It seems like vampires lurk back into the pop culture spotlight every ten years or so, as they cropped up for a stretch in the '90s with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer story arc and, most recently, with both the Twilight phenomenon and HBO's adaptation of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, True Blood. One series that'll likely remain overshadowed during this stretch will be Blood Ties, a relatively short-lived Canadian-turned-Lifetime television series adapted from Tanya Huff's novels. Blending Buffy with an NYPD Blue meets film noir tone, this series' sharp writing and tongue-in-cheek supernatural rambunctiousness shouldn't go unnoticed.
It centers on Vicki Nelson (Christina Cox), a tough ex-police officer turned private investigator due to a worsening eye disorder that's crippling her vision. Instead of becoming a desk jockey at the force, she decides to split away from her calling and continue to solve crimes under the radar. Her old partner and ex-lover, Mike Celluci ("Dawson's Creek" veteran Dylan Neal), stays in touch and tries to lasso her back to the force. She of course resists, even as they talk about cases over regular Chinese food and beer sessions.
Then, Vicki has a brush with something, well, other-worldly. She learns that darker forces lurk around the streets of Toronto after witnessing a murder down a dark alleyway, a menacing figure chewing and tearing its way through a victim. At first believed to be a suspect, she hooks up with the conveniently-placed Henry Fitzroy (Kyle Schmid) -- a sub-500 year old vampire with a taste for art, women, and for Vicki -- who ends up assisting her with her cases. Thus begins their partnership, and the love triangle involving Vicki, Henry and the chiseled-chin Mike. Of course, one-upmanship between the two guys is expected over her affection; however, it's Vicki who holds all the cards, boasting as much -- if not more -- internal strength and bull-headedness than either of them. She's a sexually-repressed tease, a manipulator, and highly likable in our eyes during her quieter moments.
When we left Season One, more appropriately labeled as the "first half" of its premiere season, Blood Ties had found its stride. Each episode is very episodic, having the trio of characters hunt down suspects and monsters alike in an investigative fashion, up until a conventional yet wholly satisfying action-based conclusion. All along, the love triangle was intensifying in spurts between Vicki, Henry, and Mike. As this second half of the season progresses, it begins to let up a bit -- Mike strays away a bit and concentrates more on his police cases without a lot of direct romantic interaction with Vicki, leaving Henry the opportunity to develop his chemistry with her. That's not to say the romantic feud between them comes to a halt, but it takes more of a backseat. Instead of readily venturing out on Vicki's cases all the time, they're instead brought to Mike's precinct -- which, of course, demands that he go out and inquire Vicki's assistance.
The persistent barrage of beasts present in the first half of Blood Ties eases up as well, concentrating more on a human-like usage of the supernatural. "Human" meaning that the threats aren't directly visible as monsters, instead more like humans in disguise -- like demons dressed in humanoid skin, the artwork of a painter coming alive, and other vampires. With that, the series accomplishes two things: lowering its budget a bit while also making the threat feel a little closer to home, which works exceptionally well. Instead of all the beastly confrontations at the forefront, it becomes somewhat natural by focusing on these threats that could be walking around in metropolitan cities -- you know, in a realm where such things exist. The villains still remain mindfully-crafted and semi-iconic in nature, even containing a few guest spots like that of awesome horror character actor Danny Trejo in "Wrapped", yet they're handled to a degree that tries to alter the tone to be as realistic as possible in this far-out concept. With that in mind, the writers get rather creative with their application of elements, including superb usage of Pandora's Box in the episode "5:55" -- which has a cute nod to, of all things, Bill Murray's Groundhog Day.
With its more normalized concentration of the supernatural, Blood Ties also begins to focus more on the character's psychoses. Vicki's demonic brands come more into the picture as nether-worldly activity begins to flare up, concentrating a little bit on her internal issues with getting involved with the unknown and diverting so far away from her police background. Her vision issues also become a facet, especially when the more evil elements of the demonic brand begin on her arms start to "tempt" her late in the series. Mike's scattershot efforts in helping Vicki at the police force begin to show a bit of weakness around his infrastructure, showing how it's affecting his performance and relationships with both his partner and his boss.
