Last night, The Vampire Diaries, a TV adaptation of LJ Smith’s early-90s YA vampire novels, premiered on the CW. The subject matter is familiar to anyone who read Twilight (though given the timeline, it seems more likely that Twilight lifted from this series), and the show doesn’t pretend to be anything but Twilight: The Ongoing Adventures. This is an undeniably smart move on the part of the showrunners and the marketing department, who did all they could to put viewers in mind of the bestselling book.
What this means is that the show did everything it was supposed to do: in doing so, it provided an hour of hilariously awkward television.
Let’s break this down, from start to Somerhalder.
We open with a young man and woman in an SUV; he complains that the musician they went to see was just another James Blunt, and “one is more than enough.” They are both swiftly dispatched by a vampiric force, but since he’s the most sympathetic character in the entire pilot, he deserves a mention. Good night, sweet pop-culture commenter; may flights of angels sing thee to they rest.
The rest of the premiere stumbles along in the usual maze of exposition. Elena sits in her picturesque window seat writing in her diary about how her parents are dead; her brother is Using Drugs instead of his Feelings; Elena’s best friend Bonnie greets her with a joking, “So, I’m psychic now!” though of course it turns out not to be a joke at all. Stefan, the broody vampire who’s new to school, is smitten with Elena to the point of waiting outside her house at all hours. She thinks it’s sweet; the audience, having heard his manful diary entry already, knows that he’s got his Stalker Sense turned up to 11, and that if she didn’t happen to like him it wouldn’t deter him in the slightest. In case anyone begins to realize how creepy this is, they introduce another vampire in the third act: Stefan’s evil brother, Damon, who a century ago loved the same woman Stefan loved—who looked exactly like Elena. Well, well, won’t THIS eventually be a totally unforced love triangle!
This run-of-the-mill teen story might have been watchable. Unfortunately, it exists against a backdrop of camp horror elements treated with absolute seriousness. Fog rolls in to herald Damon’s arrival as the string section plays Worried Music; Stefan’s attack on his brother looks like a high school theatre special effect but is treated like a declaration of war. It’s the sort of show in which the town’s “promiscuous” teenage girl (she’s had sex with two whole boys!) is almost date-raped by a classmate, then promptly exsanguinated by Damon. As the show goes on, she can probably look forward to investigating a lot of strange sounds while in a state of undress.
And as the final nail in the coffin (I know, I know), the actors march through the frame with their best Concerned Faces on. When their acting isn’t enough, indie rock hits are shoehorned into the soundtrack to highlight the moment. To be fair, the actors could use the help, since they have their hands full attempting to lend meaning to lines like, “I have to write things down, or I forget them. Memories are too important.” (Poor kids.)
The blissful exception to this rule is Ian Somerhalder, whose involvement in the show at first seemed inexplicable. However, it’s clear from the pilot that he plans to take this opportunity to hone his Tim Curry impression. He spends his scene twirling an invisible moustache and gleefully gloating, “You should see what I can do with fog,” in a tone that suggests they had to cut away from him before he winked and gave finger guns directly into the camera.
Sadly, not even Somerhalder is not enough to make me tune in again. (Nothing is.) On the other hand, if you’ve ever wanted to see a bunch of mediocre actors solemnly delivering ridiculous lines as the fog machine roars in the background, have I got a show for you!
Genevieve is a spec-fic writer and movie nerd who often wonders why anyone gifted with eternal life would choose to return to high school. She chronicles her questionable taste in films on her blog.