Yes folks, this is a review of the actual pilot of The Vampire Diaries, not the script. Warning, this review will contain spoilers. ‘For over a century I have lived in secret. Hiding in the shadows, alone in the world, until now. I am a vampire, and this is my story.’Thus begins CW’s pilot for The Vampire Diaries, somber voice over complete with emo-Vampire woe over a creepy parallax of a foggy forest. Cut to alternative rock blaring through the night as an SUV cuts through the darkness, inside a 20-something couple bicker over the merits of the concert they just attended ending their disagreement on a good natured moment just in time to vanish inside an ominous fog bank.
As they clear the fog bank, a figure becomes visible — right in front of them. There is no time, the driver cuts sharp to avoid but nails the lone figure anyways, casting the figure violently into the night air as the SUV skids out of control. Having never seen a horror movie in his life — and with no clue that he is in one – the driver ventures into the darkness to check on victim, to his own peril. As you can guess, the rag doll is actually a vampire who rewards the drivers concern with a savage neck snap.
It’s a pretty typical opening for this sort of material, and unfortunately ‘˜typical’would become a pretty apt adjective to describe much of The Vampire Diaries. The pilot plays out under the narration of Elena (Nina Dobrev) and Stefan (Paul Wesley) as they write diary entries. Elena is struggling to reclaim her identity in the wake of losing her parents, something the world around her seems unwilling to allow happen. Stefan is our vampire narrator, returning to his home town of Mystic Falls to see Elena, not surprisingly. His interest in her, though, is somewhat of a mystery. She is a mirror image of a girl from his past, Katherine, but her importance to Stefan is not made clear in the pilot. What is clear, is that romance with her could prove dangerous. At one point deeper in the pilot, he seems to begin to ache for her when suddenly he begins to vamp out. Not good. But let’s back up a bit.
The very typical ensemble of supporting characters are introduced, Elena’s brooding brother, her nutty friend Bonnie who thinks she is psychic, the jock ex-boyfriend, the sex-pot, the blond, the bully, the Prius, you get the picture.
Stefan is introduced to the teens as he registers himself for school. The pilot loses points for me here, because it is one of those scenes where the lead merely has to walk down a hall and instantly everyone is in love with him. I realize this is targeted towards hormonal teens, but just once couldn’t the lead do something to earn such adoration? If it is merely the Vampire X-Factor, which apologists will no doubt insist on, could we at least have the characters bemused a bit by how easily impressed they are?
Stefan mysteriously snakes in and out of Elena’s day, in her classes, at her door, etc. Early on he pops up at the graveyard where she pauses to make an entry in her diary at the grave of her parents. While in the bone yard, Elena is visited by a mysterious crow and a very familiar fog bank prior to running into Stefan. I think we were supposed to think it was Stefan in the fog, but it is pretty obvious that it isn’t him; almost as obvious as it is that the first vampire we saw in shadow wasn’t him. Hopefully, writer Kevin Williamson and company weren’t banking on us thinking it was because the attempt at tension is wasted if that is the case. We do get a sense of Stefan’s potential weakness for blood, though. Elena cuts her shin and Stefan gets all dark eyed and veiny in the face at the site of it, resorting to one of those cliche vampire disappearing acts.
The Vampire Diaries plods along with the sort of creepy game of romantic cat and mouse ambling along familiar modern horror paths: the dinner at the local hang out where the Vampire is driven off by the bully, the requisite party scene where someone wanders off and gets themselves killed, and so on.
The twist, I suppose, comes when we find out that the killings gripping the town are being committed by Stefan’s evil vampire brother Damon (Ian Somerhalder). Where Stefan has given up on human blood Damon is still a drinker, a fact that makes him much stronger than Stefan. They have a minor scuffle where Damon gets in a few rounds of exposition-laced dialogue, including revealing that their sun proofing is provided by magical rings. It’s another exchange that feels overdone and contrived, another hallmark of The Vampire Diaries pilot.
Overall, it is the familiarity of The Vampire Diaries plot that sometimes works against it. Seasoned vamp aficionados may find much of the story boringly familiar. Williamson should have paid attention to the line he wrote for Damon, ‘Remember Stefan, it’s important to stay away from fads.’
I liken The Vampire Diaries to this candy I buy every so often at the drug store down the street. It’s called ‘Almond Roca,’and it is absolutely disgusting. Still, there is something unexplainable about its appeal, and if I can choke down one piece I find myself not able to get enough. The Vampire Diaries is the same sort of experience. I have no reason to like it, it is a tired and too-familiar plot filled with characters that live in their stereotypes and have little to no believable human depth. Nothing occurs between the leads that would make me hunger for the next beat. It’s as if Williamson is expecting a Pavlovian response. A recent press-release from TheCW described the market for The Vampire Diaries like this ‘The Vampire Diaries taps into the continuing fascination young women have with all things vampire.’Maybe that explains everything.
The bottom line is, though, just like the Almond Roca I found something about The Vampire Diaries intriguing. Maybe something about the shamelessly superficial characters twanged my long dead inner teenager, maybe I suffer from a ‘˜fascination with all things vampire’myself, or maybe it was the well-executed post-modern Goth-look. Whatever it was, I have no doubt that I’ll return to The Vampire Dairies week after week to try to and figure it out.