Review: The Vampire Diaries 1×1

So bad, you'll want to stake yourself

The Vampire Diaries

In the US: Thursdays, 8/7c, The CW
In the UK: Acquired by ITV2

I am not a tweenie. I am not a teenager. I am definitely not a teenage girl.

So The Vampire Diaries is not aimed at me. It is not my show. So when I describe it as “very bad”, you might be tempted to think the problem is with me. That I don’t get it.

You might be right, but I do love my Gossip Girl and Privileged and a whole host of other programmes that aren’t aimed at me either. I can spot quality, I think, even in this area.

And I can spot a lack of it, too. Because, you see, The Vampire Diaries is very bad. Not supremely awful, but enough to make you almost want to take your own life rather than watch it.

Based on novels of the same name, Vampire Diaries follows Elena, a young heroine, who is the object of passion for two vampire brothers. Four months after the tragic car accident that killed their parents, 17-year-old Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev, DeGrassi: The Next Generation) and her 15-year-old brother, Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen, Everwood) are still trying to cope with their grief and move on with their lives.

Elena has always been the star student; beautiful, popular and involved with school and friends, but now she finds herself struggling to hide her sadness from the world. As the school year begins, Elena and her friends are fascinated by a handsome and mysterious new student, Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley, Army Wives).

Stefan and Elena are immediately drawn to one another, and Elena has no way of knowing that Stefan is a centuries-old vampire, struggling to live peacefully among humans, while his brother Damon (Ian Somerhalder, Lost) is the embodiment of vampire violence and brutality. Now these two vampire brothers – one good, one evil – are at war for Elena’s soul and for the souls of her friends, family and all the residents of the small town of Mystic Falls, Virginia.  

Is it any good?
You could probably hear The CW’s execs salivating from a hundred miles away at the thought of an easy to assemble, Twilight-knockoff that they could rush through for the small screen and grab loads of ratings. They probably felt some exceedingly pleasant sensations indeed when they managed to get Kevin Dawson’s Creek Williamson to manage their newly acquired books, The Vampire Diaries, and their adaption for television.

Unless, somehow, the very presence of broody boy vampires in a TV show proves to be so irresistible to the entire legion of America’s teenage girl/tweenie population that it bypasses their normal quality thresholds and they watch The Vampire Diaries anyway, those execs might well be thinking they’ve severely cocked up by now.

The show’s just very bad. It’s the kind of show where people who write diaries must be deep and say very wise things. Well, wise if you think things along the lines of “people don’t always say what they mean” is some sort of revelation from Buddha.

I dare say there’s a bunch of introspective teenage girls out there who read books who’ll identify with the character – changed from a blonde haired, blue-eyed ‘perfect’ girl in the books to make her more easy to identify with – because she’s really pretty and deep and clever and sad on the inside (just like them) and how that really cute boy really understands how pretty and clever and deep and sad on the inside she is but in a really, really non-threatening, broody deep way (just like they wish cute boys would).

But unless you’re in that particularly shy demographic or you simply fancy the pants off one of the actors, there’s pretty raw pickings here. The direction is mostly good, with a couple of duff vampire effects. The performances are all reasonable enough, even if Ian Somerhalder is hamming it up as best he can to make sure the show doesn’t get totally mired in a swamp of its own naval-gazing and pretension. But the main character is insufferably irritating, as is her self-satisfied would-be vampire beau. The constant appearance of crows and fog to suggest mystery and suspense are risible. The non-vampire teen relationship issues take stereotyping and shallowness to previously unheard of levels, even if everyone thinks they’re being very clever and adult.

And, lastly, we have the famous The CW music effect: why bother having dialogue when you can simply play a never-ending stream of hits over the top of it all, designed to draw in every indie kid around by osmosis and boost music sales? Placebo, MGMT, Bat For Lashes – it’s the TV show as pop video.

To be honest, this paucity of ambition actually annoys me. Teenage girls deserve quality TV as much as anyone else, so giving them things that have been painted by numbers in a cynical attempt to exploit them and make money is insulting.

My suggestion: avoid it, unless you really, really love vampires, perky brunettes and/or broody, non-threatening boys.