On Saturday Night Live, the late Weekend Update anchor and occasional short-form film critic Norm MacDonald delivered what would become the definitive review of 1994’s Interview with the Vampire: “Not gay enough!” At the time, he was being facetious, a ripe homoerotic energy radiating from every frame of the undead Louis de Pointe du Lac’s recounting of his dalliance with fellow bloodsucker Lestat de Lioncourt. Nevertheless, a new take on Anne Rice’s 1976 novel (rising from the grave in TV series form on AMC) presents itself in part as a corrective, directly servicing the interests of those displeased that the slim distance between the faces of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt never vanished with a kiss.
The remixed sequel created by Rolin Jones – a Pulitzer prize finalist playwright spending more time these days on lower-profile small-screen work such as Low Winter Sun, Perry Mason and, most germane to the matter at hand, The Exorcist – makes text of a subtext already so glaring that it eclipsed all other interpretations. Having relocated his upscale bachelor crypt from San Francisco to Dubai, Louis (Game of Thrones alumnus Jacob Anderson) summons journalist Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogosian) for another tell-all chat, now with an added revisionist wrinkle. As he once again relates the story of his time in turn-of-the-century New Orleans with the debonair Lestat (Sam Reid), he diverges from the record he previously laid out, explaining that the world of 2022 allows him to be candid about certain things that were best left unsaid 30-ish years earlier. Namely, that this pair of adult male companions given to ostentatious Gothic attire and arch double entendres were in actuality lovers. Molloy, ever the model of writerly professionalism, refrains from responding with “no doy”.
Bringing these characters out of the narrative closet is meant as a triumph, the pilot episode’s calling-card sequence a threesome that climaxes with a levitating coital tableau. But even if we set aside the framing device’s patently false implication that queer art wasn’t allowed to exist in the 90s, there’s something lost in the mission to destroy the innuendo for the sake of fully overt representation. As audiences learned from last winter’s remake of the noir classic Nightmare Alley, a carnal charge can burn much hotter when left to the imagination than explicitly stated. The inability to follow through on longing only ups the intensity, a concept with which the show is itself intimately acquainted, teased out as the ethical Louis refuses the human blood that his body craves like an addiction.
The amour fou that flowers between Louis and and Lestat – alternating between hungry desire, fussy annoyance and the flirty bickering that bridges the gap from one to the other – rehashes many of the film’s insights about makeshift family units in the queer community, particularly in how a younger man can find both partner and father figure in an elder. (Lestat is, ultimately, a vampire daddy.) Once played as a 10-year-old by Kirsten Dunst, the wayward girl (Bailey Bass) they convert to vampirism and take in as a surrogate daughter has been bumped up to 14 this time around, her untethered id a clearer analog for the reckless excitement of each successive generation as they sexually come into their own. The decision to recast Louis with a Black actor proves the most fruitful break from the source material, the leads’ interracial dynamic layered on top of their intricate mix of lust and hostility. Due to the prejudiced mores of the setting, Louis must pose as Lestat’s butler for a night out at a society ball, an exercise in humiliation they redeem by treating as a taboo-pushing game of role play.
That scene elegantly weaves together the various schools of commentary pursued by a show that aspires to timeliness more clumsily in its references to Covid and 8chan. And yet it feels like the deepest motivation for all the smoldering – the raison d’etre, as Lestat would purr – is to provide grist for the fandom mill, catering to a viewership that’s been made to wait too long to see the objects of their affections get it on. Neither True Blood, another Louisiana-set vamp soap fluent in high smut, nor Hannibal, another arty kill-of-the-week psychodrama coupling an urbane sociopath with the moral flip-flopper in his thrall, acted on the charge of desire crackling in the scenes between their handsome protagonists. In treating that withholding insinuation as an injustice to be righted, Jones has created a paradoxical work that’s more sexual yet less sexy than its forebears. Since its earliest inception, the vampire genre has conflated violence with eroticism in the bite of the incisor, a form of penetration by any other name. Erasing the element of suggestion proves a blessing and curse on par with the vampiric germ, making way for the bracingly graphic and just plain obvious alike.