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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Van Helsing is a dark, grim show about an apocalypse caused by vampires. Violence is frequent and intense; here's a sampling. Men and women fight each other with knives and guns. They're stabbed and punched and shot, bludgeoned in the face, and a woman's hand is impaled deeply on a knife. Vampires suddenly kill characters; bite and leave gory wounds. Female characters' costumes are often tighter and more revealing than male characters'; a main female character fights vampires in her underwear. Cursing: frequent and unbleeped "s--t," "a--hole," "goddamn" "hell."
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What's the story?
Based on a graphic novel series, VAN HELSING centers on Vanessa Helsing (Kelly Overton), the daughter of famous vampire hunter and Dracula's enemy Abraham Van Helsing. Turns out that the Van Helsing blood can actually cure vampires, transforming them from blood-sucker back to human. So Vanessa's been kept safe as an apocalypse has overtaken the earth, hidden away in a secret military fortress while the rest of the world was left to fight (and eventually die), watched over by fiery Marine Axel (Jonathan Scarfe) as she slept in an unearthly coma. But now she's awake, and the reluctant savior of the human race is a lot more interested in finding her missing daughter than in helping the ragtag group of survivors around her. What will Vanessa find when she leaves the safety of the compound? And is there any hope humans will survive?
Is it any good?
Created and produced by controversial playwright Neil LaBute, this post-apocalyptic entry is a slight cut above average sci-fi thrillers writing-wise, but it's just not a lot of fun. Clearly SyFy is hoping for a The Walking Dead-type fandom -- one can imagine the "It's like Walking Dead but with vampires!" elevator pitch -- and for some Buffy the Vampire Slayer-type excitement with main vamp-kicker Vanessa. But Overton doesn't have Buffy's charm and personality, nor does the show have a sense of humor. Not that a "vampires end the world" premise is supposed to be fun; it's just that everything seems so grim, yet not scary enough to jolt viewers pleasurably.
It's hard to escape the feeling that you've seen this show before, and though the dialogue is a tad sharper and fresher than usual, perhaps courtesy of LaBute's stage roots, the characters and plot points seem recycled. Vampire fans, or worshippers of Walking Dead-esque shows may find they like Van Helsing, but most viewers will find it a bit of a slog.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about vampires, and the real-life fears that fuel Van Helsing's concept. What's the appeal behind shows designed to scare us? Why do we watch -- even when we're watching with our hands over our eyes?
Families can talk about which parts of Van Helsing's plot are actually plausible. In terms of violence, who proves to be the bigger threat to the people on this show: vampires or human beings? Why do we like to think about the supernatural?