‘Reginald the Vampire’ Review: Fun Teen Comedy With Just the Right Number of Bite

'Reginald the Vampire' Review: Fun Teen Comedy With Just the Right Number of Bite

With the onset of October comes a host of new spooky series premiering on TV, and SYFY is the staple holding horror television together. Offering everything from the second season of Chucky to reruns of Resident Alien and Astrid & Lilly Save the World, the network has made itself a mainstay of genre TV, and their latest offering is no different. Reginald the Vampire, premiering on October 5, is maybe their most straightforward monster story to date, one that embraces the present day and all the oddities that come with it — especially when you’re trying to balance nightstalking with a graveyard shift at the Slushy Shack.

Based on Johnny B. Truant’s Fat Vampire novels, Reginald the Vampire upgrades its name to follow its titular vamp (Jacob Batalon) after he is unwillingly transformed into a creature of the night during a run-in with some of the deadliest of the undead bunch. Maurice (Mandela Van Peebles), his sire, does his best to keep him out of trouble, but as is the case with both vampire stories and coming-of-age comedies, nothing ever goes quite to plan.

Thus, the series follows two distinct plotlines: Reginald dealing with the fallout of becoming a vampire (adjusting to a morbid second puberty, so to speak), and the young vamp teaming up with Maurice to deal with the vampire council, an abhorrent bunch of nightcrawlers who disapprove of Reginald for not being physically attractive enough. With the former comes the typical problems of a teen comedy, aged up for post-graduate twenty-somethings: work woes, girl problems, and self-image issues. With the latter comes a Twilight-esque type of structure and adventure, and with both comes the overwhelming sense that it might be difficult to balance the two without falling into tedious tropes common to both the vampire story and the coming-of-age tale.

While it upgrades its name and takes a handful of liberties to escape the overt fatphobia of Truant’s original novels, Reginald still suffers a bit under the weight of the fat jokes that do remain. Comparatively, they’re harmless, and Batalon’s good-natured humor in directing most of them at himself helps to carry the weight, but the commentary the show is attempting to make falls a bit flat, tripping on the curb up to the Slushy Shack as it attempts to make a point about the prettiest people often being the ugliest on the inside.

That case isn’t helped by its cast of vampire council members, all of whom seem more like undead Heathers than they do truly menacing antagonists. Maurice’s struggle with the council — specifically Angela (Savannah Basley), his sire and the regional director of vampires in Ohio — is the throughline of the show, but much of it is lost in Angela’s petty attitude, as she is neither incompetent enough to be funny nor menacing enough to be terrifying. Her assistants are equally bothersome, and it’s easy to become much more invested in the show’s slightly corny (but still lovable) B-plots than the main draw itself. While the council certainly aren’t people you want Reginald hanging around, they’re more Regina George than Kurt Barlow, somehow lacking the former’s bite even with their fangs.

That being said, the rest of the show’s cast shines, matching Batalon’s goofy but endearing energy with grins that feel infectious. Em Haine is utterly adorable as Sarah, Reginald’s own Mina Murray, and I sincerely hope she joins the annals of rom-com history with her next project, Why Can’t I Be Molly Ringwald?, because she’s got the chops to manage it. Seeing Marguerite Hanna as an openly non-binary cast member — whose character is also non-binary — feels like a breath of fresh air, and they’re one of many other quirky cast members who make the teen comedy aspect of this series so entertaining. While the vampire council might be boring and bureaucratic, the residents of Akron are vibrant and full of life, with Aren Buchholz and Thailey Roberge also making cute and memorable appearances.

But it’s Van Peebles that truly carries this show in a way that makes me wonder if we shouldn’t just have a Maurice spinoff to go with it. Exploring his history as a vampire, including his relationship with his mother and with Angela, is easily the most compelling part of the series, and it’s clear that Van Peebles has a long and successful career ahead of him. His talent is no surprise, given he’s the son of actor-director Mario Van Peebles and grandson of legendary filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, but his performance is equal parts sincere and silly, lending humanity to the show where it’s needed.

Maurice and Reginald’s friendship is, without a doubt, the highlight of the series, following in the footsteps of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer to balance bloodsucking and bad guy bashing with the true bond of good friendship. Even despite some questionable story decisions (two words: vampire orgy), Batalon and Van Peebles have the kind of heart necessary to carry a show so concerned with those that have stopped beating. Like comedy, horror thrives when it is earnest and committed, and both Batalon and Van Peebles hit that mark and continue to soar beyond it, proving that horror on (cable) TV isn’t dead yet.

While it doesn’t quite reach the greatness of some of SYFY’s most iconic programming — notably Chucky, which will premiere its second season back-to-back with Reginald’s first — it is of the quality fans have come to expect from SYFY programming over the years. That is to say, while Reginald isn’t perfect, and its lore is a little goofy, it’s a good time and offers an interesting twist for anyone who’s hungry for more vampire stories. Those who enjoyed Warehouse 13 or the American version of Being Human growing up will certainly love the quirkiness Reginald the Vampire has to offer, and if given a Season 2, the series could only serve to grow, embracing its human characters as much as its undead ones.