If you’ve been watching the arty, sexy, and above all serious vampire shows that have premiered this fall, then it may come as a particular relief when Syfy’s Reginald the Vampire teases one of its own actors while he’s right there on screen.
See, our bumbling hero Reginald (Jacob Batalon) has a suave and almost criminally handsome maker-mentor named Maurice, who happens to be played by Mandela Van Peebles. During a scene at Maurice’s swanky mansion (because of course he’s rich and stylish), we see a giant poster in his living room for a movie starring Melvin Van Peebles, Mandela’s grandfather. Nobody mentions this. The joke just hovers in the background, trusting you to find it.
That’s also what happens when we meet Maurice’s maker. Played by Savannah Basley, she’s incredibly powerful and rules the vampires around her by terrorizing them, but at the same time, she’s committed to social justice. In a flashback, we see her working with a still-human Maurice at the office of an organization that’s clearly modeled on the Black Panthers, and we learn her name is Angela. Because of course it is.
This isn’t the deliciously unhinged humor you’ll find in What We Do In the Shadows. It’s a wry type of wit that puts an edge on an otherwise straightforward story. Because really, Reginald the Vampire, which is based on a series of novels by Johnny B. Truant, is a traditional hero’s journey. It’s just that the journey has some unexpected twists. Take Reginald himself: After Maurice turns him, he becomes the only fat vampire in the world. We know this because none of the other vampires will stop talking about it. He’s also got a variety of self-esteem issues that he carries over from his disappointing human life, and he’s so bad at embracing his power that even when he’s undead, he keeps his crappy job at a squishy store where his boss insults him all the time.
In other words, you have to squint pretty hard to see Reginald as a typical hero. But that’s entirely the point. Even while it allows characters to make jokes about his weight and his dorkiness, the series keeps letting Reginald shine in spite of himself. He’s so good-natured that his co-worker Sarah (Em Haine) falls for him, and he’s so naturally gifted that he accidentally discovers he has abilities none of the pretty vampires could even dream of.
Watching Reginald find himself is a treat, thanks especially to Batalon, who makes the character seem believably committed to being a decent guy, even when he’s drinking someone’s blood and making them forget about it right after. And here again, the dry humor keeps the show surprising. It’s obvious, for instance, that Reginald hates being insulted, and he’s given moments of real hurt and sadness. But before things get too maudlin, he makes a pun or sly observation that gives him just a little bit more agency. This signals the series won’t be mawkish as our hero makes his way.
The design team deserves particular praise for creating a perfect environment for this story. Along with the gags like the poster in Maurice’s house, they put bright colors and shapes in almost every scene. The squishy store looks like the inside of a vintage spaceship, and even Angela’s house, where legitimately upsetting things happen, has a ludicrously well-stocked kitchen, complete with a floor-to-ceiling magnetic strip that’s covered with carving knives. This whimsy feels appropriate, because it injects joy into the adventures of a good person who winds up living on the dark side. It almost makes vampirism seem like a hoot.
Reginald the Vampire premires October 5 at 10:00 PM ET on Syfy.
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Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.
TOPICS: Reginald the Vampire, Syfy, Em Haine, Jacob Batalon, Mandela Van Peebles, Savannah Basley