels. He’s got form – not all of it good – but he’s got a good ear for dialogue.
Performances: Despite – or even because of – the genre, the cast are uniformly good. My favourite is Doc. She’s put through the wringer in the series premiere, and Bernard gives a sterling performance. As we get to know more about Vanessa throughout the season, I feel Overton will flourish in her role. The show rests on her capable shoulders. The men are, well, men. We’ll get to see them strut their stuff no doubt.