When Wesley Snipes declined the television reprise of the half-vampire superhero he played in three respectable B-movies, fan message boards predicted Blade: The Series would be the worst sci-fi show in action-adventure history.
Which would, of course, be impossible, considering that history includes such cable and syndicated monsterpieces as Earth: Final Conflict, TekWar, Andromeda and Total Recall 2070.
Lost in the uproar over the loss of Snipes was the good news: David S. Goyer, who wrote all three Blade theatricals, and directed the last one, signed on to shepherd the franchise's transition to Spike, where it will be the man-boy netlet's first scripted drama.
Happily, Goyer's touch can be seen all over the pilot, which he co-wrote. Boasting more wit, polish and attention to detail than generally found in the genre, Blade: The Series rivals The Invisible Man (2000, Sci Fi) and Witch- blade (2000, TNT) as among the most promising sci-fi debuts in recent memory.
This might accurately be termed Blade Jr.
Rapper-turned-actor Kirk "Sticky" Jones lacks the intensity of Snipes' big-screen charisma, but that enables Jones to make the nocturnal avenger slightly more human - certainly a valid variation on a theme.
Goyer, though obviously mindful of the films, successfully re-imagines the premise for the long haul of series TV. Gone are cool sidekicks Whistler, Hannibal and Abigail; Blade's new techie assistant is wiseacre Shen (Nelson Lee, Traffic: The Miniseries). The formerly globe-trotting Blade will now fight vampires primarily in Detroit.
His nemesis remains the shadow vampire empire, now led with admirable Eurotrash smarm by Marcus van Sciver (Neil Jackson, Alexander), who specializes in dastardly plots to enslave and otherwise inconvenience the human population.
The biggest change in the Blade universe is the introduction of Krista Starr (Jill Wagner), a battle-tested Army vet whose twin brother, a snitch for Blade, has been murdered by Sciver and his henchmen. Avid for revenge, she makes a risky decision to infiltrate Sciver's organization by becoming a vampire. This puts her allegiance in doubt, and neatly leaves Blade as the sole hope for saving her human soul.
One worry: The Invisible Man and Witchblade, hampered by cliched writing and diminishing production values, both morphed into mediocre series, the sharpness of their pilots sadly left behind. With Goyer staying on as an executive producer of Blade, maybe that curse can be avoided. But don't stick your neck out.
Chauncey Mabe writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Blade: The Series, starring Kirk "Sticky" Jones, Neil Jackson and Jill Wagner, airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays on Spike