The very first scene of The Vampire Diaries pilot showed a lot of promise, because it’s actually a horror scene. Country road! Night! Fog that comes out of nowhere! Raven! Then the boyfriend disappears out of the frame, up. When vampires can fly, I hate actually seeing them fly, because it tends to look seriously dumb, but I love things like people looking up into the sky and screaming, and people getting pulled up out of the frame as if they’ve been snatched by a giant bird.
(In general, this is what works in horror: I, the viewer, cannot possibly be adequately scared simply by the sight of your fake monster, but if I can be convinced that the characters are terrified, I’m in.)
So, that was pretty good. And then it turned into Twilight. Better than Twilight, which makes it better than syphilis but not by enough. At least the protagonist of VD (hah!) has something real to be mopey about. (Her parents were killed. And her brother is an idiot. Wait, where have I seen that before? I know, True Blood.) But then you have the hunky vampire who is immune to sunlight (which they eventually give a phlebotinum for, it’s not that vampires are inherently diurnal), and he’s putting vampire whammy on the registrar so that he can go to high school For Some Reason.
I think this reason is supposed to be that he is stalking the lead protagonist. What was her name? Oh, Elana. He seems to be stalking her because She Looks Exactly Like His Dead Girlfriend. Which is a vampire story trope that works in Fright Night but really nowhere else.
In fact, this got me wondering why it works in Fright Night, and there are a few reasons: one, it isn’t the primary driver of the plot, it just adds an extra dimension to the character motivations. Two, we are shown the dead girlfriend in a painting instead of a photograph or a flashback where she’s played by the same actress, which makes the resemblance to the modern character seem way more plausible, like they aren’t exact identical twins of each other, they just kind of look the same. Three, Fright Night is awesome in every way.
MikeK pointed out that the resemblance thing might have an explanation because both dead girlfriend and protagonist come from the same smallish Virginia town, which would sort of work better as a fanwank if anything else about the series managed to convince me that we were in a smallish Virginia town. For one thing, it’s got that Twilight problem of having an improbably enormous high school. Also, it’s easy to make fun of True Blood for the sometimes unconvincing accents, and the sometimes overblown southern gothicness, but VD really makes me appreciate the fact that TB (hah!) is, without a doubt, set in rural Louisiana. The town in VD seems so much like an LA suburb with a fake historic cemetery added that every time the characters mentioned being in Virginia I did a mental double take. Really? Virginia? Are you sure?
The show is called The Vampire Diaries and the protagonist and the vampire both keep diaries. I kind of liked the reveal when you see the cabinet with the vampire’s diaries and how the years go back so far, but neither the protagonist nor the vampire are particularly interesting diarists, so when we hear the voiceovers with their diary entries, it’s a big yawner.
(Also, there’s a scene where she dropped her diary and he returns it to her, and they have a little conversation that goes like “did you read it?” “no, of course not.”
Which is so dull, it made me all nostalgic for the scene in Buffy season one, where Buffy finds her diary has been moved, just assumes Angel has been reading it because he’s been hiding out in her room all day, and throws a big tantrum where she says that when she says his eyes are “penetrating” she meant “bulgy” and it’s not about him anyway. Then he tells her that he didn’t read it, her mother moved it when she put some clean clothes or something in the room.)
The nice vampire, Stefan, has a bad-boy vampire brother who is sort of entertaining to watch when he’s on screen. But his motivations are hazy. They seem to boil down to, “I am going to show up and start killing lots of people and make your life more difficult, Because.” And really, it’s because without him causing trouble for the sake of trouble, there would be nothing driving the plot at all.
The fact that something is driving the plot, even if that thing is exceptionally arbitrary and contrived, is part of why it’s so much better than Twilight. But, there’s a certain population problem. How big is the town? And how many mysterious deaths can it really support before people start to notice? Because so far the motif is that the bad vampire is going to kill at least one or two in every episode. He seems to go for couples. Maybe there’s an interesting Freudian thing going on there, but I doubt it.
The very, very generic young people also get on my nerves, they seem to have been imported wholesale from Gossip Girl or The OC or some other junk I don’t watch. They all have the same dress sense as each other, and the same hairstyle as each other. There’s the blond one and the slutty one and the one who might be psychic, but none of those things actually constitute a personality. The only characters with a shred of personality are the bad vampire and Elana’s aunt, who is their guardian, but not much older than Elana and her brother.
(Another crazy thing, these kids are all obviously at least sixteen or seventeen, not just the fact that the actors all look thirty-five or whatever, but the way the characters are written, how much sex they’re having and whatnot, and then there’s dialogue that seems to indicate that the brother is a freshman. Fourteen? He’s supposed to be fourteen? You’ve got to be kidding me. They didn’t even make a token effort to try to make him seem fourteen.)
(Oh, and it reminds me of one of the reasons Dollhouse eventually won me over: the characters on that show, who have literally had their personalities wiped, have more distinct personalities than the drones on VD.)
The soundtrack is also really obnoxious, featuring Today’s Teen Hits (or something, I really have no idea what actual teenagers listen to nowadays) really loud and up front in the mix, almost like they’re hoping it will provide an adequate substitute for drama. Hint: it doesn’t. But I kind of liked the “Running up that Hill” remake.
Anyway, I might end up watching more episodes of this if MikeK tells me they get really good, but otherwise I’m going to give it a pass and just wait around for season two of True Blood to come out on DVD.