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Why VD Doesn’t Suck

I didn’t like it any more than you did: The Vampire Diaries pilot was, as Billie said, Muppet Babies with fangs. High school only feels overwrought when you’re in it, and the stakes of this show were underwhelming, to say the least. Girl has vampire boyfriend. Vampire boyfriend has snarky vampire brother. Some friends with superpowers, and some friends without. The writing was pedestrian, the acting wooden, the plot redundant. We’d seen this and read this before. But then, somehow, it got better. Here are the top ten reasons you should join us for the Great Vampire Diaries Re-Watch of Summer 2010:

10. The Cast. They have chemistry. The show films in Georgia, which gives the young actors some distance from the fever-dream of Hollywood, and they’ve made it clear in interviews that they’re getting along well. It shows. While Elena’s friends, especially Bonnie, don’t really grab my interest, the interactions between Elena, Stefan, and Damon start to feel natural and honest by about the fifth episode.

9. The Dialogue. It gets better. Some of the sparkly honesty of the interactions has to do with the writing, which definitely improves after the pilot. The kids talk like kids talk. The adults talk like adults (or maybe adults who spend too much time with kids). This isn’t a Joss Whedon show: you don’t watch it and suddenly start adding the letter y to make modifiers out of nouns, or hitting a strange beat in a sentence to make it punchy. It’s not Joss, and it’s not supposed to be.

8. The Labyrinthine Plotting. Borges would have a hard time puzzling it out. There are vampires and maybe-werewolves. Dead ringers and dead parents. Live parents with dark secrets. Events in the past that haunt the events, and people, in the present. On top of all of that, the main characters are high schoolers, so they’re constantly fighting, breaking up, hooking up, lying, and crying. Sure, the mysteries ostensibly shape the plot—but the character’s reactions to those mysteries keep the story moving, and the writers don’t take shortcuts with the ramifications of any major events. Stuff matters, and it doesn’t go away in a week. (See #4).

7. It Takes Place in a Bubble. Well, not really. But Mystic Falls is a small town, and it’s a bit like Hotel California: even the undead can’t seem to leave. There’s no bluster about the End Of The Known World. It’s about people in a small town, dealing with small endings. Maybe it’s just because all of the other shows I review (and watch) are so Cosmically Important, but the miniature scale is a nice break.

6. Sark from Alias. He is in the last few episodes of the first season. He’s delightful, and this show treats him better than Heroes did, although not as well as Alias itself.

5. The Other Adults.
Elena’s and Jeremy’s aunt is young and vivacious; history teacher Alaric is far more interesting than he should be (the actor gets points for that); and a few cameos, including one from Mia Kirschner of The L Word, keep the high schoolers interacting with grown-ups. The real adults (the moms and the mayor) have a part to play, too—and they keep the kids out of it, just like in real life. This isn’t Buffy: the whole town is involved.

4. Character Development.
The characters have more than one note. Some have two or three. Even supporting players, like Caroline, get mini emotional arcs that affect the rest of the characters in a delightful ripple effect. This is a show that knows what it is doing, and know that sometimes plot has to come from within.

3. Bromances.
I love them, and VD has a few. The back-and-forth relationship between Stefan and Damon is the best: those two have more issues than the New Yorker. But Damon’s relationship with Alaric…well, as I said above: this show knows what it is doing in terms of character development and taking things slowly. I do admit it, though: both of these bromances shine because of:

2. Ian Somerhalder is Frakkin’ Awesome.
He’s incredibly hot, yes. I’ve noticed. But his character has some depth, and he waffles (see above re: character development). He’s hard to pin down—if some characters get two or three notes, he gets a whole octave. His line delivery is snarky and deadpan and knowingly over-the-top, but he also lets the other actors shine: every scene with him in it is a better scene than it would be otherwise. I stopped thinking of him as Boone after four episodes. I think that says enough.