Interestingly, the biggest beneficiary from this shift is Henry, whom we really get to know in this batch of episodes. Along with tighter concentration from actor Kyle Schmid on the character's nature, the scripting also envelops his character to a much more intriguing degree. Through discussions of hunting territory, leaving Toronto due to his affect on Vicki, and the nature of his maker Christina, he comes more into his own as a compelling character. The presence of Christina, an engaging and dynamic character on her own, also introduces a vein of vampire mythos not entirely present in the first half of the season, including the rules behind turning humans into vampires and the necessity for their kind to drink blood without killing. One of the issues with the front half of Blood Ties comes in the notion that Henry's simply eye-candy and, though finely played, more of a supportive character than one of his own. That changes with the presence of Christina and his struggles with vampirism in Toronto, as the complexity of him as a non-murderous vampire coexisting with Vicki and Mike -- the "devil they know" -- assists in giving the cases a more resonant tone.
Everything else stays the same for the bottom-half of this first and only season of Blood Ties, from the comedic yet soulful relief from Vicki's goth-like assistant to their double-meaning cheeky interactions with the "in the know" coroner. It stays exhilarating and vibrant, colorfully photographed in the Toronto landscape, while maintaining pleasantly flippant, semi noir-ish dialogue between all characters involved. This momentum leads up to the conclusion which, sufficient to say, is an empty-handed shot to the gut that offers very little closure to the season.
Herein lays the problem with Blood Ties: Lifetime has, up until this point, not renewed this better-than-it-should-be series, thus ending the story arch with Vicki, Mike, and Henry's lives in disarray. It leaves its supporters, which there are quite a few, hanging by a thread without an answer in sight. That part stinks, yet the process in piecing together these supernatural mysteries in CSI fashion are a blast by themselves. However, if the likes of "Vampire Diaries" can coexist in the realm of Twilight and HBO's highly-addictive True Blood, then surely Blood Ties can also finds its place -- somewhere. Here's hoping that the creators and networks agree, and that this slick and enjoyable "crime series with a bite" can be brought back on the air for more content or, at least, a conclusive two-part miniseries to wrap up the story.
Video and Audio:
Other than the fact that, once again, this presentation of Blood Ties is NOT enhanced for 16x9 widescreen televisions and suffers from all the problems that crop up when zooming in on non-16x9 content -- severe blocking and aliasing being the worst -- Blood Ties still looks rather good. The boisterous cinematography showcases plenty of lurid colors and interesting set designs, which generally look rather pleasing to the eye. All points considered, Blood Ties will look decent on displays capable of manually zooming, but the lack of widescreen enhancement is still pretty disappointing.
And again, the Dolby Stereo track merely supports the dialogue without exercising anything in the range of dynamics. Verbal clarity is decently handled, if sounding a bit artificial in a few patches when it seems a lot bolder than the sound design for the rest of the scenes. Mostly, the problems arise whenever any lower-level bass enters into the picture, which is less frequent in this batch of episodes. Still, when they try and showcase any form of blasts, the results are on the less-than-pleasing side. It's fine, in a roundabout way, but could be better. No other sound options are available, as are any subtitle tracks.
Though the first season carried some lengthy promo-style interviews with the cast and crew, this selection of episodes only contains a Photo Gallery and a Season 1 Trailer.
Though it ends with an unanswered cliffhanger, the second half -- or Season Two -- of Blood Ties offers the same level of tongue-and-cheek banter between its leads with a surprisingly gripping vein of supernatural investigation-style action. This time, the villains and dynamics between the characters grow more personal and grounded, which pumps an even stronger attitude into Vicki's flip-flopping romantics with Mike and Henry while allowing us to connect with all involved on a more substantial level. Blood Ties looks and sounds about the same as Season One, so it'll be more of the same quality that you've gotten used to from the start. It's an entertaining, slightly addictive series that delivers far more than the concept allows, one that comes with a hefty Recommendation -- even though it'll leave some unsatisfied with its lack of closure.