Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Vampire Diaries" is a bit of bloody mess

Remember a few years back when "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" debuted, became a big hit and spurred an onslaught of procedural dramas? Well, it's happening again -- this time with vampires.
Though vampires have always had a certain appeal and a place in pop culture, there's no better time than now to be undead. The vamp renaissance started with the insanely popular "Twilight" series of books and movies, then carried into the admittedly fun and sexy HBO series "True Blood," a soap about vampires, telepaths and other supernaturals. Now we have The CW's "The Vampire Diaries," an adaptation of a popular series of books, premiering tonight. I admit I've never read any of the books, but they have a strong following, so I was interested in giving the series a look.
The show's pilot centers on Elena (Nina Dobrev), a sad, beautiful teenager who has lost both of her parents and is living with her aunt and troubled brother. While she tries to put a brave face on things at school, she quickly becomes the obsession of the new kid at school, Stefan (Paul Wesley). Stefan's a brooding type with dark, sensitive eyes, an impressive grasp of local history and a disconcerting habit of appearing out of nowhere. Yes, he's a vampire. The nice kind. The kind that feeds on animals and turns his head away demurely when a female companion gets a luscious, bloody scrape on her knee. Stefan's pursuit of Elena is hampered by the arrival of his naughty brother Damon (Ian Somerhalder of "Lost," clearly enjoying the freedom of playing a bad boy).
Obviously, there are a lot of longing looks, unrequited love and, this being a CW drama, pretty people mouthing stilted dialogue.
Don't get me wrong -- the show can be entertaining, particularly in a fun opening sequence featuring a vampire's version of a carjacking. And Somerhalder is hilarious and vibrant as the bad guy -- when he's on screen, the show pops to life. But the key relationship is kind of flat. Dobrev is beautiful, and easily essays pluck and bravery on screen, but she's still a bit wan. And I didn't for a second believe the romance between her and Wesley's Stefan, who, I will concede, does look like he's been alive for hundreds of years. Or at least 30.
The subplots, involving Elena's brother and some other teens, are cheesy, and the vampire effects are a bit thick. Upon sensing blood, Stefan's eyes swirl with red. It's poetic, I guess, but I prefer the visceral shock of seeing the "True Blood" vamps pop their fangs with malicious glee.
In short, I couldn't really decide whether "Vampire Diaries" was campy fun or just plain bad, and I don't really care to find out. With the possible exception of Damon, none of the characters are that interesting. I can't really see myself spending week after week with them. And, frankly, I'm pretty sure that "True Blood's" Bill Compton would eat that pretty little Stefan for breakfast.
"The Vampire Diaries" premieres at 8 tonight on The CW.

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