Saturday, July 9, 2016

Kindred: The Embraced review

    Oh, Kindred: The Embraced. I love you, I hate you, and am both kind of bored with you as well as moderately entertained. You are, in many respects, three of my ex-girlfriends. The ones I met and dated before I met my wife. Kindred: The Embraced isn't the definitive vampire show for someone who wants to do a Vampire: The Masquerade story. No, that would be Forever Knight and True Blood. Hell, even Vampire Diaries would be a better choice if you got right down to it but it's still entertaining in its own cheesy Aaron Spelling way.

The protagonist is the Prince of the City. This is unprecedented in all of Vampire: The Masquerade gaming.
    There's potential in Kindred: The Embraced, potential which sadly was never realized due to Marcus Frankel's untimely death. The problem isn't with any of the actors as C Thomas Howell is the worst actor of the bunch but even he is entertaining in an "80s cop cliche in a vampire show" sort of way while everyone else seems to realize they're in a supernatural melodrama and enjoys hamming (or should I say vamping?) it up in a sexy fun way.

    The first episodes were terrible but quickly picked themselves up and started to find their footing to the point I was actually invested in what happened next. The pacing was terrible but there were some really good episodes that would have made it watchable if the eight-episodes of the series were actually thirteen and the other five were crap. I have a number of theories about what happened to this show but I'll wait until the end of my review to share them.

I really liked these two together even if she was the psycho-ex and he was a cheating bastard.
    The premise of the show, which is an adaptation of Vampire: The Masquerade to television but (for whatever reason) they didn't call it that, is the same as the games. There's vampires in the cities of the world, they have formed a society, and they are hiding from humans. This wasn't really a new idea even when Vampire: The Masquerade did it in 1991 but they certainly popularized the concept. The vamp...err, sorry, KINDRED control the police, corporations and organized crime of San Fransisco while humans remain unaware.

    The show was, I think, supposed to be about how C Thomas Howell's character of Frank Kohanek serves as the every-man San Fransisco police officer who gets involved in the seedy underbelly of Kindred politics. His girlfriend, Alexandra, is killed in the first episode (but not really) and he vows revenge on the Prince of the City (Mark Frankel). The pilot was setting him up on his quest for revenge and we had a much more antagonistic relationship between the two, like Capone and Ness in the 90s Untouchables' remake.

Brigid Brannagh had way too much charisma for the role of vampire brat Sasha.
    This is all thrown out in the second episode. "Prince of the City" is, essentially, a second pilot which starts the story over with the aforementioned Prince of the City, Julian Luna, as the Friendly Neighborhood VampireTM protagonist of the show. C Thomas Howell is moved to a supporting role in the story and everything subsequently revolves around Julian Luna's fight to maintain power despite the fact he's tough on Kindred, soft on humans. He's the sympathetic Michael Corleone of the group, though even nicer, which provides the center for the show to rest on.

    There's also numerous late-night soap opera plots going on besides the central premise. Stacy Haiduk, absolutely gorgeous in this role, plays Lilly Langtree as the Prince's discarded mistress as well as the Toreador Primogen. Brigid Brannagh does an excellent job as Sasha, the rebellious teenage daughter of Luna. Jeff Kober plays the extremely sexy Nosferatu romantic, which makes no damn sense if you know anything about Vampire: The Masquerade but is still probably the best performance in the group. I even liked Kelly Rutherford's character of Caitlin Byrne, Julian's current mistress and a hopelessly compromised reporter.

It's funny that Lilly Langtree was probably the most evil of the characters on the show but also one of the most likable.
    In a very real way, the identity crisis of Kindred: The Embraced prevented it from becoming the show it could have been despite having real potential. It's a vampire show and a mafia show which is seemingly embarrassed about being both. This was before the Twilight craze so it seemed Fox was hesitant about naming it Vampire: The Masquerade the series or just Vampire: The Embraced. They also shied away from horror elements and even had the vampires running around in daytime. Some people have mentioned that's to prevent the problems of shooting at night but I call B.S. on that. Just film indoors then.

    The show is also sort of bogged down about its mafia roots either. Julian Luna is the head of the Kindred and meant to be the boss of bosses but we never really see him do anything nefarious and he even claims vampires (sorry, Kindred) don't break the law with the exception of the "evil" Brujah. Which is something which really ticked off V:TM fans because the badass bikers of the game were the Gangrel, the mafiosi villains were Brujah, the Tremere were absent, the Nosferatu were good looking, and the hero was the EstablishmentTM. It was like Kindred: The Embraced was some weird mirror universe of how V:TM was normally played.

The cast was a bit too large for the way it was balanced. Still, I wanted to see some Tremere and Malkavians dammit!
    Mark Frankel gave a great performance as Julian Luna and it's no surprise he became the star of the show after one episode. The whole "tortured vampire who doesn't want to hurt anyone but has to anyway" is old hat now but it works, dammit. It helps he has good sexual chemistry with both Stacy Haiduk and Kelly Ruthford. He has good platonic chemistry with just about everyone else on the cast too. I fully believe this show would have been rescued if it had been transported to Showtime the same way Stargate was by transporting itself to Sci-Fi.

    Even so, the show really needed more space to breathe. One of the worst plots on the show was Sasha and Cash's romance. Basically, the Gangrel and Brujah hate each other on the show (okay) so it's meant to be this Romeo and Juliet situation. Except, all of the Brujah are assholes and the Gangrel are completely underdeveloped so I have no idea what the feud is all about. Sasha and Cash are deeply in love by Episode 2, she's embraced, and then they can't be together for reasons which are barely touched on.
Oh how hideous. You are cursed! CURSED!

    It was slowly morphing into a "supernatural treat of the week" series by the end and I was reasonably okay with that. I also felt Brian Thompson was underused as a villain even if I have no problem with his performance. Some of the best episodes in the city are following his failed blundering at being a hardass. Really, my favorite character was Stacy Haiduk's Lilly Langtree and it's weird I consider this eight episode character one of the most sultry of my media experience but I just utterly fell in love with her.

    Would I, as the archetypal V:TM player, done it differently? Oh yes. I would have made Sasha the protagonist (a female lead in a vampire show!? Ridiculous!) and used her as the introduction to the vampire world. I would have made Luna a more ambiguous figure and I would have cut Howell completely. I also would have gotten someone with charisma more than a block of wood to play Sasha's love interest. Despite this, I enjoyed the show for what it was.

    In conclusion, Kindred: The Embraced is basically a niche show for Vampire: The Masquerade fans. I don't think anyone else will get as much out of it but it's an enjoyable thing to have in your collection. I would say someone should do another Vampire: The Masquerade TV show but, well, they did True Blood which was less an adaptation of Charlaine Harris' novels and more Louisiana by Night toward the end.


  1. So corny but I loved it. Calling it a niche show for VtM fans sums it up perfectly. I got a kick out of True Blood everytime there was a similarity to the game.

    1. Yeah, True Blood was basically Louisiana By Night.