By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Reginald the Vampire,” which aired Oct. 5 on SYFY, is not worthy of its intentions. Unfortunately as well, the titular lead, Jacob Batalon (Spiderman’s sidekick), does not convincingly carry the show. Blame it on the writing and directing, maybe, because in person, Batalon is charismatic. For him, this opportunity is impactful. “Being the lead of something was more my dream. Being a vampire is adding topping to the great ice cream that I’m having…It’s a really fun part and I’m so happy that I get to do it,” Batalon said in a press interview.
Based off of the “Fat Vampire” books by Johnny B. Truant, “Reginald” lacks in comic timing and sense. I lost five hours of my life watching the first five episodes and there’s no vampire around to give them back (that’s not an invitation, you vampires!). Who is the audience? I’m not sure. Em Haine, who plays Reginald’s love interest, has commented that SYFY viewers have been generous. I can see how the juvenile humor could be amusing, but the goriness is so over-the-top that it might not be for kids. Not that the gore is “realistic.” Just crazy gratuitous. There are blood-slathered sex orgies, the vampire’s drink each other’s blood (that’s a new one—is there nutritional value or just kinky?), Reggie is starving for blood cuz he’s too inept to kill for it, which is sweet, but…he drinks it out of a jar instead or pours it over his ice cream. G-R-O-S-S.
“It’s such a tried and true classic genre…but our take on it is so different and unique, and absolutely ridiculous at times, that you can’t help but laugh and have fun, but also it does have its own unique world…what our vampires can do, what they can’t do, it builds its own universe in that sense,” Aren Buchholz, who plays Reginald’s supervisor and tormentor, explained to press.
It’s true the show has its own approach to the genre. Sadly, it carries onto TV the same problem some readers felt the books have: “inconsistent tone.” I can handle blood but it makes no sense with the rest of the show.
Reggie works at “Slushy Shack,” a candy-colored place where the “slushies” look like alien goo and where Reggie’s “sire,” Maurice, who is supposed to be “cool” (played by Mandela van Peebles), likes to go. Really? None of this matches with the dark side of the show and the baddie vampires.
One moment you’re goofing around in an after-school special and the next a vampire is ripping someone’s head off. It’s not a pleasing juxtaposition. It’s not “oh, there’s a dark underworld to what we think is our everyday life.” It’s two different stories.
Reggie does not work at Slushy Shack in the books. How he gets “turned” is different as well. In the show, it’s brought on by relentless bullying he receives from nearly everyone, regarding his weight. This is one of the show’s main agendas.
“Comedy is born on pain. Things are funniest when they shed light on the tough reality that is universal that we all share,” said Marguerite Hanna, who plays Reginald’s binary coworker. I agree with her words, but it has to be based on, yeah, reality. I admit I have not been everywhere and done everything, but I have never in my life witnessed this much adult fat-shaming of anyone.
Who does this? Frat boys maybe. Almost everyone at Slushy Shack would be fired for harassment in today’s workplace.
The constant fat shaming in the show felt like…fat shaming…not an effort to combat it. The show fails to rise up to the level of intention of its cast.
“My favorite part of this show is [the] …heartfelt themes that we hit on,” Haine told press. “The show is a message…about inclusivity and finding yourself and really questioning what does it mean to belong and where do I belong?”
The thing is that it’s a given in the show that Reggie is fat, but not in a good way. They present a compensation, not holistic self-love. What else can you do, Reggie? You’ve got a big brain! How about “love the whole me?” I mean, he does need to grow up. He could learn some table manners, be more assertive, and stop working at Slushy Shack just cuz he likes a girl.
“There are real consequences when you can’t love yourself and those consequences don’t just affect you but the people that you care about most,” explained Hanna, and this is the most successful theme.
Being a vampire happens at the wrong time for Reginald, but also the right time since it provides the enhancement he needs to break out of his shell. But I don’t feel the least bit envious. Batalon tries to be funny, or the script does, but the delivery is weird, with a pause before everything he does and says. The show needs to SPEED THE F—UP. An hour per episode is torture. Once in a while, something amusing and well-timed occurs, ie. Reggie and Maurice run into a vampire they thought was “dead”: “You’re alive?” “Technically nobody here is alive.” Ba ha.
And the vampire “rules” don’t make sense. The vampires are super snobs who avoid turning anyone who doesn’t meet their appearance and fitness requirements. Once you are turned, you can’t change anything about yourself, so Reggie is “doomed” to be overweight forever. Yet he still has to “train” for a vampire “test” of some sort (they have this whole bureaucracy). What is he training for? He can’t get muscles. He can’t lose weight. Can he get faster? No comprende.
As far as representation, there’s Batalon, Filipino American, there’s “Mike,” played by Ryan Jinn, and there’s “Nikki,” the Asian femme fatale Harley Quinn-esque giddy killer, played by Christin Park. I was a bit uncomfortable with what seemed to be Mike’s major purpose as eye candy. He is blatantly objectified. I thought, “We’re there already? We’ve gone from no decent roles for male Asian actors to eye candy?” Nikki turns out to have an appealing soft side that is unexpectedly brought out in episode five. It was the only subplot of the series that I enjoyed.
The cast, who are immeasurably more interesting in person, have big dreams for “Reginald” and it’s too bad the show doesn’t live up to them. “The metaphors that we use vampirism for….[are like] American society today,” Batalon told the Weekly. “We portray them as these beautiful Hollywood standard-looking people who are not as deep. Having me…who doesn’t look like a Hollywood leading man type and who is a thoughtful person…enigmatic and all over the place, I think it’s important to know that…it’s not just one thing of [being] a vampire.” If we needed to know that. I’m not sure we did! I’m happy for Batalon in this non-standard role, though, and I hope it continues, for the sake of all non-typical-Hollywood or vampire types everywhere.
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.