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Blood Ties: The Complete Season One

Eagle Rock Entertainment // PG-13 // June 23, 2009
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted August 20, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Season:

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.

Following the mediocre two-episode premiere of Blood Ties, which somewhat haphazardly introduces us to demonic elements present in the story arch and to Vicki's goth-inspired assistant, most of the following episodes adhere to a well-structured yet appetizing blueprint. Each one customarily starts with a little banter between Vicki and her circle of entrusted friends, followed by a creepy introduction to the spook-of-the-week that the crack gang of paranormal crime solvers would be sleuthing. Mythological creatures and well-known monstrosities, like medusas and voodoo-fueled zombies, litter the first of the episodes, but the writing then gets more adventurous as other interesting foes bust into the picture, like dark elves and non-mummy Egyptian ghouls. Vicki handles all of these "out-there" mysteries, which increase business for her based on her openness to the supernatural and word-of-mouth about her involvement with "tricky" cases.

Clever and satisfying, Blood Ties mixes the rampantly popular style of investigative connecting-of-dots with a spooky mindset, all which overshadows the banal framework of each episode's predictability with slickly-written dialogue and growingly appealing characters. As the triangle between Vicki and her love interests deepen, it becomes more and more obvious why it would plea to the female-centered Lifetime crowd; Vicki holds both the men in her life, both strong guys, in the palm of her hand. Christina Cox does a great job of making Vicki a sharp-tongued, hard-boiled style of crime fighter, one that wrangles her somewhat one-dimensional men together and bolsters them to more intriguing levels than they probably deserve. Kyle Schmid and Dylan Neal both play their respective roles with energy, even if they both fall wayside to Cox's firecracker intensity.

Tanya Huff's characters come to life by focusing on the snarky tension they create before an all-too-brief supernatural clash at the end of each show, all while it juggles ridiculousness and seriousness enough to keep it from being hokey. Though the special effects aren't stellar -- some being downright glaring -- it's the environment created by the actors that keeps us more than willing to forgive its stumbles. Stripped-down yet slick atmospheric design and make-up work also heighten the mood around them, using bright fluorescent palettes and urban photography to give it a sleek, modern panache.

Everything adjoins, with a slight neo-noir infused language, into a rhythm that's as enthralling as "Buffy" and as enjoyably breezy as a mythology-infused episode of "CSI". It's a shame that there's not more of it; as of this writing, only twenty-three episodes -- thirteen of which are considered in Season One -- were shot, and it looks as if neither the Canadian-based producers nor Lifetime will spring for more installments. Though the number of unique villains might've run out quickly and only so much can be said for the Vicki / Henry / Mike triangle, the characters that Tanya Huff created still could've withstood at least one or two more seasons to flesh out the arc -- maybe adding more action and a touch more suspense. As it stands, Vicki's world of solving other-worldly murders is a bloody exciting ride well worth its short-lived span.

Episode Index:

Disc 1:
Blood Price, Pt. 1
Blood Price, Pt. 2
Bad Juju
Disc 2:
Deadly Departed
Love Hurts
Heart of Ice
Heart of Fire
Disc 3:
Stone Cold
Post Partum
Disc 4:

The DVD:

Presented across four discs in a standard tray-style keepcase with dual hubs on the tray for the middle discs, Blood Ties arrives from Eagle Rock Entertainment with a nice Episode Summary centerfold booklet tucked inside.

Video and Audio:

Other than the fact that Eagle Rock Entertainment's presentation of Blood Ties is NOT enhanced for 16x9 widescreen televisions and suffers all the misgivings as such, meaning pixilation and aliasing when zoomed, the show actually looks rather good. Flesh tones are well-defined and detailed, as are all of the vividly bold colors from the set design and costume work. Contrast gets a little wonky in a few patches, but the darker scenes mostly hold their own with plenty of discernible darkness. All of the industrial photography holds rather tight levels of detail during all the constant movement. What's disappointing is that the series appears on four discs, with the fourth only carrying one episode and small scattering of extras. Eagle Rock could have spread the episodes out a little better and ensured the widescreen enhancement, but instead neglected as such. In general, however, Blood Ties looks nice.

Fairing a little worse, the Dolby Stereo track supports the dialogue to moderate levels without offering anything in dynamics. Verbal clarity was fine, if a bit on the weighed-down side, while higher-range sound effects -- like the whoosh sound from Henry's super-speed -- stayed perfectly audible. It's once the audio treatment falls to anything on the lower-frequency side that the track really shows its weaknesses, as they all showcase either hollowness of a complete lack of definition entirely. No other sound options are available, as are any subtitle tracks.

Special Features:

As mentioned on the artwork, Eagle Rock Entertainment's presentation of Blood Ties comes with a few exclusive supplements. Sadly, there's not a whole lot to write home about. A range of Behind the Scenes (24:02, 4x3) segments are available, components of a pure-blood marketing style feature from the program "Inner Space". All the actors mostly regurgitate their character roles, intermixed within footage from the series and a hefty level of backslapping. The only real reason to watch comes in the sparse scattering of interview time with author Tanya Huff and the rest of the crew. Also available is a short promotional Trailer.

Final Thoughts:

Christina Cox mentions something in one of her interviews that sums up Blood Ties pretty well: the series mirrors what it'd look like if Buffy Summers has grown up to become a private eye in the heart of Toronto. It's just about as enjoyable as some of the better "Buffy" episodes as well, while keeping a rhythmic dialogue that neither insults our intelligence nor leaves us unentertained. Even though Eagle Rock Entertainment's DVD of this very appealing series is offered with few special features and a lack of widescreen enhancement, the smartly-handled content alone makes it a Recommended purchase for those with a taste for a different sort of ass-kicking heroine out to rid the streets of evil.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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