September 11, 2009

TV: The Vampire Diaries (CW, Thurs 8)

Elena (Nina Dobrev) has had a rough summer. Her parents died in a car crash (which she survived) a few months back, and the emotional strain led to her breaking up with her boyfriend. But a new school year is beginning, and she's determined to move on with her life.

Moving on may mean a new relationship, as the hunky, brooding new boy in school, Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley), takes an immediate interest in her. Turns out that Elena looks just like a girl Stefan used to know. In 1863.

Yup, Stefan's a vampire. He's a good vampire of the sort that is trendy at the moment. (The show is based on a set of novels that predate Twilight, though the influence of those books on the TV show is unmistakable.) Stefan doesn't drink human blood, and you can see him struggle with his desires to do so (as much as I'm sick of the vampire trend, the teen vampire does provide a nifty metaphor for the way teens constantly struggle with their sexual urges).

But where there's a good vampire, there must be a bad vampire, and that would be Stefan's brother, Damon (Ian Somerhalder). They haven't spoken in years, and clearly don't get along; Stefan is worried that Dam on's old-fashioned kill-and-suck vampirism will blow his cover in town.

This is a CW show -- it's Transylvania 90210 -- so all of the actors are very pretty, far too old to be playing high school students, and minimally talented. Even more than most CW programs, The Vampire Diaries is guilty of using pop music to sell the emotions that its cast isn't up to communicating themselves.

The biggest problem, though, is the casting of Somerhalder as the evil Damon; he's just not remotely menacing. He might have been able to pull off the sensitive good-boy vampire, but as the bad boy, he's in over his head.

The first episode reportedly got the highest rating of any premiere in CW history (not that that's a long history). It remains to be seen whether those ratings will hold up when there's more than reruns on the other networks. My hunch is that the Twilight crowd who turned out for week one won't be satisfied with this watered-down imitation, and that the ratings will fall fast.

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