Significantly improving upon the 1994 film, “Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire” does more than just add the late author’s name to the title, ambitiously updating the story, introducing a racial component and serving up plenty of sex and gore. Desperate to replace “The Walking Dead,” AMC might have completed an improbable baton pass from zombies to another kind of undead.
Although the outlines mirror Rice’s gothic novel, the series manages to simultaneously expand upon them as if this were a sort-of sequel and reinvent certain aspects, all while upping the quota on sexuality and violence into tiers occupied by the edgiest premium-TV fare. In that sense, this seems to have been produced at least as much with AMC+ in mind as the linear network AMC.
Jacob Anderson (getting to say a lot more than he did as Grey Worm in “Game of Thrones,” and making the most of it) stars as Louis de Pointe du Lac, telling his story to a now-older journalist (Eric Bogosian) whose dismissive, sarcastic attitude seems to be flirting with fangs for the memories.
Meeting in a pandemic-ravaged future that brings additional resonance to the story, the red meat still exists in flashbacks to Louis’ past with Lestat de Lioncourt (Sam Reid), the suave vampire who made him; and later Claudia (Bailey Bass), a slightly older (again) spin on the child vampire whose perpetual state of adolescence captures the tragedy of her arc in a slightly different manner.
Louis and Lestat hook up in New Orleans during the early 1900s, a time and place where such interactions are possible but the racism of the times is overtly expressed, and a constant component of the narrative.
Adapted by Rolin Jones (HBO’s reimagined “Perry Mason”) with early episodes directed by Alan Taylor (“The Sopranos”), there’s a palpable tension in Anderson and Reid’s performances, with the former managing to be wistful and scary in the future and confused, melancholy and occasionally exultant in the past. As constructed, there’s also the intriguing issue of what would prompt him to step out of the shadows to share his story.
The action, when it happens, is swift, bloody and brutal. Yet the series format affords this incarnation significant latitude as a character study, including the immortal loneliness that would prompt Lestat to create himself a companion, and Louis’ subsequent commitment to Claudia, with all the associated growing pains that go with it. The same goes for fleshing out supporting players, such as Louis’ mother (Rae Dawn Chong) and sister (Kalyne Coleman), as opposed to just trotting smaller roles out for the slaughter.
“Interview With the Vampire” will make its debut after the “The Walking Dead” starts its final season – in TV terms, an old-fashioned baton pass intended to secure extra sampling in launching this seven-episode opening arc.
Unlike its ageless characters, “Vampire” might not be suited for a particularly long run, although AMC has already announced a second season, a well-deserved vote of confidence based on its extremely promising start. That’s good news for both viewers and the network, for whom – on the verge of bidding farewell to its biggest hit – the stakes couldn’t be higher.
“Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire” premieres October 2 at 10 p.m. ET on AMC and AMC+.