As a self-proclaimed “Twilight” hater, I saw previews for “The Vampire Diaries” back in 2009 and rolled my eyes at the CW Network’s attempt to cash in on the nation’s vampire hysteria. I only started watching the series because I thought it would provide the same unintentional laughs “Twilight” did. At first, the plot even seemed lazily similar to that of “Twilight”: mopey human girl Elena meets broody vampire Stefan and falls in love, while mysterious “animal attacks” plague their gloomy small town of Mystic Falls.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. As I got into the series, I realized I wasn’t watching some soapy CW drama. I’d found one of the best shows on TV.
First of all, the TV series is based on a book series of the same name, which was published in 1991–more than a decade before “Twilight.” So it turns out all the plot material that felt like rehashing of “Twilight,” “Diaries” had done first. The fact that “Diaries” can claim some fun mythology of its own (a vampire who lives off animal blood, vampires that can walk around during daytime, secret families of witches) makes it that much more intriguing. “Diaries” is everything that my “Twilight”-hating self had hoped that series was going to be before I read it: suspenseful, bloody and romantic.
But the best thing about the series has to be Damon Salvatore, the resident “evil” vamp. Played enthusiastically by “Lost” alumnus Ian Somerhalder, Damon is a shamelessly evil vampire who has no qualms about killing innocents or using people for his dirty work. The fact that his life centers around making his vampire-brother Stefan’s life miserable adds tons of tension to the series and makes for wonderfully witty–and dangerous–interactions between the two.
The series also embraces non-conventional relationships between the various cast members, which makes for some fun, steamy television. Although the show’s central romance between Stefan and Elena is believable and much easier to stomach than Bella and Edward’s, the real fun comes between all the other links between characters, like evil Damon’s soft spot for Elena, older guardian Jenna’s string of creepy exes and, best of all, sweet younger brother Jeremy’s relationship with vampire Anna. Things get even better when werewolves, witches and even ghosts are added to the romantic mix.
“Diaries” also benefits from a consistently fast pace. Whereas many other TV series suffer from plot points that drag on endlessly and get dull, “Diaries” always introduces fresh material and wraps it up by the following episode–which typically makes for several jaw-dropping moments and cliffhangers. Since the plot moves so fast, the supernatural world of Mystic Falls gets more and more layered, becoming more engaging to watch with each passing episode.
Finally, although “Diaries” indulges in lots of angsty moments, it earns them by creating characters with real depth. The show explores some of the harder parts of vampire life. You see vampires struggle with the urge for human blood, which begs connections to more human addictions like food, alcohol and drugs that viewers can relate to. You also see them question their humanity (they’re dead, after all) or dissolve their relationships to protect others. You see Elena struggling with her parents’ death–and her brother Jeremy coping with it in an entirely different and more destructive way. Even though “Diaries” focuses on the supernatural, its human element is what really sets it apart.