Judge Gordon Sullivan is embracing the gods of DVD extras.
The original vampire saga
Advertising can be a funny thing. Emblazoned across the top of this "Ultimate Kindred Collection" is the tagline, "The Original Vampire Saga." Obviously, the folks behind Kindred: The Embraced want to tap into some of that lucrative Twilight love that has people opening their wallets for complicated romances featuring bloodsuckers. However, "The Original Vampire Saga" is wrong on two counts. First, the TV series is hardly "the original" anything. It's based on the mythology of the role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade, and I think that Dark Shadows beat Kindred to the "vampire saga" punch by about thirty years. Second, it's really, really hard to call Kindred: The Embraced a saga at only eight episodes. If we forgive the marketing people their hyperbole, Kindred: The Embraced is a cult show that both hasn't aged well and is ahead of its time. This deluxe Kindred: The Embraced sets a high bar for fans, making a double-dip worthwhile for those who prize packaging.
Facts of the Case
Kindred: The Embraced follows two sides of the law. On one is San Francisco cop Frank Kohanek (C. Thomas Howell, Soul Man), and on the other is mob boss Julian Luna (Mark Frankel, Fortune Hunter). Except Julian isn't just any boss, he's a vampire boss, controlling not only criminal enterprises but also the five vampire clans that rule San Francisco. There's vampire/human romances and an uneasy alliance between vampires and the police as Julian and Frank work to stop all-out vampire war.
It's obvious Kindred never got its fair shake. Cancelled by Fox after only eight episodes, from our vantage point in 2013, it looks like a missed opportunity. With Twilight fever giving everything related to vampires a bit of sparkle and the numerous tent-pole comic book films demonstrating that once-outsider geek culture has gone mainstream, it seems like Kindred could have been something more than a short-lived cult hit. Now that Angel has given us five seasons of cop/vampire cooperation and even Dark Shadows got a major-studio cinematic reboot, the time has come for Kindred: The Embraced to step back into the moonlight.
What continues to work, and seems ahead of its time, is the world the show creates. The San Francisco setting is perfect, offering a mainstream location that has both character (we know something about it) but also a bit of mystery (it's not the overdone L.A. or New York typical of cop shows). Putting the five vampire clans in tension was also a really great idea, and the genius stroke is to have them also be crime families as well. Comparisons to The Godfather are inevitable, but the basic idea of combining vampire clans and gangster families is a brilliant one, one that could certainly be the basis for a show today.
The problems with the show, however, are twofold. First, the series is overwritten. I appreciate that the show is trying to do a lot of then-new things with the vampire formula, and being first through the door is tough. However, five clans, plus a cop, plus human/vampire romances is a lot to ask audience to absorb. It takes careful writing to introduce all those elements while crafting a compelling drama out of them. Kindred just didn't have it in these first eight episodes. A glimmer of potential is there (and if it were up to me the show would have gotten at least a full-season order to smooth things out) but the pilot is especially overstuffed and the next seven episodes don't do enough to sort things out. The second problem is one of timing; at the time, audiences obviously weren't conditioned to give a show like this a chance. Now that these kinds of worlds—with fantasy elements and lots of factions, like Game of Thrones—are more mainstream, Kindred appears ahead of its time.
The other major problem with Kindred is that it's a bit too much of its time. Though the gangster-meets-vampire story is pretty innovative, much of the structure and visual look of the show hasn't aged well. Those seeing the show for the first time will have to contend with decidedly '90s-looking costume and hair choices, along with stunts and production design that seem older than their years.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
However, whatever the show's merits, it deserved better than its previous DVD release. Putting all eight episodes on two discs with no extras, the previous DVD was disappointing for the show's often-rabid fans. This time things are much better. The first thing to note about this set is that it's handsomely packaged. The set is housed in a cigar box-sized cardboard case that looks like a book (including a ribbon!). Open it up, and on one side is a portrait of the cast, and on the other is the space where the discs are housed. They're under a faux parchment flap that's fake-sealed in wax. Underneath that, you'll find a letter (also faux parchment) from series co-creator John Leekly about the show. Also included is a replica of the Book of Nod—134 pages of mythology which demonstrate just how rich the world of Kindred could have been. The DVDs themselves are housed in a cardboard sleeve that folds open.
With three discs to spread the episodes out on, these full-frame transfers look pretty good. Considering the show is closing in on its twentieth anniversary, things look alright. Colors look a bit dated, but are period appropriate, while detail is generally okay. Print damage doesn't seem to be an issue, and some of the exteriors of San Francisco look like they could have been shot for the Chamber of Commerce. The look isn't going to make anyone upgrade their home theater, but fans will be pleased. Similarly, the 5.1 audio tracks are serviceable. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, and there is some use of the surrounds for atmosphere. English subtitles are also included.
Extras start on Disc One with an extended version of the pilot that runs 68 minutes, with a commentary by Leekley and Peter Medak, along with a trailer for the show. Disc Two includes a featurette on the origins of the show and another commentary (on "Romeo and Juliet") by Leekley with Ralph Hemecker. The first two episodes on this disc also get deleted scenes. Disc Three gives us a commentary on "Bad Moon Rising" by James L. Conway and one on "Cabin in the Woods" by Leekley and Hemecker. "Cabin" also gets deleted scenes, while another three featurettes on the series round out the disc.
This Kindred: The Embraced collection is a no-brainer for fans of the show, even for a double-dip. The show looks and sounds good, and this time out, we get a hefty number of extras inside some of the most handsome packaging I've seen for a cult TV show. It's not a show for everyone, but definitely worth a watch.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Extended Episode
Review content copyright © 2013 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.