CW’s fan-favorite Vampire Diaries is decidedly sudsier than Joss Whedon’s wittily pop culturally referential Buffy and Angel universe, not nearly as kinky as Alan Ball’s acclaimed True Blood, less broodingly hardcore than Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and features a refreshingly feisty heroine that could teach Twilight’s passively antifeminist Bella a thing or two.
Regardless of the fact that honestly the last thing we needed was yet another vampire mythology to keep straight since all offer their own unique spin on the folkloric legends of sunlight, wooden stakes, holy water, crosses and whether or not vamps can gain access to residences sans invitation, following its admittedly rocky and seemingly Twilight style pilot, Diaries grew into a rapidly addictive bloody delight.
Like HBO’s True Blood and CW’s other teen targeted drama Gossip Girl, which has transcended its demographic to attract fans from all age groups, Diaries is based on a series of books cleverly adapted by Dawson’s Creek and Scream scribe Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec from author L.J. Smith’s 1991 debut trilogy that’s spawned an ongoing collection of work.
Still reeling from the death of her parents in a horrific car crash in which she was the sole survivor, seventeen year old Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev) carefully feigns smiles and engages in small talk as she returns to face another new school year in Mystic Falls, Virginia alongside her best friend Bonnie (Katerina Graham) and the beautiful but insecure Caroline (Candice Accola).
Worried about the angst filled way that her brother Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen) sublimates his sadness with more than just recreational drug use, which neither Elena nor their graduate student turned guardian Aunt Jenna (Sara Canning) can control, the overly stressed Elena finds herself surprised by her unexpected attraction to mysterious new student Stefan (Paul Wesley).
Although she’s initially unsure if she can balance her own family drama with a budding romance, Elena’s heart temporarily usurps her head as she falls for Stefan, whom the audience already knows has not just started school there with precisely the intention to get the know her better but is also a vampire who’s been around for nearly one hundred and fifty years.
However, even though he’s working overtime to try and keep his true identity a secret from Elena in addition to several other Earth shattering facts that he knows about the girl he loves – some of which begin to reveal themselves as the season continues – Stefan’s desire to let their relationship play out naturally is challenged twofold with the arrival of his nefarious scene-stealing brother Damon (Ian Somerhalder).
Returning to Mystic after being estranged from the younger Stefan for fifteen years, once Damon discovers that Stefan’s new girlfriend bears an uncanny resemblance to their Civil War era love Katherine (also played by Dobrev in flashbacks), it’s pretty apparent that he won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
And whether he’s threatening the residents or using his ability to “compel” them into compliance to drink from the necks of high school coeds, finagling an invite into Elena’s home, or setting things in motion to carry out a diabolical scheme that has to do with bringing the past back (literally), Somerhalder’s devil with an angelic smile is always the one who commands your attention.
Not content to focus solely on the immediately predictable love triangle between Elena and the brothers, one of the reasons that Vampire Diaries works so unexpectedly well is because it travels far beyond the realm of simple supernatural romance genre.
Ultimately it’s a brainy soap dressed up like a guilty pleasure that incorporates a hefty amount of intriguing mystery that continually keeps you guessing and a compelling historical angle in introducing the idea of founding families in which the sins committed by the characters of the past are either paid for, inherited or repeated by their ancestors in the present to ensure a seamless flow back and forth in time.
Breathing life into period flashbacks is not an easy task but instead of the show screeching to a halt or making us feel that we’re watching teens play dress up, it’s fascinating to absorb the way that one key night in the brothers’ life keeps changing as the season continues.
Additionally it’s aided by its extraordinarily large ensemble cast that impressively offers roughly a dozen characters substantial plotlines that intersect and play well off of each other along with the writing staff’s willingness to either fearlessly kill off key characters or shock us with daring back-stories and amazingly complex revelations.
This ability to juggle numerous stories convincingly is best evidenced by Stefan’s biographical confession to Elena that sends her on a quest to uncover a family secret that manages to cleverly coincide with the arrival of a new history teacher who may be different from what he appears to be during a pulse-quickening mid-season string of episodes.
Culminating in an outrageously tense first season finale in which several character fates are suddenly decided either in death or with the jaw-dropping “outing” of the true natures of others, leads quite nicely into the recent second season premiere episode of Diaries, making WB’s recent release of Vampire Diaries on DVD and Blu-ray exceptionally timely.
And due to the increasing complexity of the episodes and the way that Diaries characters come and go throughout the first season, it’s particularly beneficial to screen the installments back-to-back in a long marathon week rather than see it drawn out over the course of a year to best appreciate the overall impact.
Refreshingly ensuring that the Blu-ray discs would hold our places when we picked back up with the next group of episodes – unlike most Blu-ray titles which make watching television in the format a real challenge – while at times the grainy ambient woods shots and muddied dark colors made it hard to discern what was happening in the “horror” moments, overall it’s a sharp high definition transfer of an engrossing show.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.