I’m drawn to vampire shows like a moth to a flame. Not all of them pan out (like zombie media!), but the concept of a (typically) unending being in nearly every possible time period is ripe with potential. Well, NOS4A2 definitely has potential, but I’m not sure it’s going to get to where it needs to be by the time the first season ends.
Don’t go in thinking NOS4A2 is going to be a “vampire show.” Amid the merits of whether or not Charlie Manx, the main antagonist, is a true “creature of the night,” it’s kind of half-fantasy, half-drama, with a large focus on classism and divorce. Ashleigh Cummings stars as Vic McQueen: a girl who’s about to finish high school and finds out that she’s a “strong creative,” capable of witnessing horrific events on other worldly planes. Slowly but surely she’s led to Manx, who captures “unfortunately homed” children and lets them live in “Christmasland,” a dimension of his creation. In case you didn’t get the idea, Christmasland is a justification for Manx to steal the souls of children to keep him young and vibrant.
Vic’s life, to put it bluntly, sucks. Her parents constantly fight and struggle with working class problems, leading to her father leaving her family for another woman, setting up all sorts of adversarial scenarios with the family. Vic doesn’t want to clean houses with her mom but simply can’t live with her dad and his girlfriend. She’s a talented artist, but can’t afford to go to college and her financial aid plans are put on hold by some unscrupulously hidden family tax returns (or lack thereof).
It’s not exactly campy. Cummings slides right into the role and has chemistry with her parents (which includes another mopey role for Ebon Moss-Bachrach to sink his teeth into). It straddles the line between young adult and straight-up adult, the latter of which is inline with something like AMC’s own Preacher. There’s sincere moments of dread and some real cheeseball scenes, sometimes in the same episode. Tonally it’s a bit all over the place but it usually comes back and grounds itself.
Partly because Zachary Quinto is such a good character actor. It’s nice to see him in a lead villain role again, and he owns every scene he’s in. Although he’s far from admirable, Manx is enigmatic enough where you want to keep watching to see where he came from, why he’s able to do what he does, and what he actually does. NOS4A2 seems keen to answer most of those questions without dangling them in front of us.
Yet, it’s a very slow burn. We were given access to the first six episodes (of ten) and in the grand scheme of things, Vic is just getting started. We’re still very much in the character developmental stages, which will likely pay off in the second half or if the show is lucky enough to garner an additional season order, but it could stand to be a little quicker. A lot of time is spent on her parents, who often just yell and mope around, allowing Vic to have another moment of clarity on her own personal journey in life, and as a mystical strong creative. Thankfully there’s very little in the way of high school antics so it doesn’t go overboard. I’m willing to take the ride with NOS4A2. There’s a lot of potential on the table there with a more pointed direction and cleaned-up dialogue, though I’m not actually sure if the producers are going for a “CW-esque” feel to it in the wake of the all-powerful specter of Riverdale. If not, they have time to get things back on track and give us a unique cat and mouse game that’s worth watching.