12 March 2011

The Vampire Diaries - Season 1

The Vampire Diaries - Season 1

Developed by Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec
Starring Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, Ian Somerhalder Katerina Graham, Steven R. McQueen, Candice Accola, Sara Canning, Zach Roeing, Michael Trevino, Matthew Davis, Kayla Ewell, David Anders, Mia Kirshner, Melina Clarke, Margauerite MacIntyre
Transmission season: 2009-2010
The CW, 22 episodes, 41 mins.

Plot: Mystic Falls, Virginia is plagued by mystical beings, and at the center of it is Elena Gilbert and two vampires fighting for her affections.

I can’t believe I’m going to say it. I can’t believe I’m even thinking it.

I should probably be declared legally crazy or something. Alright, here’s me taking a deep breath. Okay, time to take the plunge:

THE VAMPIRE DIARIES is actually a pretty damn good show.

It has absolutely no right nor expectation to be. For one, it airs on The CW, a channel that, with the exception of SMALLVILLE and SUPERNATURAL, excel in really crappy teen ‘romances’ and scandals. Secondly, in case you haven’t noticed, we’re still in the midst of TWILIGHT frenzy, with vampires – shows and movies and memorabilia – friggin’ all over the place. The idea of another program with vampires, let alone that stereotypical human/vampire love story right smack in the middle, being on the air wasn’t very enticing and what would have been the probability it would be remotely good?

Well, it’s probably not right for me to do so, but I think the success of VAMPIRE DIARIES rests nearly entirely on the shoulders of developers and showrunners Kevin Williamson (SCREAM, DAWSON’S CREEK) and Julie Plec (KYLE XY). See, this is much, much more than just a vampire show. Yes, there’s the romance between a human and vampire; yes, there’s the usual clich├ęd problems that plague that relationship; yes, there are hints of other supernatural creatures (i.e., werewolves) lurking in the dark; and yes, there’s plenty of angst. But the show is also about history repeating itself and the crimes of the past still having ramifications on the future. There’s witchcraft, which plays an integral part of the series. There’s even a doppelganger of our lead actress, Elena, and more backstory and questions relating to her than I would have ever guessed. Williamson and Plec have crafted a highly dimensional, ‘real’, and dare I say complex series that successfully kicks TWILIGHT’s ass, and – sorry TRUE BLOOD lovers – is far more interesting than HBO’s flagship series.

Let me back up a bit. Alright, this show takes place in Mystic Falls, Virginia, a peaceful little town (now) that has quite the history of vamps. Only select administrative personal know about the existence of the supernatural, but have yet to put their knowledge to the test…what with the lack of vamps and everything. But with the return of the Salvatore brothers to Mystic Falls, vampires follow. Stefan Salvatore (Wesley) is basically Angel and Edward: conflicted, remorseful about past mistakes, intent on doing good and making up for his horrors. His brother Damon Salvatore is the wild card: seemingly without a conscious, he kills when he wants to and has bloody fun doing it. Pissed off at Stefan, it’s pretty much his afterlife mission to make his brother’s life as miserable as possible, and with his return to Mystic Falls, he’s fulfilling his promise. Enter Elena Gilbert, a teen at high school who captures Stefan’s attention, and voilia the romance starts (cos, y’know, he’s dreamy). Elena has a bit of tragedy in her life – a year ago her mother and father died, and she and her brother are now under the care of her Aunt Jenna. Brother Jeremy is a druggie, not very interested in school, and Elena was once the prized girl at school but now shuns away from the spotlight. She has a best friend Bonnie, who was just told by her grandmother she’s a witch, which, of course, she finds totally bogus (wrong move, Bonnie).

The main questions and plotlines of the season are fantastic: supposedly, there’s a tomb underneath Mystic Falls that houses 27 vampires from 1864, and someone is hell-bent on getting them freed; Elena is an exact doppelganger of Katherine, the woman who turned Stefan and Damon into vampires, so how she has such a remarkable resemblance and what her connection is to their maker is also a question that reverberates throughout the season. A lot of events of the past, particularly concerning the Gilbert family, come back to bite everyone on the ass, culminating in a Founders Day ceremony where all hell breaks loose.

And, because this is a teen show, we have the usual but necessary character hookups and breakups; the jealous ex-boyfriend who has been a true friend since childhood; the ‘will they?’ relationship between Elena and Damon (perfectly valid question; those two ooze chemistry ten million times more so than her onscreen boyfriend Stefan); and the best friend who breaks away due to disagreements. Oh, and that their bodies are undergoing…ahem…changes.

I’m sure that probably doesn’t sound entirely appealing, but truth be told, it pretty much is. Full honesty: alright, the first four episodes of VAMPIRE DIARIES were highly bad. They were nearly carbon copies of TWILIGHT with only hints of the great show it would become. The moon eyes with Elena and Stefan, how the two ended up together, and some of the worst dialogue of the show ever that just pained me with (which is difficult to do, seeing as how this is such a remarkably witty and well written show). But once you get over those unsettlingly bad episodes, the show picks up the pace really quickly, and I dare say you’ll find yourself zipping through episodes rather quickly. Plus it helps that there’s now five episodes per disc instead of the frustrating four. That was nice.

Full disclosure: never been a fan of Paul Wesley (FALLEN). No offense to his acting skills, just never really been a fan. I think he has that Justin Bieber syndrome where I simply can’t take him seriously. He’s absolutely fine as a tormented, guilt-ridden vampire, truly, I just can’t hop on the Wesley-loving bandwagon. Ian Somerhalder (LOST), however, rocks. Ian owns this show from the moment he first appears, and he knows it. Somerhalder’s Damon gets all the fun: the one-liners, the sex, the kills, and the coolio outfit, and it’s obvious just how much Ian is enjoying playing the part, and we’re enjoying watching him kickass in it. Even though Stefan gets an interesting character arc later in the season (dealing with human blood and urges), it is Damon’s arc that is most interesting, whether he’s a thing that deserves to seek redemption, whether he wants to be a better man, what his true motives are, etc.

But let’s not discount Elena, played by Nina Dobrev (THE ROOMMATE) who is leaps and bounds superior to Bella Swan any day of the week. Elena is a confidant, intelligent, decision-making woman, and although she does end up getting herself in shitty situations that require her to be saved by a superpowerd vamp, she never comes across as helpless or damsel-in-distress. It’s a testament to the character and Nina’s stellar work. This is a pretty large cast, so I can’t really get into all the specifics, but Steven R. McQueen, who plays Elena’s brother, is pretty good and gets some juicy material to work with. Katerina Graham is Elena’s best friend who just happens to be a witch, and when she gets her witch mojo on 100%, Katerina is frightening and there’s no doubt of her power. Melina Clarke guest stars and does her thing, David Anders and Mia Kirshner also guest star in pivotal dual roles that directly tie to the mythology.

Basically, let’s just say it’s a well acted show and is better that it has any right to be.

If you don’t have any interest in VAMPIRE DIARIES, I totally get you. I initially was all “stay away!” and aiming my crucifix this direction, but by the beginning of disc two, it got my attention, and I started liking it. I’m not saying it’s a terrific series by any stretch, perfect episode to episode, but it’s fun, it has multiple layers of mythology and character development, it beats the shit out of TWILIGHT, and is actually something respectable. Is it the next BUFFY? Hell no. No one and nothing can replace that magic, but it’s a good, dark substitute.

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