Apr 5, 2011

The Vampire Diaries - Season 1

Remember your favorite indie band? The one you loved so much, but nobody else had heard of? Remember how you used to persuade people to give it a shot, and how victorious you felt after every new convert? And do you remember how your world crumbled when the group got into a blockbuster soundtrack, and suddenly everybody knew about it? And how people almost laugh at you for being a sheep now when you say you are a fan?

That's what Twilight did to my infatuation with vampires. It is now degrading and embarrassing to like them, but I will have you know I was deeply in love with the children of the night long before they started sparkling in the sun. With that in mind, I knew it was only a matter of time before I started watching The Vampire Diaries, even though it looked like a soapier version of Twilight.

In truth, it turns out the show is the better Twilight. Based on J.L. Smith's successful young adult series of the same name, it is Twilight with a main character that does not cause the reader/viewer aneurysm, with vampire love interest who has backbone, and with drama and intrigue that actually make sense.

The story is set in the small town of Mystic Falls (of course), where a hundred and fifty years ago a great battle of the Civil war took place. Nowadays it is a thriving little community supported by the rich Founding Families. Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev), the freshly orphaned daughter of one of those, is just beginning to reassemble her life after her parents' tragic death in a car accident that she has miraculously survived. One day a new student arrives at the school - the dashing and mysterious Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley). Elena instantly falls for him, and it seems he is falling for her as well. But Stefan has a dark secret - he is a vampire, turned a century and a half earlier in this same town. And not long after, another vampire appears. While Stefan feeds only on animal blood and wishes to build a normal life in Mystic Falls, his older brother Damon (Ian Somerhalder) is a psychotic killer who thrives on causing misery and has dedicated his life to ruining Stefan's. But he has another reason to return to his birthplace, and that has to do with the potentially devastating secret of a church fire a century and a half ago.

The Vampire Diaries takes a certain attitude to enjoy. First of all, you should not expect intelligent drama. The show is far from dumb, but just like Supernatural (another CW offering), the plot is fairly predictable where character interaction is concerned. Predictable does not equal poorly executed though, so unless you need to be surprised and challenged by character building, you will enjoy it. There is also the issue of everyone in the cast being absurdly scary hot. Seriously, so much eye candy in one place is definitely ungodly, and at the beginning it almost prevents you from taking the show seriously. Once you get over everybody's sinful hotness though, you quickly see that there is more to it than that.

The show does well what Twilight fails with, and that is plot. Sure, it's not the most original one, but the twists and turns are many, and The Vampire Diaries offers an extensive cast to soap things up. Romantic drama, secrets, intrigue, it's all there, and it works. And when it comes to the romantic part, all it takes is getting over the fact that the only type of relationship anyone in the show seems to be able to be in is True Love. After that you just root for most of them.

The acting is surprisingly good, considering (stereotyping alert!!!) the looks of the characters. The cherry for the first season goes to model-turn-actor Ian Somerhalder whose Damon is beautifully unstable, in turns psychotic, charming and unapologetically, deliciously evil. He brings most of the humor and the horror in the first episodes, and his scenes are pure delight to watch.

Another very strong point of The Vampire Diaries is the soundtrack which - again - does what Twilight isn't able to, and that is to create mood. Barely an episode passes without a "longingly staring at each other and random sad/romantic happenings happening with an epic pop song in the background" moment, and more often than not said pop song is perfectly chosen. Instead of pretentious indie-ness, the show has opted for teen pop, and it turns out it works a lot better.

There are, of course, downsides to being a guilty pleasure. First of all, the general quantity of soap and the continuous structure of the plot means that you can't jump episodes, or you'll miss important plot developments. That every episode ends with a cliff-hanger is understandable, and they're done right, but it's hard to acquire new fans when the only episode you can start watching from is the pilot.

Another flaw is the guest-starring support cast. Unlike Supernatural which suffers from a distinct lack of support, here there is a whole plethora of it - students, teachers, parents, everyone somehow involved in the vampire shenanigans surrounding Mystic Falls. They are mostly a stable presence, and some of them are extremely important to the plot. The issue are the characters that show up in random episodes, because most of the time they are done very well, but almost inevitably end up killed. Seriously, I don't think I've had so many characters I love die on me in a single show!

The final complaint is fairly predictable, considering what I already said about the character interaction - a lot of the time the romantic drama is just painfully repetitive. That said, you won't often be annoyed with it, probably, so I don't think it's that big of an issue.

So is The Vampire Diaries worth watching? Hell yeah! If you have at least a little appreciation for vampires, if you like intrigues and secrets, and if you can stomach lots of romance, then this show is a must. Fair warning though - the season ends in a gloriously satisfying cliff-hanger, introducing perhaps the best character so far, so do make sure you have access to the first episode of Season 2 when you get there!


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