Blade, the „daywalker“, is back. And our vampire-hunting semi-vampire has his plate full: mysterious shipments, a new illegal drug, rival vampire houses – Blade tries to make sense of it all and he needs to crack the vampires’ close-knit and secretive community. He has a new weapons&tech guy by his side, as well as army-vet Krista who is looking for her brother’s killer.
I remember catching an episode or two of this show back when it was shown on TV. And I remember that it looked interesting, even though I had no idea what was going on.
The showrunners tried to treat this show as a direct continuation of the Wesley Snipes Blade films. According to Wikipedia, this film follows the third and final Blade film; although I think nothing is really keeping you from building your own universe in this regard, and if you feel that the show works better if you think about it as a continuation of only the first film, or the first two (disregarding the remainder accordingly), I am sure no-one will stop you.
Being based on the films, the Blade TV-series is by definition not a 100% faithful adaptation of the original Marvel comics. And with the show being a direct continuation of the films, the titular character also had to be portrayed in continuation – for better or for worse. So our anti-hero is directly based on Wesley Snipes’s performance. And this causes a problem for the lead actor who is meant to replace him, Kirk Jones (a. k. a. Sticky Fingaz). Jones is in excellent shape, but he cannot rival the almost inhuman physique that Snipes had during the Blade films. But for me the problems lie in the acting: with Jones apparently being expected to emulate all of the mannerisms and attitudes of Snipes’s Blade. This seems to destroy Jones’s take on the role and makes his performance feel weak and forced. He is also slurring his speech when trying to emulate Snipes’s growling snarls, and his lines are rather difficult to understand. I have no doubt that, had he been given the chance to approach the character on his own terms and from a different angle, Jones would have been able to give a much better performance.
But this is not simply an acting problem, it is compounded by a writing problem as well, with the Blade character simply not being all that interestingly written, despite lots of backstory and oodles of flashbacks. Oh so many flashbacks. And then some more flashbacks. Long and often boring flashbacks to Blade’s childhood/youth. The flashbacks are meant to increase your interest and investment in the character. But it has the opposite effect: you do not care about this character in the first place anyway (because of the writing and the performance), and the flashbacks are not nearly relevant or impactful enough to change this, and so the character makes the flashbacks feel boring and the flashbacks make the character feel boring.
An additional problem with all this Blade backstory and the flashbacks: there is way too much fan service, too much explaining things from the films that do not need to be explained. It is the same problem that the recent Star Wars stand-alone films (Solo; Rogue One) have suffered from: the relentless attempts by the writers to provide explanations no-one had been asking for.
So Blade, as a character, is a bit of a dud; but luckily enough this show is Krista’s story more than it is Blade’s. The writers seem to have recognised at the very beginning of the project that the distant and emotion-free Blade might work for an action film, but is just not a character you can build a story around for a season-long arc. Krista has everything that is missing in Blade: emotions, conflict, human interaction, people who care about her, etc. So despite the fact that Jones’s performance as Blade is compromised, you still have Jill Wagner’s Krista who captures your interest as you follow her journey. But since the show is called Blade, the showrunners were not brave enough to fully concentrate on Krista and treat Blade more as a side-kick.
Blade is not the only character treated to flashbacks. Krista has a few, but they are mostly short and work well. There are, however, also extensive flashbacks in this film featuring “third parties”, and – like Blade’s – those flashbacks are really ones I could have done without.
This is just one of the many – mostly minor – writing problems on this show. There are a number of minor plot holes, for example, as well as a subplot concerning an entirely unconnected character which does not really pay off. Then there are episodes devoted to Blade’s past, which – as I pointed out above – I am not interested in; and towards the end of the season there are two unnecessary detours which feel like an attempt to give the Blade character more things to do – and to give Jones more screen time. For one of these episodes, Krista is literally taken out of commission just so that the writers have an excuse to not devote any time to her. That episode, which concerns a psychotic vampire unconnected to anything in the show, feels like an attempt to establish a precedent for a “monster-of-the-week” system à la Supernatural, and I am tempted to think that it was some sort of test balloon to find out if this approach might work in future seasons.
