Wednesday, September 21, 2011

9.21.11 My New (Old) TV Boyfriend

Edit: We're further along in the series now, and my evaluation of Barnabas is steering away from "likeable" and closer to "crazy, creepy, control-freak d**k." He's still fun to watch, though!

My life is full of Remarkably Bad Timing. In this case, Linus and I have simultaneously started our new (good, but stressful!) curriculum at school, a demanding Korean language class, and getting serious about our theses again. So when do we get so obsessed with a new TV show that it actively interferes with us getting anything done? Right now, of course!

"New" is actually not a good way to describe this show. It's "Dark Shadows." No, not this one:
That one hasn't come out yet. No, we're talking old school:

For those of you who don't already know, "Dark Shadows" is a cheesy, melodramatic, poorly acted supernatural soap opera from the sixties. Like a lot of the things Linus and I watch (Flash Gordon, anyone?), part of the entertainment value is how bad it is, particularly at the beginning of the series, when there isn't a whole lot of plot to distract us from the high-school-play feeling of some of the performances. The music is pretty hilarious, too. As Linus puts it, "Roughing the theramin - five yard penalty!" Yet as we've continued to watch, we've slowly grown more and more fascinated. Forget being intellectually amused by the shoddy, yet adorably gothic product of a bygone era - this stuff is good.

The best part is trying to untangle the mythology of the "Dark Shadows" universe. The most famous character, and the one who popularized the show, is Barnabas Collins, a two hundred year-old vampire recently released from his coffin by general ne'er-do-well Willy Loomis. Much of Barnabas's story (so far) pulls heavily from the classic Dracula plot: vamp meets girl, vamp makes her sleepwalk, vamp repeatedly drains her blood, she dies and comes back as a vampire "bride," etc.

At the same time, "Dark Shadows" has a unique take on many aspects of vampirism. For example - Barnabas drinks from Willy at least once, and clearly has some sort of control over Willy's behavior, particularly at night. In addition, Willy is unable to eat or drink anything after his first encounter with Barnabas. So Willy appears to be well on the way to vampirism. Yet Willy recovers from his near-draining and regularly goes into sunlight. However, he still feels compelled to remain near Barnabas and work for him, while at the same time his free will remains quite strong, even to the point of his defying Barnabas on occasion.

Wait...what? we asked bemusedly as the series continued. What is up with Willy? Is he a World-of-Darkness-style ghoul? Does Barnabas actually control his movements, or is Willy just too frightened to run away? Barnabas keeps sending Willy out at night to do a "job" for him - so is Willy the one who's draining the local cattle of blood? If so, how, and how does he bring it back to Barnabas? And, and, and...

I apologize; this probably isn't too terribly interesting to most of our readers. But to a vampire lit. nerd like myself, it's fascinating. And the questions about Willy are only the tip of the fang, so to speak. There are so many interesting aspects of vampirism to be found here - everything from an induced aesthetic appreciation of night to heavy-duty brainwashing to the ability to control doors. For the life of me, I can't tell if one of the writers spent a long time considering vampirism, or if the show just keeps randomly throwing out ideas and Linus and I are the ones over-complicating things.

A lot of the fun is that Barnabas Collins makes such a likeable vampire. He's romantic, he's smooth, he seems genuinely interested in and fond of his descendants, and he has a touchingly vulnerable streak. True, he beats Willy with his cane and tries to turn a local girl into the living personification of his dead lover. But hey! For a vampire, that's really not that bad! I wouldn't bet on Barnabas Collins against any of Laurell K. Hamilton's or Anne Rice's far more terrifying vampires - but I absolutely would be rooting for him.


  1. Mr. Kitty and I tried to watch this but didn't get too far... I kept falling asleep! :-D But maybe it was just poor timing. Just the other day we were talking about giving it another chance, after seeing something about the upcoming movie. Based on your rave review, I'd say it definitely deserves another shot!

  2. The trick with Dark Shadows is to stick with it. I actually fast-forwarded through several of the first episodes, but the show does improve as it goes on. Are you watching it on Netflix? The Netflix collection starts in the second season with the introduction of Barnabas - I gather that the previous season wasn't worth saving for posterity. :p

  3. Becky is being gentle to the object of her new obsession here. The pacing of the show is sometimes "glacial" while at other times it moves on a geologic time scale... That said, I am fully addicted too. The ways in which the victims of Barnabus behave are fascinating. I have never seen the process of being embraced examined in such minute detail. The bitten exhibit all kinds of quirky symptoms; my favorite is their fear of doctors. In short, it's worth perservering. :)

  4. This was my favorite show as a kid. For some reason the re-runs were aired when I was about ten, and I was obsessed. I'm not sure where you are in the episodes, but there is a cliff scene tied in with a love story on the show that still haunts me.

  5. I haven't seen that cliff scene yet, but I can guess what you're talking about...I can't wait!

  6. Wow, you guys have me convinced! Yes, we were watching it on Netflix. I'm gonna try to talk Mr. Kitty into giving it another shot. I'm looking forward to the movie quite a lot, but then again, that's probably all Johnny's fault. ;)

  7. Absolutely fascinating article! I love "Dark Shadows"

    Resume Examples

  8. We have talked about writing an episode guide to Dark Shadows if we didn't have so much on our plates. There are whole episodes, or at least large chunks of episodes, that you can skip and not miss much plot movement. I am, however, beginning to see Dark Shadows are more of an atmosphere piece. Yes, there are compelling characters, but it is the overall feeling of the show that I am obsessed with. It does my whithered and blackened heart good... ;)

  9. I love that show! I would hurry home from school to catch it at 4pm every afternoon. In its time, it was about the only show on TV that routinely dealth with the paranormal, the occult, and other oddities. Quite remarkable subject matter for TV of that time (late 60s), although in the popular culture there was a resurgence of interest in such things, but very few representations of them in mainstream media.