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Reviewed by Will Harris
t’s so easy to dismiss “The Vampire Diaries” outright. Not only do we already have a TV drama about vampires with HBO’s “True Blood,” but, geez, could it be any more obvious that The CW decided to greenlight the show in a desperate attempt to bring all of those wayward “Twilight” fans to their network on a weekly basis?
Here’s the thing, though: “True Blood” gets pretty heavy-handed sometimes, using vampirism as a way to speak between the lines about racism and gay-bashing, and “Twilight” spends way too much time focusing on teen angst. “The Vampire Diaries” still has plenty of teen angst, sure, but isn’t it about time we were able to enjoy vampires with a wink and a smile at the audience?
Based on the book series by L.J. Smith, “The Vampire Diaries” has transformed into a small-screen project by a duo with considerable experience in writing for TV teens: Kevin Williamson, who brought you “Dawson’s Creek,” and Julie Plec, late of ABC Family’s late, great “Kyle XY.” The show takes place in the fictional town of Mystic Falls, Virginia, a place which has had a long history with vampires, dating back to the Civil War. Actually, it probably stretches even farther back, but it was during that era when brothers Stefan and Damon Salvatore (Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder) entered the ranks of the undead. They’ve come and gone from the town over the years, but now they’re back, and they discovered something very interesting: a girl named Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrey) who looks remarkably like the vampire who bit them back in the day. Elana and her brother, Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen), are orphans, having lost their parents in a car accident only a few months earlier. As you might imagine, both of them still have a tendency toward dour moods, but Jeremy’s really bad, having fallen into drug addiction as a way to cope with his depression. Elana, however, has taken to keeping a diary and venting her emotions and deepest thoughts. Coincidentally, this is something that Stefan is prone to do on occasion. Say, I’ve got the perfect title for this show…
“The Vampire Diaries” spends a great deal of time infusing its high school melodrama with vampirism, giving the proceedings an interestingly off-kilter tone that surprises as often as it entertains, not least of which because its characters aren’t afraid to acknowledge other pop culture vampires. (There’s a hilarious moment when Damon is asked why he doesn’t sparkle when he’s in the sunlight.) The series explores the history of vampires in the Mystic Falls area through Stefan and Damon, but the flip side of the coin is tackled via the Founders Council, a group of individuals with longstanding ties in the area who regularly patrol the town for vampire activity. Yes, you could mock the fact that there’s also a witch in Mystic Falls, but, really, once you’ve accepted the existence of vampires, is it really so hard to go another mile down the road marked Suspension of Disbelief?
Mysteries constantly unfold within “The Vampire Diaries,” making it very much the sort of the show that keeps you coming back from week to week. But if you’ve got to pick an MVP for the series, it’s got to be Ian Somerhalder. Paul Wesley plays Stefan like he’s trying to be the Robert Pattinson of the small screen, and good for him for daring to dream, but Somerhalder is delightfully despicable as Damon, spitting out threats and one-liners with equal ease. Dude deserves an Emmy nod. Seriously.
Call it a guilty pleasure if that’s what it takes to get you through the night, but “The Vampire Diaries” manages to be dark and dramatic while still finding the fun in its characters, and call me blasphemous, but its episode-ending cliffhangers were a damned sight better than the ones offered up by “True Blood” this season. I’m not saying it’s better than “True Blood,” but it’s better than you think it is.
A lot better.
Special Features: It should be no real surprise that Warner Brothers has gone out of its way to make the vampire-loving fans of this series as happy as possible, loading this set with as much bonus material as possible. First off, there are the featurettes: “Into Mystic Falls: Bringing Vampire Lore and the High School Experience from Page to Screen,” “When Vampires Don’t Suck: The Popularity of Vampires and the Fans Who Love Them,” “The Vampire Diaries: A New Breed of Vampires – Casting the Series,” “The Vampire Diaries: Vampires 101 – The Rules of the Vampire.” Then you’ve got deleted scenes and the obligatory gag reel, the series’ “Darker Truth” webisodes, and, lastly, the downloadable audio book for “The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening.” Not half bad, eh?