I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same thing when the CW hit series Vampire Diaries premiered in 2009: “I hate Twilight, and this looks like Twi-lite (<- See what I did there? Nailed it!), so I am definitely gonna file this show under my ‘Never Gonna Watch’ category.” The drippy, melodramatic pilot and the almost too pretty for words cast photos did little to alleviate those fears. Also, the show is on a network who currently has a show entitled Beauty and the Beast, in which the titular “Beast” appears to only have a facial scar that marks him as an outsider. However, somewhere around the middle of the series’ first season, I began to hear that the show was…(Dare I say it?)… good. Critics actually liked it, so I decided to pick up the first season when it came out on DVD. I like a good vampire story, and hoped Vampire Diaries would be such a yarn. For the first few episodes, I began to feel I had perhaps wasted my money on a DVD I would soon give away to some poor, unsuspecting soul. However, around the sixth episode, the series grabbed me. I stayed up all night watching that first season, left class early the next day in order to finish it, and bought every aired episode of the second season on iTunes. I was a fan. The show is now in its fourth season and the CW’s only real hit (for the CW, anyway).
It may be impossible to fall in to Vampire Diaries on the CW now. The show may be the most mythology heavy series on television and wouldn’t know a stand alone episode if it walked up, tipped its hat, and introduced itself. Every time I attempt to tell someone the series is worth their time, I’m met with the same skeptical look I initially gave the show. In an attempt to convert everyone I can to the series’ charms, I present you with 5 reasons you should be watching Vampire Diaries.
1) It owes more to Buffy, the Vampire Slayer than it does to Twilight
Vampire Diaries was created by Scream writer Kevin Williamson. That film was a brilliant mix of humor and horror, and he brings a similar sensibility to Vampire Diaries. While that vampire saga about pouty, sparkly vampires is full of self-serious melodrama, Vampire Diaries is fun, playful, and craftily shiver-inducing. I’ll admit it’s not as strong as Buffy was at its best, but it aspires to hit Buffy’s heights, and it frequently comes very, very close.
2) Elena is not Bella, and Stefan is not Edward
I CANNOT stress this point enough. One of my biggest issues with the Twilight saga involves its romantic leads. Bella is so bland and sullen it’s hard to understand exactly why everyone is so desperate to save her. Edward, also, spends so much time brooding and staring (and broodingly staring and staringly brooding– this may be all he does) that I half expect him to whither away into a vampire husk, because feeding would just take too much effort and time away from reflecting on his (not so) sordid past.
Contrast these two wet-rags posing as human beings with Vampire Diaries’s Elana and Stephan. Unlike Bella, Elena has her own identity. She has no desire to be a vampire, and does not want her existence defined by her vampire boyfriend. She has moments of sullenness, but overall she is pleasant, loyal, and kind. She is a flawed character who doesn’t always make the right decisions, but it’s easy to feel affection towards her. I buy why the rest of the cast would work to save her from harm. In addition, Stefan may brood (as is required by any vampire lead who is not named Dracula), but he has moments of levity and is a well-rounded character. His relationship with Elena, while chocked full of emotional drama, is also playful and affectionate. They look like a real couple, not two people who found themselves drawn into a staring contest with one another, couldn’t decide who would blink first and decided to get married. They seem likable and functional as a couple, and may be the best supernatural pairing since Buffy and Angel lit the television screen ablaze with their palpable chemistry.
Every vampire melodrama needs a smart-ass observer hurling insults from the sidelines. Anne Rice has Lestat, Joss Whedon has Spike, and Vampire Diaries has Stefan’s older, vampire brother Damon. Much of the series humor comes from Damon, who is both ruthless and romantic (much like Whedon’s Spike). Melodrama’s pomposity needs to be punctured occasionally in order to be effective, and Damon serves that purpose beautifully. Also, like Spike, he is driven by emotional impulses, allowing him to shift from sarcastic observer to third point in a vampire love triangle with great ease. He’s a wonderfully, refreshing, complex, ambiguous character and a major reason the series works as well as it does. Speaking of ambiguous characters…
4) The series cannot create a one-dimensional villain
For four seasons now, Vampire Diaries has presented a villain who seems irredeemably evil, only to provide them with layers and shadings as the season unfolds. The series thrives on moral ambiguity amongst its characters and loves to present its audience with a character the audience initially hates only to have the audience completely on that character’s side within a few episodes. As brilliant as Buffy was (and it was and remains so to this day), it was less effective at creating interesting villains. It played them for occasionally equal parts comedy and malevolence, but it never attempted to make them sympathetic (Buffy SPOILER: except for Willow in season 6, and she was a lead character we’d known for six seasons who was driven to do evil by trauma– not a character introduced solely as a villain End of SPOILER). Even the lead characters frequently shift from sympathetic to unsympathetic on a weekly basis. This approach makes the characters seem more believable and grounded in reality, despite the extraordinary events surrounding them. Vampire Diaries relishes character ambiguity, and this emphasis on character complexity should be applauded.
5) The show takes more twists and turns than a M.C. Escher painting
Most series take their time laying out plots that will guide a series for one (or multiple) seasons. Vampire Diaries prefers to present a season’s worth of plot in a single episode and resolve the presented issues by the next week. This is not a criticism. The fact that the series can do this effectively is a major triumph. It moves at a break-neck pace, willing to resolve major conflicts in a matter of weeks and then introducing an entirely new threat. In addition, while it loves its characters, it’s not opposed to killing them off at unexpected instances. It’s a brutal, visceral, twisty maze of a television series that is practically made for marathon viewing.
The first three seasons of Vampire Diaries are available to instantly stream via Netflix, as well as available to purchase through amazon insant streaming and vudu.com. Or if you so choose there’s always DVDs and Blu-Rays. I recommend you seek it out instantly (as long as you have a few days in which you are not expected to venture too far from your television set.)
So, what do you think? Are you a fan of Vampire Diaries? Were you reluctant to give it a chance? Do you have better reasons people should give it a chance? Do you hate the show and think I’m nuts for calling it great? Are you still mad at me for daring to mock Twilight and its sparkly vampires? Let us know in the comments.