At first glance, it's easy to assume that Lifetime's series Blood Ties is just the latest in a string of successful vampire entertainment series for which it seems audiences have an unquenchable Gothic thirst.
Much like the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off Angel was a detective style series inspired by vintage Film Noir, Blood Ties also is described as “A Crime Series, With Bite." But one major difference between this one and the rest is that Ties is actually older than Twilight, Buffy HBO's hit True Blood as well as the Sookie Stackhouse books upon which the Golden Globe winning success is based.
Set in Toronto, the “Blood” books from author Tanya Huff first debuted in the early '90s, giving avid readers a Dracula spin on traditional police procedural or private investigator fodder by blending the genres into one.
And as far flung as the ideas that Huff combines seem, surprisingly, with the addition of a love triangle, the ingredients cook up rather well as witnessed in this unfortunately short-lived series that's been captured in its entirety as a seven-DVD or four-Blu-ray box set.
As the series begins, we encounter the asp carrying former police officer Vicki Nelson (Christina Cox) who walked away from the force when a diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa threatened to find her weakened eyes growing wearier as a dissatisfied desk jockey, watching others have the glory of making arrests in her place.
Opening up a firm as a private investigator and still keeping the lines of communication and flirtation open with her old lover and partner Mike Celluci (Dylan Neal) as they swap stories and compare clues over takeout, Vicki begins to get a reputation as the woman who handles all things “weird” when she witnesses with her own untrustworthy eyes a murder that is right out of a classic vampire tale.
Vicki gains two new allies in the form of Henry Fitzroy (Kyle Schmid), the former Duke of Richmond and illegitimate son of Henry VIII who has lived as a vampire for well over four centuries and the bookish Gothic obsessed Coreen (Gina Hoklen) who becomes Vicki's receptionist and administrative assistant after the detective tracks down her boyfriend's killer with the help of new partner, Henry.
Attracted by the fact that she isn't instantly attracted to his ladykilling vamp ways along with the fact that she's the only person he can't mentally coax into forgetting something or thinking something else just by using his eerie power of suggestion, Henry develops quite a crush on the beautiful but headstrong and emotionally closed off Vicki. It's this romantic underpinning in the series that complicates everything in their professional and personal lives since – when Mike is added into the mix – there's no separating the romantic and platonic a la Twilight.
Despite its potential, the series suffers a bit from its post Buffy existence since even in its forced moments of lightness or humor it remains deadly serious and slightly draining. Nonetheless, it's still an impressive game changer for detective series and fantasy dramas since you couldn't solely classify it in one realm, making Blood Ties that rare crossover show that could generate fans in audience/interest pools that would typically stay away from the topic.
Watched in quick succession, it does reveal its far too predictive nature that – like Buffy and Angel -- brings on a “freak of the week” style problem they need to solve. And at times Cox's portrayal of Vicki is so forceful and brash it's a wonder that the rest of the characters would want anything to do with Ms. Nelson. Yet overall, it's sure to appeal to mystery fans not afraid to walk on the fantastical side and vamp devotees who like to cross that thin blue (or in this case red) line.
Disappointingly for a series only a few years old, we receive a muddied transfer that makes audiences all feel like we've inherited some of Vicki's eyesight troubles at times as the typically night set series looks a bit grainy and murky on DVD bogging it down in places. In fact, we find it's at its most successful and breathtaking when the production designers' impressive work is on display in episodes with elaborate decoration when cases take us indoors or into the harsh light of day.
Additionally it features a standout episode in the form of director David Winning's “5:55” that even manages to top the one penned by Huff (“Stone Cold”). So ingenious it could've been a film in it's own right, the powerful "5:55" manages to make up for the fact that you'll be slightly dejected that the show simply runs out after twenty-two episodes that makes it feel more like one season as opposed to two before it was canceled.
And despite some of its flaws like the visual grain that managed to show up in the digital translation, it's still a highly watchable, smart and seductive series that goes beyond saluting the long line of vampire entertainment by once again giving us a unique, gutsy lead who more than earns her place in the pantheon of science fiction/fantasy heroines.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.