I’ve been watching The Vampire Diaries. I’m not going to pussyfoot around it. My interest is purely academic; sometimes I have to force myself to sit down and watch it. Because I’m interested in the contrast between the two different vampire dramas on television right now, and I’m interested in the evolution of the TV vampire and its relationship to the larger modern vampire mythos.
I’ve read the first two books in the 1991 series the television show is based on, but this post is about the show, not the books. I will briefly say that the show deviates pretty radically from what’s in the books (in terms of plot, characterization, etc). And I’ll also note that I like the Elena in the show better than the one in the books.
I think it’s interesting to look at some ratings before plunging into my exploration of this show. Buffy, at its peak, had seasonal ratings of 5.3 million, with the lowest point being 3.7 million for season one. The Vampire Diaries has ratings working out to around 3.5 to almost 5 million per episode, although the ratings appear to be slipping. Despite that, the CW did pick up the back nine for the first season, which suggests that they are willing to wait and see where the show heads. True Blood is getting pretty smash-hit ratings, even though it’s on cable; almost seven million a week were tuning in (for the show’s airing, on demand, and in reruns) by the end of season one, and that rating almost doubled with season two. Clearly, people are pretty into True Blood.
The Vampire Diaries is already getting better ratings than Gossip Girl, another CW drama, which may be why they are keeping it on, since they are definitely positioning themselves to hit the teen demographic, while Buffy was aiming a little higher, and True Blood is certainly an adults only kind of show.
So, let’s talk about The Vampire Diaries. It’s a plot I think we have seen before; damaged girl meets vampire, damaged girl falls in love, vampire drama! But there are a few twists. Our vampire hero has a counterpart, a brother, with the two representing the forces of evil and good. In fact, they are specifically referenced as being at war over her soul, which is pretty, well, I mean. You know. Yeah.
Damaged Girl also has a brother (a delinquent), a sister, who is acting as her standin parent since her parents are dead, and a Witchy Friend (Black, because she’s exotic, of course) and a Naive Cheerleader Friend (blonde, did you need to ask?). She also writes in a diary, a gimmick which the show seems pretty determined to keep up, which actually kind of surprised me, because that’s the sort of thing shows usually give up on after making a token effort.
The show uses the kind of typical camerawork which I’ve come to associate with these sorts of things; lingering shots to capture smouldering gazes, the occasional skewed angle for Art Points, changes in speed to convey rapid movement by the vamps, etc. Artistically, there’s not much to say about the show, although Stefan and Damon’s house is pretty excellent and I would totally live there after I kicked the vampires out.
Things are still sounding rather formulaic, but here’s where the show gets a little interesting, and Elena Gilbert starts to seem like more of a standout character. Because she is having absolutely no truck with this vampire secrecy bullshit, even when she doesn’t know that the object of her attentions is a vampire. And I happen to think that’s totally awesome. She repeatedly calls him on his secrecy, scoffs when he suggests its for her own protection, and in at least one episode, severs ties with him over his secrecy.
I find that immensely refreshing. It’s so awesome to see a girl on a teen drama basically telling people in no uncertain terms that secrecy is something which does not need to be tolerated, no matter how hot your boyfriend is. Likewise, she doesn’t stand for controlling behaviour, either. It’s kind of weird that I am looking at a teen drama and seeing a pretty empowered female character. She’s not quite perfect, but she’s definitely stronger than, say, Bella.
And I think she’s sending some good subtle messages. Not just about not tolerating controlling and secretive boyfriends. When she notes that her Cheerleader Friend is covered in injuries and bruises, she gets angry, and she gets proactive, for example. I haven’t seen The Sex Episode yet, although I assume it’s coming, because, I mean, teen vampire drama, it’s got to happen at some point, so I will be interested to see how they handle that.
I can’t say that I am liking the show, exactly. It is still extremely formulaic and I’m not that happy with a lot of the characters, the direction the plot is taking, etc. But I like that it’s wriggling around in the mold a little bit. That’s a good sign.