Retro Review: Kindred: The Embraced (1996)

What do you get when you mix 37% soap opera, 50% grade-A-cheesy acting, 71.3% supernatural characters and a healthy dosing of awesomeness?    Well, aside from some interesting statistical values, you have the recipe for Kindred: The Embraced (imdb).

Kindred: The Embraced cover art
Kindred: The Embraced cover art

Allow me to take a few moments of your time and I’ll give you a bit of history about the show as well as explain a few of its charms.

With all of the love in the media being given to vampires these days, I thought it would be a good idea to look at this earlier attempt to bring the “vampire society” concept to mainstream audiences.  If you’re not familiar with the show, it aired for one season in 1996 and was loosely based off of the much beloved (at least by my friends and I) pen and paper role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade and was one of the first attempts that I can remember that portray the hidden society concept.

The story takes place in modern day San Francisco and centers around a vampire council that, for the most part, runs vampire society in the city and surrounding areas. Vampire society in the cities in the Kindred world are ruled by vampire councils with representatives from different clans and these councils are led by a Prince of the city.  The Prince of the City is a Clan Venture (wiki) vampire named Julian Luna played by Mark Frankel (R.I.P.) (imdb).  If you are versed in the clan aspects from the Masquerade, you will see that Julian fits the classic Venture archetype very well, playing the part of the successful businessman with a powerful fury that can be unleashed when needed.  Also present on the council are representatives of Clan Brujah (rebellious and looking for power, wiki), Clan Toreador (art enthusiasts, wiki), Clan Gangrel (wandering gypsies, wiki) and Clan Nosferatu (think Nosferatu the movie, wiki).

At the time of the show’s airing I was a little scared when I heard that Aaron Spelling’s name was attached to the show.  I mean, how do you go from producing Beverly Hills: 90210 to a live action treatment of a pen and paper role-playing game about vampires?  Somehow, he managed to make the transition, to a certain degree.  There were of course a few “artistic licenses” taken with the show, but this is to be expected.  Notably, some of the clans were missing, including the Malkavian and Tremere clans to name a few.  Also, some fans believe that some of the clan portrayal’s strayed a bit too far from the source material which I can understand.

Artistic license aside, I think the show’s strongest point that it got across was the existence of an entire vampire society living behind the scenes from everyone and putting on a “masquerade” to  trick the human world into believing they didn’t exist.  This particular aspect is what drew me into the pen and paper role-playing game so I was able to identify with it immediately.  Other story points that the show touched upon were various romantic involvements (this was Aaron Spelling after all), a vampire who believed he was practically Jim Morrison reincarnated, war between the vampire clans and human society investigating into the existence of vampires.

There were of course some weak points about the show.  Just reading about the plot points involved can evoke some great images of a world where vampires live out of sight and the struggles involved with this.  To a certain extent, this is what the show delivered.  However, keep in mind that a lot of the acting was very over the top stuff!  I was easily able to overcome this and actually felt it brought a certain charm to the show.  Particularly “guilty” of this was C. Thomas Howell’s portrayal of portrayal of Detective Frank Kohanek.  Howell pulled everything possible from the classic film noir detective archetype and I loved him for it!  He really went all out on the character, and while it may come across as overacted to many, I really enjoyed the character.  Years later, when I played the first Max Payne, I thought to myself that Howell would be perfect for that character because the portrayal of Payne in that game really drew from the film noir type as well.  But you know, no one can do a better job than who they ended up choosing for the Payne movie… (Mark Wahlbergif you weren’t aware.)

Perhaps the biggest hit against the show is that it ends too abruptly.  The decision to not renew the show must have come midway through the original season (imagine that happening on a FOX show… I know, crazy talk right?) so the episodes suddenly take a shift towards trying to wrap up loose ends and it ends up feeling a bit forced.

Okay, that’s enough waxing ecstatic on my part and I hope you have enjoyed my nostalgic recount of a show that I love.  I own the series on DVD and VHS (go me!) and have turned a number of people onto the it by loaning them out.  Of these people, everyone has ended up falling into the stories and wanting to consume it so if you are looking for a good drama about vampires (that’s a strange thought for some reason) or just an interesting series, give this one season show a shot and let me know what you think.

By jasonfreeman

Jason is a proud level 20 (pretend) mage who, when in reality, is the loving father of 2 children and husband. Most free time is spent gaming (in many different forms), reading, watching movies/seasons, or listening to music or learning new (pretend) spells.

1 comment

  1. I remember that show! Kindred attracted me because I’m a Vampire Lit/Film junkie and I was the first in my group of friends to buy Vampire: The Masquerade. Role-playing games were not my thing though, but I loved the concept and turned my friends on to playing the game.

    There were some things I liked about the show, but like you said sometimes the acting was over-the-top and the writing often left a bad taste in my mouth. Still, I watched it and have watched it since when SciFi (oh, sorry SyFy – gag!) has replayed episodes.

    I often wish they could have done a better job. Especially when I think about shows like Buffy, True Blood, and even the short-lived Moonlight.

Leave a comment