I hate vampires.
I always have, it’s not just a Twilight thing, though that can take a good chunk of the blame.
They were alright when Daywalker Blade was chopping them to bits, but less interesting when Interviewed with their goofy long hair. I didn’t like their snarling faces on Buffy, which may in fact be a good show, but some mental block exists in my head that won’t let me watch past episode three.
They were fun for a while in their bloody, sexy glory on True Blood, but that show became more about shock value and fantastical plots than quality writing or characters. And of course yes, I’ve been barraged with five Twilight films that tell me that vampires sparkle and werewolves never wear shirts.
Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting much when my fiancée convinced me to give The Vampire Diaries a shot. The title alone is a huge hurdle for most dudes to overcome, as was the obvious love triangle right off the bat between the vampire brothers and the girl they both sought. It seemed like Twilight Lite from afar, and nothing I wanted to be anywhere near.
But I gave it a shot, and three weeks later, I’ve watched 75 episodes.
Truth be told, the Vampire Diaries is what Twilight would be like if it actually had well written characters. All the same elements are there, the love triangle, the vampire werewolf rivalry, the feud with older, deadlier vampires, but it’s all handled so, so much better. It’s unfortunate that Twilight became this worldwide phenomenon on the scale of Harry Potter while the Vampire Diaries has a CW show at 10% of their following at best.
Why does the show work? One reason stands out above all others, the characters. This is a combination of the actors cast and the scripts they’re given. One needs to only look at another CW show, Arrow, to see how awkward casting and wooden dialogue can completely negate an interesting concept. In the case of the Vampire Diaries, it’s the opposite. The characters are so good, that it overrides an idea that’s been done to death at this point.
It’s the way characters keep evolving on the show that keeps you coming back. Damon, the elder vampire brother, starts out as the villain of season one, terrorizing the town of Mystic Falls as his animal blood-drinking brother Stefan tries to charm Elena, a girl that looks suspiciously like a clone of his old girlfriend from the 1800s. Damon is a monster, but slowly shifts into an anti-hero role as the show progresses and greater evils loom, and eventually became my favorite character.
Further illustrating the point, much of the show is spent around seeking out and trying to kill one of the oldest vampire families alive. After a heated conflict, these vampires become regulars on the show themselves, and they too are able to transform from one-dimensional villains to something resembling friends and allies.
Transformations work both ways as well, also from good to bad. Nice brother Stefan has a dark side to him where if he gets near human blood, he turns into the equivalent of a vampire serial killer, and his character goes from relatively tame to the most psychotic creature on the show.
Even sub-characters are held in high esteem, something that happens rarely on most shows. Friends turn into vampires themselves and become pivotaly important to the plot. Others are revealed as werewolves, vampire hunters, and so on, and there ‘s really no one who feels extraneous or useless, impressive for an ensemble cast.
And for a show called something as fruity as The Vampire Diaries, it’s very nearly as dark as True Blood, and thematically has more in common with the HBO show than it does with Twilight. Can you imagine Edward breaking up with Bella and then going on a cross country murder spree ripping people limb from limb? I didn’t think so.
The world that’s been created here is quite interesting. Over time, you get to know the rules. Rules like if you drink vampire blood and die, that’s how you become a vampire. Vampires can have daylight rings to walk in the sun without being burned. Humans can have protection rings to prevent them from supernatural-caused death. Original vampires, the oldest, can’t be killed with regular stakes. Werewolf bites poison vampires. And so on. The only nagging issue with this is the show’s use of magic, and it frequently draws on witches and spells to get itself out of plot holes created by the above rules, which can be a tad annoying.
But the real reason the show works is that it resonates emotionally. There are moments scattered throughout the show that are among the most gripping I’ve seen on TV, nearly all of them revolving around my favorite character, Damon, and his constant battle between being an asshole murderous vampire and a pretty great guy. More than once my stomach knotted during a particularly heart-wrenching death scene, and the show really knows how to drive these touching moments home.
It’s unfortunate that vampire over saturation and a very stupid title have driven away those who might enjoy this show. I would have never thought in a million years that The Vampire Diaries would be for me, but 75 episodes later, I’m all caught up and waiting breathlessly for the next new episode tonight.
If anything, this has taught me that quality entertainment can come from anywhere, even places you would never expect. Never dismiss anything outright until you’ve tried it for yourself. Maybe you won’t feel the same way I do about this show, but you might, and if so, my work here is done.
The first three seasons of The Vampire Diaries are on Netflix Streaming right now.