Blood Ties
based on the novels by Tanya Huff
(Lifetime, 2010)

There was a time, not that long ago, when vampire fiction was harder to find. Vampires in the movies or on TV were even rarer. And, while so many vampire fans back then were lining up on the side of angsty Anne Rice or Nike-obsessed Laurell K. Hamilton, I was ravenously devouring the five-book Blood series by Tanya Huff.

Huff's series -- Blood Price, Blood Trail, Blood Lines, Blood Pact and Blood Debt (see individual book reviews here) -- introduced readers to private investigator Vicki Nelson, centuries-old writer/vampire Henry Fitzroy and hard-boiled police detective Mike Celluci. Despite Nelson's initial skepticism and Celluci's outright hostility, the team managed to overcome a tidal wave of supernatural horrors prowling the Toronto streets and surroundings.

The series came to television in 2006 and, while it lasted a scant 22 episodes over two seasons, it stands as an example of how books can leap from page to screen without compromising their identity.

And while there are a few changes -- Fitzroy, for instance, writes and illustrates graphic novels these days, instead of romances -- the series holds true to the characters as Huff intended ... perhaps because the series included Huff in the creative process.

The series featured good writing and a strong cast, starring Christina Cox as Nelson, Kyle Schmid as Fitzroy and Dylan Neal as Celluci, along with regulars including Gina Holden as Nelson's goth assistant Coreen Fennel, Francoise Yip as Celluci's disbelieving partner Kate Lam and Nimet Kanji as broad-minded coroner Dr. Rajani Mohadevan.

There are a lot of vampire options out there these days, and you might be excused for overlooking this brief foray by, oddly, the Lifetime Network. Your loss, because Blood Ties is an excellent series that deserved more attention and air time than it got.

There are problems, sure. For one thing, one grows tired of Celluci's stubborn lack of credulity when faced with supernatural evidence week after week. Dude, you've seen it, now get over it and cope. Also, it seems counterproductive to hide supernatural activity from the police when you have actual evidence that could save lives.

There are a few groaner episodes, too, particularly "D.O.A.," with Nelson's former partner hanging around as a ghost, and "Wrapped," with just about the worst example of an overacting Mexican mummy that you'll ever have the misfortune to see. But for a series with so little time to find its footing, Blood Ties has a high proportion of successful episodes.

As a supernatural police drama, the series draws on the classics -- vampires, zombies, demons and werewolves -- as well as more esoteric villains such as an incubus, a bug god, a dark elf, a deathless priest and a homicidal painting. Cox, as Nelson, provides a decisive lead for the show -- her strength and ingenuity is balanced by failing vision and a demon curse. Schmid is a solid foil as the sexy vamp who assists her investigations; combined, the two share a lot of great dialogue, chemistry and tension. Neal has a sometimes thankless job as the resident skeptic, but he carries it through while remaining a good, reliable cop. And, of course, there's the romantic triangle that probably would have been even more fun to watch another season or two into the series.

Sadly, apparently caught unawares by the show's cancellation, the Blood Ties team leaves its audience hanging at the end. I hate that.

Too many shows fall to the network axe long before they have time to develop and find their audience. (Yes, FOX, I'm still bitter about Firefly.) Fortunately, cliffhanger finale notwithstanding, Blood Ties didn't disappear into the ether; this brief but high-quality production is available to own and enjoy. I know I'll be watching it again.

review by
Tom Knapp

12 June 2010

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