Lifetime's new series Blood Ties is based on the successful series of novels by author Tanya Huff. I chose not to familiarize myself with the books before watching the series so I could judge it on its own merits, not compare my own mental versions of the plot and characters with those on the screen. In hindsight, that restraint was pointless, because no viewer comes into a series as a blank slate. I brought with me all my viewing baggage from series long past. This turns out not to be a bad thing.

The pilot of Blood Ties resonates with the feel of vampire shows already turned to dust, with a few unique touches that may yet give the show its own voice. The peripheral items are the most familiar. The quick-cutting establishing shots are strongly reminiscent of Forever Knight and Angel, shows with which it will be compared and contrasted by reviewers far smarter than I am. The setting, especially the evening shots for some reason, have a distinctly FK feel, though that may just be the series' Canadian roots peeping through. The detective aspect is well-travelled, though it's a nice change that the P.I. is the human female instead of the broody vampire. The show stays true to some of the regular vampire mythos (professional suntanning is out as a career choice) while dropping others (no, light does not bend around the undead, thus shaving and applying hair products correctly are both okay).

The cast is hit and miss. Christina Cox (who coincidentally played Joan of Arc in a few episodes of Forever Knight) brings a great presence as Vicki Nelson, a cop-turned-private investigator struggling with deteriorating vision and otherwise standard television-single-gal angst. She feels very natural in the role, as she works through a series of odd clues which lead her to the startling conclusion that the murder she witnessed was actually committed by a vampire. They also lead her to Henry Fitzroy (Kyle Schmid), a good-looking and wealthy chap who spends his daytime hours out of the sun. Schmid is sexy, but hasn't yet settled into his "I remember when 'Greensleeves' was in the Top Forty" role with the gravitas he's going to need. That said, he and Cox have plenty of chemistry, especially when they alternate saving each other's butts. The vampire genre is always mixed with sex, be it as caution, temptation or both, but the scene where Henry feeds on Vicki is distinctly sensual in a way Buffy rarely managed.

It wouldn't be modern romance without a romantic triangle in the mix somewhere, and Vicki's former partner -- and former lover -- Mike Celluci (Dylan Neal) steps right up. Neal gives a solid performance, providing just the right balance of young but grizzled detective and slightly overprotective ex-boyfriend.

Keith Dallas plays his new partner, although so far he hasn't had much to do except look confused (the previews for next week feature him more prominently). Rounding out the main cast is Gina Holden as Coreen, the girlfriend of the first murder victim. Holden is very earnest with her kinda-goth, kinda-New Age character, and it should be fun to watch Coreen interact with hard-boiled detective Vicki.

The more astute readers will note I haven't addressed the plot yet. That's because, well, pilots are as pilots do. The main characters are introduced without over-reliance on exposition, the pacing is smooth, and the dialogue is decent with occasional flashes of brilliance. ("Clearly I need more beer.") The plot itself -- a nerdy gamer tries to buy coolness and get a girlfriend by summoning a demon -- is certainly not the run of the mill cop drama story, but comes across as an unwieldy combination of winking self-awareness and yet obliviousness to a chunk of the potential target audience. (To be fair, since this is Lifetime, that chunk may not be tuning in much.) Michael Eklund plays Norman a little too close to the stereotype, and his friends show less depth than the characters in Dork Tower. Another problem I have is with the fight scenes. While some viewers might enjoy watching film on fast-forward, I found it annoying. Not all fight choreography can be dance-like, but a little more emphasis on technique and a little less on making it look cool by speeding it up will go a long way towards verisimilitude with fans. (Take a look at the first couple of episodes of Highlander and compare them with later seasons to see what I mean.)

Still, the show seems entertaining enough, and the reactions of the characters -- most notably Vicki and Mike -- to the crazy situations they're in is the real heart of the series. Since the show has an order for a full twenty-two episodes, Schmid has plenty of time to find his voice as Henry (even the most stalwart David Boreanaz fans can usually trace the point where he finally learned how to act, somewhere near the end of the second season of Buffy). Holden's character has potential, Dallas should get to show off a little more next time, and even Eklund will get a second chance later this season to show us he's more than just another Nerd With Necronomicon[TM] ala Buffy's Jonathan. If the comparisons to other shows seem unfair, they're not. Blood Ties comes as part of a broader genre and has a lot to live up to; while it may not have found its legs quite yet, the series has made a decent start with a good chance of future success, especially after timeslot competition Battlestar Galactica goes into hiatus in a few weeks.

If you're a fan of fantasy television, and you like the relationship aspects of genre shows, you'll probably like Blood Ties. I am and I do, and I'll give it a chance. Four out of five pointy sticks.