Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tanya Huff's Blood Ties Slashes at the Small Screen

A few months ago I enjoyed the guilty pleasure of reading Tanya Huff's (mostly)-set-in-Toronto vampire novel series (Blood Price (1991), Blood Trail (1992), Blood Lines (1993), Blood Pact (1993), and Blood Debt (1997)). Last night I had the equally guilty pleasure of watching Huff's novels translated into the television series Blood Ties (Insight) when its two-hour pilot aired on CityTV. CityTV's description:
Blood Ties follows the misadventures of Vicki Nelson (Christina Cox), a feisty, attractive, 29-year old ex-cop turned private investigator, who seems destined to sit on the sidelines until fate intervenes, turning her life upside down. After witnessing a terrifying murder, she finds herself on a collision course with a stranger who is also investigating the case. He is Henry Fitzroy (Kyle Schmid), a 450-year old vampire who just happens to be the bastard son of King Henry VIII. After solving the murder, Vicki finds her forays into supernatural crime are anything but over. Week after week, Vicki's relationship with Henry draws her into baffling cases involving a terrifying pantheon of occult adversaries. Forget fraud investigations and cheating spouses - she's squaring off against ghosts, goblins and ghouls. Vicki and Henry's unlikely alliance soon progresses beyond a purely professional arrangement, complicating her relationship with her long-suffering ex-partner in policing and love, Detective Mike Celluci (Dylan Neal) and pretty well everything else in her life.
The complete first season will reportedly air on the network this fall.

The trailer (click above to view) zeros in on the characters -- Vicki, her sometime lover (and former police partner) Celluci, and the vampire Henry Fitzroy -- but many of the scenes are stolen by the show's greatest recurring character: the city of Toronto itself, which gleams and flashes and sometimes wails in the background, always a crucial part of the action. The lens lurches between scenes set in clubs, condos, alleyways, greenspaces, and underground parking garages that are always almost recognisable, set against the streaming lights of traffic and the CN Tower set apart in the distance as if watching over the city.

The Toronto Star's Vinay Menon gives Blood Ties a decidedly mediocre review, citing its clumsy plotting, occasionally facile logic (Menon writes, bitingly, "At one point, Vicki leaves a voicemail for Mike: 'This is going to sound crazy, but I've plotted the locations of the three murders. And they make up the first three points of a pentagram.' Lesson No. 8: What appears to be the first three points of a pentagram could, in fact, simply be a triangle."), and unoriginal love triangle. And it is true that some of the acting seems wooden, the narrative a little disjointed. I was disappointed, too, that the pilot, while true to the novels in many respects (perhaps too true at times), abandons scenes Huff set at York University's post-industrial campus and environs and filmed them instead at the University of Toronto and Annex neighbourhood. Nonetheless, as Menon acknowledges, Blood Ties is an adequate addition to the vampire canon. Apart from the setting and the camera's evident love for Toronto, my own favourite part of the pilot is Vicky Nelson, a powerful, brash, independent ex-cop who takes on her own battles and who, when attacked, fights back with fists and blade rather than shriek and flail helplessly. This is a welcome departure not only from cinematic convention but also from the vampire genre, which generally narrates women as helpless or insatiable.

Blood Ties is not the first vampire television series set in Toronto. Between 1992 and 1995 Forever Knight aired for three seasons on CBS television, and was arguably a more sophisticated exploration of the shades of darkness manifested in all vampire narratives. But as this hot summer slips into fall and bright days begin to fade into twilight, it seems wholly appropriate that we might look forward to another chilling season, on television at least.

[In conjunction with the Imagining Toronto project, Amy Lavender Harris writes regularly about the imaginative qualities of cities. Lately she has been collecting and watching television series set in Toronto, including the courtroom drama This is Wonderland (strikingly similar to Harry Wodson's 1909 book, The Whirlpool: Scenes From Toronto Police Court) and Twitch City. She's still hoping for a DVD release of King of Kensington. This commentary first appeared at Reading Toronto]

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