Sunday, June 13, 2010

Why I Like 'The Vampire Diaries' (television)

I thought the show would be worse than Twilight. Its setup is identical: a vampire falls in love with a high school girl. To my surprise, The Vampire Diaries kept me tuning in every week.

Our heroine Elena (Nina Dobrev) lives in the historic Virginia town Mystic Falls. Her parents recently died in a car crash, leaving her and her dope-head brother Jeremy (Steve McQueen) in the care of their young aunt Jenna (Sara Canning), a lovable pal but sucky guardian. Elena’s grief causes her to bond with the - unbeknownst to her - nice vampire stalker Stefan (Paul Wesley). Unfortunately, he has a vampire brother who is not so nice. Damon (Ian Somerhalder) enjoys making his brother’s life miserable and has no qualms about eating humans. He also notices that Elena looks exactly like their (yes, their) ex who lived more than a century ago.

Other cast members include Elena’s cute ex Matt (Zach Roerig), his a-hole best friend Tyler (Michael Trevino), and Tyler’s druggie girlfriend Vicki (Kayla Ewell). She is also Matt’s sister and Jeremy’s love. The town is incestuous. Then there are Elena’s best friends Bonnie (Katerina Graham) and Caroline (Candice Accola). Bonnie is sweet and supportive; Caroline is blond and bitchy.
It’s… Believable
For a cheesy show about gorgeous townsfolk and creatures of the night, it’s surprisingly realistic. (Note: I am used to television-hot actors not CW-hot. These people look like no one I've met.) The most initially stereotypical characters turn out to be some of the most complex.

It’s Funny
The Vampire Diaries doesn’t take itself too seriously. The heroine’s best friend matter-of-factly explains why she is psychic. They laugh at such a preposterous notion. (So does the audience, for other reasons, of course.) One vampire advises another: “You’re dead, dude. Get over it.”
It’s Surprising
Even though the series borrows heavily from previous vampire/teen stories, it follows its own path. It uses and plays with formulas. The pilot features Elena running through a foggy graveyard, complete with an ominous crow. It also quickly dissolves a budding love triangle cliché because a character actually acts sensibly.

It’s Consistent
They’ve done a darn good job with the vampire mythology. The explanations, including questions of vampire morality, have a basic logic. Not only that, but the tone, pacing, and character development are dependable. Unlike many shows, actions (usually) have consequences. Characters have motivations and don’t forget about what they did the previous week.
The vampire “look” is perhaps the best I’ve seen. When vamps get blood hungry they sprout fangs. Eyes become bloodshot and veiny. These immortal serial killers are scary twists on their human selves, beastlike and vicious.

The writing and acting are respectable. Nina Dobrev can be grating in a teenager-y way, but her Elena is an appealing character. Paul Wesley is somewhat one note, but he brings a wisdom and tenderness to the role of Stefan. That he manages to be less than creepy is a remarkable feat which alone elevates the show far above Twilight. Ian Somerhalder clearly relishes playing Damon, who is funny, flirtatious, and wicked, but perhaps not irredeemable.

Certain scenes are ridiculous and unintentionally hilarious, but the camp is part of the fun. Due to historical echoes, intertwining relationships, and flashbacks to the brothers’ vampire births, the show borders on epic. How can you not enjoy a show where vampires play high school football, embarrass history teachers, and attend Halloween parties dressed as – you guessed it – vampires?


  1. Thanks for helping me to find this blog! I love your writing style, and sense of humor. Plus, I absolutely adore your take on The Vampire Diaries. This show is way better than a teen vampire show should be, right?

    I agree that one of the things that makes The Vampire Diaries so special is the show's ability to not take itself too seriously. Too many movies and shows in this genre get bogged down with the strum and drang of it all (cough, Twilight, cough).

    For me, the one scene that exemplifies exactly what this show is about (in terms of tone and dark humor) is the scene from early on in the first season, when Damon invites Vicki into his mansion and gets her drunk. The two characters dance to Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence," and then Damon . . . well you know ;). The whole sequence was just brilliant, in my opinion.

    I also love that you called Paul Wesley a "nice vampire stalker." That definitely got a good laugh from me.

    Great blog! I'll be back for sure!

    P.S. I tried to send this comment before, but it didn't seem to go through. I'm not used to commenting on Blogger. If I sent you two very similar comments on this post, feel free to delete one of them (or both - your perogative I guess :)).

  2. Thank you so much for visiting my blog! Your mention of that hilariously random dance scene between Vicki and Damon reminds me of how much I love the featured pop songs. I almost mentioned that in my review. When I heard a few much loved songs (OF COURSE vampires would listen to Birthday Massacre, and Placebo is perfect - angsty much?), I knew I would like the show.

    Strange - I wonder why your posts didn't go through. I'm not super tech savvy. Again, thanks for commenting, and thanks a ton for the compliments.