Let’s face it – admitting to someone you’re an adult who watches a show called The Vampire Diaries can be a bit embarrassing. The title, shared with the young adult novels the show is adapted from, conjures images of broody teenage vamps composing horrendously self-involved poetry while staring off into the moonlight and cursing their respective fates. I haven’t read the novels, so that very well may be what they are about, but thankfully, the show is not. Week in and week out, The Vampire Diaries is one of the most consistently entertaining shows on television, and I think it’s time we take the title back. The Vampire Diaries should no longer be a source of shame, but a source of pride! (…Err, or something.)
Here are 10 reasons why there’s no shame in admitting you’re old enough to rent a car, yet you still love The Vampire Diaries:
The best thing about this show is that it moves. It doesn’t meander through plot, stringing reveals out as long as possible. It introduces a story and then tells that story at a breakneck pace, all while folding in several other side-stories to keep things entertaining. The sheer amount of plot the writers have ripped through in one-and-a-half seasons would make The O.C.-era Josh Schwartz hang his head in shame. In the season two premiere alone, all of these things happen: Someone gets their fingers chopped off and a knife in the gut, a different someone gets stabbed in the gut, an evil doppelganger shows up in town and does evil doppelgang-y things, a new mysterious maybe werewolf is introduced, someone almost gets turned into a vampire, someone else actually does get turned into a vampire, and someone gets their neck snapped but comes back to life. On top of all that, they also manage to squeeze in at least 11 conversations about feelings and junk. It’s impressive not only in its ambition but especially in its execution, as nothing feels rushed, and no one story is slighted. The overstuffed, haphazardly plotted True Blood can—and should—take a few notes.
Part of the reason the plotting moves so well is the very specific act structure the show has established. Almost always, it begins with a teaser to pique interest for the hour to come and ends with a cliffhanger that sets up conflict for the next episode. These cliffhangers aren’t just “Elena (the show’s main character, played by Nina Dobrev) has a hangnail but just saw Black Swan and is afraid to cut it”-level stuff. They’re shocking, they’re unexpected, and they do exactly what a cliffhanger is supposed to do: Keep you hooked enough to come back next week for more. Other shows do this, and do it reasonably well, but no other show’s endings have made me say “OH DAMN” in my living room (out loud, while alone) more than The Vampire Diaries. There’s something to be said for “OH DAMN,” people.
Foolhardy is a show about killer beings that refuses to allow them to actually kill things. The Vampire Diaries is not that show. Main character Damon (Ian Somerhalder) was introduced in the pilot as an unrepentant murderer and was allowed to keep on murdering for a bit, just to show us how evil he could be. Granted, his character has softened over time, and he is considered a “good guy” now, but the undercurrent of evil remains. Even the heroine’s love interest, Stefan (Paul Wesley), is given room to explore more than his soft side. As for the villains, evil vampire Katherine, season two’s main villain, ALSO played by Dobrev, casually killing a random teenager on the dance floor of a party like the teen was an ant on her shoe is the perfect example of how to give your villain teeth.
Two years ago, if anyone would have told me I would list Ian Somerhalder as a reason to watch anything, I would have called them crazy. Now? Not so much. This isn’t Emmy-caliber work, mind you, but it is a scenery-chewing master class on how to have a hell of a lot of fun. If you’re going to play a vampire, for the love of God, please make your performance fun. Otherwise you just end up with The Gates, and as ABC found out last summer, nobody wants that.
No, I’m not talking about the Georgia woods here. I’m talking about attractive people, and this show has plenty of them. It’s already practically a CW mandate that everyone on their network must be beautiful, and this is the most beautiful of them all. I might be shallow, but this can be nothing but a plus. There are definitely far worse ways to spend an hour of your Thursday night than watching excessively pretty people skulk around and do evil things and then snark about it, all while occasionally taking off their clothes. (Of course, you should DVR The Vampire Diaries and watch Community live first. This is The A.V. Club, after all. I think that’s a rule here.)
Do you like pretty people? Then you’ll definitely be into pretty people dressed in period garb, speaking in semi-stilted period accents and sporting terribly inaccurate period hairstyles! One of the classic tropes of vampire fiction is the liberal use of flashbacks, and The Vampire Diaries doesn’t shy away from this cliché one bit. If you have characters who have been alive for over 100 years, there’s bound to be a barrelful of backstory to wade through, and flashbacks are preferable to listening to a character drone on about their past. The corsets, suspenders, and terrible wigs are just a bonus.
As mentioned in the first point, there is an evil doppelganger afoot in Mystic Falls, and on a scale of one to fun, she is a solid 10. Nina Dobrev was already impressive enough last season, playing the “good girl” character in a way that didn’t make the audience want to punch her in the face, but her season two feat of juggling two identical characters (one who is often impersonating the other) has been a joy to watch. Evil people are fun. Evil people who look exactly like our heroine and steadfastly make everyone in her orbit miserable on a daily basis? WAY MORE FUN.
Yes, there are love triangles. There is heartbreak. There is longing. There is regret. Brooding over these things, however, is kept to a strict minimum. The characters don’t have time to sit around and simply be sad. They’re too busy fighting the next evil being in town or attempting to solve the next mystery or having sex with the next random person to dull the pain. In a world where wimpy master-brooder Edward Cullen has strangely become some sort of male vampire standard, this is a good thing.
One thing the show has done remarkably well is deepen the involvement of its tertiary characters. For a show to thrive, it must expand its world in a believable manner, and The Vampire Diaries has been aces in this department so far. Adding the inevitable werewolf story is made to seem much less superfluous by having a character who has been there since the pilot be the center of that story. They’ve also tapped into a goldmine by turning their resident cheerleader/man-eater into a vampire herself. It’s tempting to credit the source material for this success, but it’s what you do with the source material that’s important, as we’ve seen from True Blood’s disastrous season three. These werewolves aren’t Nazis. Not yet, at least.
The common thread throughout all of these points can be distilled down to one word: fun. Yes, television can be art. Yes, television can spark volumes of debate about character motivations and narrative symbolism. Sometimes, however, it’s nice to just turn on a show and have it simply entertain. That’s not to say the show isn’t smart. It is, in its way. It aspires to be exactly what it is: top-notch, edge of your seat genre programming at its finest. It aspires to be fun, and on that point is a resounding success.
Finally, while the show has a mythology and a backstory, it’s also ridiculously easy to jump on board at any point in the narrative, thanks to crystal-clear storytelling and how exciting the series makes everything in the moment. If you’ve been curious about jumping on board and were thinking about picking the series up, the series returns Thursday night at 8 p.m. on The CW.