Monday, July 9, 2012

More Soap Opera Than Supernatural, Dark Shadows Collection 2 Completely Disappoints.

The Good: Cleaned up for DVD
The Bad: Campy, Acting problems, Light on DVD bonus features, Soap opera conceits, Bulky packaging, Dull plot.
The Basics: Dark Shadows Collection 2 is unfortunately more preoccupied with traditional soap opera conceits than it is the supernatural.

The more time I spend in the world of Dark Shadows, the more overrated I begin to feel the show actually is. While many people want to hail it as groundbreaking, Dark Shadows had stretches where it was not a gothic horror series filled with supernatural beings, but instead was just a daily soap opera. Sadly, the bulk of "Collection 2" of Dark Shadows is just that. While the set has to resolve some issues from "Collection 1" (reviewed here!), the series does not remain focused as tightly on Barnabas Collins in these episodes which immediately follow the revelation that Collins is the same Barnabas Collins from the old portrait in Collinwood and is, in fact, a vampire.

Instead, these episodes become melodramatic and follow annoyingly obvious soap opera conceits and the show feels like a black and white soap opera with little real panache of its own. Instead, the show meanders and tries to find its legs after the big reveal and it stumbles to include other, far less interesting characters. The result is an erratic collection which is not worth picking up at all.

"Collection Two" contains episodes 41 through 80 of the "post-Barnabas" episodes, the numbering beginning with the first episodes Barnabas arrived in and where the DVD manufacturers believed was the optional point to start selling the episodes at.

Having discovered Barnabas is a vampire, Maggie Evans is unable to kill him and she is reincarcerated by Willie Loomis and Barnabas. Barnabas soon figures that Maggie is more trouble than she is worth, whatwith refusing to become his new Josette. Barnabas decides to kill Maggie and as he makes his plans to do that, Maggie is visited by a mysterious girl who sings "London Bridge" constantly and is given the secret to escaping her basement dungeon. Maggie flees, is found by her father, but her memory is erased. So, Dr. Woodard convinces Maggie's father to help him fake Maggie's death and send her away to a sanitarium to recover and unlock her lost memories.

While Maggie is presumed dead and recuperating, Jason McGuire continues to blackmail Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard and now his plan is to accumulate the vast Collins wealth through marriage. After Carolyn and Victoria try to uncover the secret Jason is lording over Elizabeth, they find no proof of the murder Elizabeth allegedly committed eighteen years prior. With the marriage looming, Elizabeth confesses to Victoria and faces the tough choice of coming clean or marrying McGuire. When that is resolved, Barnabas convinces the group to recreate a Collins ball and the residents of Collinwood become possessed by the Collins family of the past.

Dark Shadows is irritatingly soap operatic in this season. Following the revelation of Barnabas's nature, the viewer might have hoped to see his fangs again, but alas, we are treated to more than twenty episodes of boredom before that occurs again. Instead, the episodes have Maggie pleading with Barnabas and the ghost of Sarah Collins without ever actually addressing the vampiric nature of Barnabas. And throughout, the episodes make ridiculously melodramatic work of the Elizabeth and Jason plotline, making it thoroughly unwatchable.

As well, "Collection 2" has some very dated episodes of Dark Shadows. Buzz Hackett arrives to swoop Carolyn off her feet and he is an anachronism of a late-50s, early-60s beat poet and motorcycle punk. The result is laughable now.

The acting is mediocre at best as most of the performers are forced to make dramatic pauses before the spot where there would have been commercials. As a result, much of the DVD content is characters repeating lines and reframing conflicts in ways that seem quite silly now. Ryan Mitchell left midway through these episodes, which forced Burke Devlin to be recast and none of the acting stands out as memorable.

Even the characters seem limited in these forty episodes because so little actually happens with them. In these forty episodes, the main characters are:

Barnabas Collins - A vampire who is over two hundred years old. He captured Maggie Evans in an attempt to recreate his love, Josette Collins, but failed. Following that, he sees Victoria Winters as his next potential Josette and tricks her into wearing her enchanted dress, an act which has serious consequences for the residents of Collinwood,

Burke Devlin - A good friend of Victoria Winters, he assists Roger and Carolyn in trying to uncover Jason McGuire's secrets. Otherwise, he helps Sam and mourns with Collinsport over the apparent death of Maggie,

Willie Loomis - The enslaved servant of Barnabas, he tries to do what he can to help Maggie, but discovers Barnabas owns his will. Reluctant to see Victoria enslaved by Barnabas,

Dr. David Woodard - A local doctor who tries to figure out the source of Maggie's memory loss and works to keep her safe after she is returned,

Roger Collins - Brother to Elizabeth, he works hard to stop Jason McGuire from getting more in the Collins family treasure. He is dismayed when the truth comes out, but still works to protect Elizabeth. Father of David,

Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard - The matriarch of Collinswood, she is mother to Carolyn. She is blackmailed by Jason McGuire and makes moves to marry him. She becomes enchanted with a Collins family myth about unhappy women who killed themselves and becomes preoccupied near the cliffs of Collinwood,

Sam Evans - An artist and father of Maggie, he obsesses with finding Maggie and keeps her safe when she arrives back with memory loss,

Carolyn Stoddard - The daughter of Elizabeth, she is upset when Elizabeth announces her marriage plans. She makes plans to marry a biker named Buzz Hackett,

David Collins - The young charge of Victoria Winters, he is the son of Roger and he is intrigued by Barnabas. He meets the ghost of Sarah and is uninterested in her,

Joe - The white bread boyfriend of Maggie. He struggles with keeping the secret of her return when she pops up alive,

Victoria Winters - The governess of David, she is enchanted by Barnabas and loves listening to his tales of the Collins family. She is happy to play-act and pretend she is a Collins for Barnabas's party, unaware of his true agenda,

Jason McGuire - A slimy businessman, he is blackmailing Elizabeth, as he witnessed Elizabeth killing her long-gone husband. His machinations lead him to force Elizabeth to marry him when the Collins family business forces him out,

and Maggie Evans - A nice waitress who has ended up imprisoned by Barnabas, she struggles with maintaining her sanity after he locks her up in a basement dungeon. Saved by the ghost of Sarah Collins, she suffers memory loss!

Over the course of these forty episodes, Dark Shadows unfortunately mortgages its originality - save the seance near the "season's" end - and becomes an annoyingly traditional soap opera for many of the episodes.

On DVD, this four-disc set comes in an annoyingly bulky case (halfway through the series, the Collections started to come in slimmer cases) which makes it seem more substantial than it actually is. Each of the four discs ends with an interview of one of the cast or production members discussing their Dark Shadows experience and it is not at all limited to just the episodes in this boxed set. Dan Curtis talks about starting the show and his first visit to the set. Nancy Barrett talks about how all the best stories are inside jokes which aren't worth relaying. Dennis Patrick discusses his tumultuous exit from the show and he is frank about loathing how much the writers produced for his character of Jason McGuire.

Still, it is not enough to justify picking up this soap opera, even on DVD. Dark Shadows Collection 2 might set up some later plot threads, but it is a bear to get through on its own.

For a more thorough understanding of the plotline, please check out my reviews of the individual episodes at:
Episodes 250 – 254
Episodes 255 – 259
Episodes 260 – 264
Episodes 265 – 269
Episodes 270 – 274
Episodes 275 - 279
Episodes 280 - 284
Episodes 285 - 289

For other television series featuring vampires, please check out my reviews of:
True Blood – Season 1
Buffy The Vampire Slayer


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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