1. What Else Are Your Going to Do This Summer? For those of us stateside, it looks like the CW will be airing the episodes, starting with the awful pilot, the week after the Lost finale. (Yes, that’s how I mark time.) A few episodes are available for legal streaming at the CW website, too—and for download a few other places. I’ll review the episodes as I can get my hands on them.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

9 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I gave up around the third episode. You've convinced me to give it another try. I hope the CW runs all of the episodes in order.

Paul Kelly said...

Here in the UK we're about 5 episodes behind the US (so I've not read any of your reviews yet), but I just had to comment on your choice of title. It made me laugh out loud. Hilarious!

Like a lot of people, I've struggled with VD (*snicker*) for a while now, but it's really grown on me of late (these double entendres are killing me). Despite the VD novels coming first, the show fairs badly alongside the likes True Blood and Twilight. And unfortunately, unlike TB (another dreaded illness) and Twilight, LJ Smith's books are absolute shazbat. So VD should, by all rights, be an absolute failure.

Yet it isn't. It's one of the few instances where the filmed version eclipses (no Twilight reference intended) its source. Elena was horrendously one dimensional in the books. Crying because someone isn't dazzled by your beauty? Falling in love at the drop of a hat with some crazy-ass vampire you hardly know? It's every parents worst nightmare.

Damn! I forgot where I was going with this. It's turned into a rant. Time to jam.

Harry said...

Hahaha ahhh, Josie :-D what a great article! Thanks for writing it and giving me a Very good chortle as well as something to do with 6 weeks on a tiny island with very little do except download from the strangely fast internet. You've convinced me to give VD another go! Will let you know if you manage to get another VD convert, I'm dubious but I'll hang on for Sark!

Morgan said...

I definitely agree with having David Anders on VD. He's the reason why I stuck out with Heroes until they ultimately killed him off.
And I definitely agree with the rest of your list!

Cecile said...

Hi Josie, sorry but you don’t convince me. What can I say, some of the reasons you give, are not reasons at all for me to wash a show (go to see a movie or read a good book is far better!), and I have to say I’ve given it a tried but is not for me. But why I write then? Not to bitch about the show but to say that I love the title to this post and your enthusiasm.

Anonymous said...

Ian and the fact it was about vampires is what brought me to first watch the show. It started as a high-schooly soap-opera. but you're right it has gotten better and better. Better storylines, and i'm glad they aren't afraid to kill people off.
Sark:D
Now that we've seen so much of Ian in tVD, i've come to realize he was soo under-appreciated in lost. He's so deliciously evil and yet wants to be good in this. :)

Harry said...

Hey Josie,

Just wanted to say thanks again, I don't know quite why, but I'm totally addicted to V(D) :-) I watched 6 episodes in a day which is something I never normally do, and I'm really enjoying it now. Thank you for writing this article!

Josie Kafka said...

Way to go, Harry!

Mona said...

Heya :)

Great article. What a coincidence that I just started watching VD out of boredom. When it first aired I was so sure that its some bs. I am just not a fan of twilight, I tried to read the books but I couldnt handle it... its like a marketing campaign... and so clichee... I also tried the movies but I kinda think everyone (except Alice maybe) is so unsympathetic looking (I avoid the word ugly, but it comes to mind ^^°) I dunno. And when I saw pics of VD with the two main chars I thought: wow, they look so much like Twilight (although I knew VD is the one that was written first) why did the cast that folk?

But in the end I gave it a try and I was really blown away. Unlike you I even liked the pilot because of its fast plot pace. I am so glad its much more about different characters that just the "will they wont they, they cant..."-kinda-thing.

I never thought I could like something with Vampires after Buffy and Angel, but this is the second time after true blood :D Currently I am watching the 16th episode and I am so hooked *lol*

I love that u are doing a rewatch, because right of the back of watching the pilot I came here to read a review and was SO SAD that there wasnt on by that time. I am so addicted to this page :DDDD Now I might read them after all. YAY!