“Dark Shadows,” the TV show
I haven’t seen the 2012 Tim Burton film “Dark Shadows.”
But I’ve been watching the cult TV show that inspired it.
The original “Dark Shadows” aired from 1966 to 1971, and was initially a fairly traditional soap opera. But about a year into its run, creator Dan Curtis introduced a vampire character, Barnabas Collins, and the show transformed into something far more interesting: a supernatural Gothic soap opera. I opted to skip the first season and watch the second, and it was a good decision: Whenever Barnabas Collins (wonderfully played by Jonathan Frid) is onscreen, the show is riveting.
“Dark Shadows” is set in the fictional coastal Maine town of Collinsport, and largely takes place in the mansion inhabited by the Collins family. The show is told from the point of view of Victoria Winters, a young woman employed as a governess by Collins family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, who has not left the mansion in 18 years. The household routine is disrupted when Barnabas arrives, having been released from his coffin and claiming to be a long-lost cousin, and takes up residence in an unused building on the estate.
“Dark Shadows” is very much a soap opera, and I quickly learned that it doesn’t lend itself to binge-watching the way more sophisticated and cinematic contemporary shows such as “The Sopranos” and “Mad Men” do. But when viewed one or two episodes at a time, it can be pretty entertaining. It’s atmospheric, unabashedly melodramatic, romantic and spooky. In season 2, which I’m watching right now, Barnabas has kidnapped local waitress Maggie Evans, bitten her and attempted to brainwash her into thinking she is his long-lost love, Josette. When Maggie briefly escapes and is glimpsed by her father as a fluttering, ghost-like presence outside the window, it’s a startling, beautiful and disturbing moment.
Of course, “Dark Shadows” has the sort of over-the-top plot twists and overheated emotions you’d find in any soap opera — occasionally I was reminded of “Ryan’s Hope” and “All My Children,” which I sometimes watched with my parents growing up. (This totally seems bizarre to me now — I cannot believe my parents allowed me to watch daytime soap operas, or that they watched them themselves!) The episodes of “Dark Shadows” that I just watched incorporated blackmail, an attempt to reveal family secrets to one’s children and an unwanted marriage proposal. For a soap, this is fairly standard stuff, and I found my attention flagging whenever the show strayed from its supernatural plotlines.
So is “Dark Shadows” worth watching? Well, I’m enjoying it, even if it sometimes strikes me as a little creaky. In fact, the creakiness is becoming part of its charm. This isn’t a prestige show such as HBO’s “True Blood,” with big-name stars such as Anna Paquin and a big budget for cool special effects. Instead, it’s a bare-bones yet surprisingly emotional drama. I wouldn’t call it great, but it does have an eerie power, and it’s growing on me.
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