These writing problems never weigh the show down too much, but they begin to pile up near the end of the season and can give you the impression that the show is coming apart at its seams. Giving Blade, who is a poorly written character, more screen time means that you lower the quality of those episodes. There are also decisions by various characters that are “out-of-character”, and there are characters who suddenly seem to be less clever than they had been before. One final problem with the later episodes lies in the fact that they did not take enough care with the casting of certain minor characters simply because they were minor. But these characters were nevertheless crucial to sell the episode in question, or to sell a certain concept. And simply hiring solid actors who give a good performance is not enough for these kind of roles – what would be needed in each case is very good writing, and a very good, handpicked actor with the right kind of charisma for that particular role.
As far as the tone is concerned, this show is pretty much on par with the films. It is an action-based show with lots of fights, but there is also the season-long story arc, and the show also has detective-show style elements (which work quite well with the franchise’s gritty and neo-noir vibes). The eroticism also seems to have been turned up a notch in comparison to the films.
Where the show does excel, in my opinion, is its interesting world and the excellent world-building (forced exposition notwithstanding). It also has the fitting sets, locations and establishing shots to build an atmosphere that brings this world to life. There was a lot of commitment behind this show which counts many people with comic book connections amongst its producers (Avi Arad, Geoff Johns, and David S. Goyer (who had written the screenplay for all of the Blade films and had also directed the third)) – the production values are high and the show was definitely not cheap to film. Money is also the main reason why only one season was ever made.
As I said, the show’s world is very interesting. And part of that world is politics: the history and rivalries of the “Twelve Houses” (this show’s vampire clans) and the inner workings of the House of Chthon. In my review of the first Blade film I lamented that more could have been explored in that area, but I also assumed that this was not of interest for a general audience. So I was surprised and happy to see that this show built its plot around precisely this element. It is all still pretty vague, and lots of things are left in the dark so as not to narrow down potential plotlines in future seasons (which never came to pass), but there was enough for me to keep me interested. This is especially thanks to the performances of Neil Jackson and of Emily Hirst as two key characters in the House of Chthon. Hirst, who was only 13 at the time of shooting, gives an outstanding performance easily making you believe that her character is hundreds of years old.
And the show generally has very strong acting throughout anyway. Jones and Wagner are the lead actors, but they are surrounded by a supporting cast that do a great job, particularly Nelson Lee and Jessica Gower. Another actor who stands out (literally) is John DeSantis. There are too many good performances to name all the actors. Some of the more recognisable faces belong to Larry Poindexter, Steve Bacic, and Kavan Smith. Randy Quaid delivers some exposition in one of the episodes, and there is a brief cameo by Richard Roundtree.
Unfortunately, the show – which was never picked up for a second season – ends on a sort of cliffhanger. But most of the season’s main plot lines have been brought to a close, and I am flexible when it comes to that sort of thing: from what they have presented me with, I can easily imagine what changes they would have made to the season finale had they known that it would forever remain the final episode of the show.
I guess I’ll have to rate this show, with all its flaws, at 7 out of 10. But this show is right up my alley and could have easily ended up at a 9-out-of-10 rating if it had less problems – especially if they had handled the Blade character better, or had been brave enough to push him even more into the background in favour of Krista.
PS: The show consists of a feature-length pilot and 11 additional episodes. So imdb lists this show as having 12 episodes. Other sites treat the pilot as a TV-movie, and therefore will claim the show has 11 episodes. Whereas my DVD box-set counts the pilot as two episodes (I am sure, it has been split up on occasion for TV broadcasts anyway) and thus states that it contains 13 episodes.
So when you are looking for a specific scene/character and someone tells you to look for “episode 5”, for example, you may be encountering lists where the episodes are numbered differently. That may be a minor issue, but it could also become a case of “buyer beware”. While my box-set, as I said, includes the pilot and all the episodes, it might (in theory) be possibly that other box-sets do not contain the pilot (which has been occasionally marketed on a separate DVD under the title House of Chthon). I am not sure this is really an existing issue with this show, but I know of other shows where this has actually happened. So just make sure you know the box-set you are buying is actually really complete.
PPS: If you are in the US, or have otherwise access to the site, you can currently stream the show for free on tubi.