But "Kindred," which might have been wretched and campy -- think "Melrose Vampires" or "Vampires 90210" -- turns out to be a wry morality play with Julian as a dashing antihero. At its best, "Kindred: The Embraced" shares the appeal of "The X-Files" and other trendy tales of the paranoid and supernatural.
Tonight's episode does provide helpful "Kindred" lore. Julian (Mark Frankel) is the Prince of all the clans, and the character most in debt to Count Dracula. He has a widow's peak in his slicked-back hair, and lives in a mansion with gold-tasseled drapes. Yet Mr. Frankel gives Julian a seductive, contemporary air. With his own rigorous code of honor, Julian is determined to keep the peace.
Another clan is led by a miniskirted nightclub owner named Lily Langtry. She is the Lily Langtry, once Oscar Wilde's pal; those vampires age well. The thuggish Brujah clan (pronounced as in brouhaha) is led by the muscle-bound Eddie Fiori, who is determined to wrest power from Julian. And the Nosferatus, in homage to Murnau's classic film, are hairless, with pointed teeth. They all drink blood discreetly; they've had centuries to refine the technique.
The pilot also serves as a glossary of vampire-speak. The "masquerade" is the big joke the vampires put over on the rest of us, by passing as human. To be "embraced" is to be turned into a vampire, one of the "Kindred" (like being a made man in the mob).
In a strong episode called "Romeo and Juliet," to be shown on April 17, the Brujahs take advantage of Julian's niece, and the fun really begins. Julian stomps into Eddie's office and declares war. "My city?" he yells. "Against my blood? Did you think I wouldn't answer?"
Though "Kindred" would be better without Frank and his witless dialogue, it's too much to hope that he will disappear. The noble Julian has guaranteed his life, and, besides, Mr. Howell gets top billing. In tonight's episode, Frank looks into his lover's eyes (he has not yet seen them turn that undead white or watched her turn into a wolf) and says with soft-spoken sincerity, "If you were working for Luna, you'd tell me, wouldn't you?" Oh, sure she would.
If only networks could cross-pollinate. Then Nash Bridges, the San Francisco detective Don Johnson plays in his new CBS series, could hunt the Kindred while he's in the neighborhood. Nash Bridges versus Julian Luna: now that would be a fair, and exquisitely groomed, fight.
KINDRED: THE EMBRACED FOX, tonight at 8. (Channel 5 in New York)
Produced by Spelling Television; created by John Leekley; written by Joel Blasberg, P. K. Simonds and Steve Dejarnatt; Aaron Spelling, E. Duke Vincent and Mr. Leekley, executive producers; Llewellyn Wells and Mr. Blasberg, producers; Mr. Simonds, Mr. Dejarnatt and Mark Rein Hagen, co-producers; Cheryl Stein, associate producer.
WITH: C. Thomas Howell (Frank Kohanek), Mark Frankel (Julian Luna), Kelly Rutherford (Caitlin Byrne), Stacy Haiduk (Lily Langtry), Jeff Kober (Nosferatu Daedalus), Patrick Bauchau (Archon), Erik King (Sonny Toussaint), Channon Roe (Cash) and Brigid Walsh (Sasha).