Pilot Review: The Vampire Diaries

The Brief: Angsty high school students dealing with classes, relationships, controlled substances, grief and, oh yeah, one of them’s a vampire.

For over a century I have lived in secret, hiding in the shadows, alone in the world. Until now. I am a vampire and this is my story.

Dear Diary. Today will be different, it has to be. I will smile and it will be believable, the smile will say “I’m fine, thank you”, “yes, I feel much better”. I will no longer be the sad little girl who lost her parents. I will start afresh, be someone new. It’s the only way I’ll make it through.

That’s an actual line of dialogue from the episode, said in narration as the female lead writes in her journal and stares meaningfully into a mirror while some peppy music plays in the background. If you’ve managed to make it through my description, the quotes and the teaser video without physically flinching or groaning out loud then this may be the show for you! For the rest of you, run for the hills and don’t look back.

I wasn’t expecting miracles of this show and it’s not the sort of thing I’d ordinarily watch without a critic or a friend telling me it was actually more than it appeared to be. However even with very low expectations I was disappointed. Shows and books about vampires are far from rare and that means there’s tough competition. It is a little tricky for this series, because although the television show exists in the post-Buffy and Twilight world (not to mention Moonlight and True Blood), the books the series is based on were published in 1991 so actually predate everything. That is an excuse for the concepts and mythology to maybe feel a little bit stale, but the show is still going to be judged against its current competition, and it really doesn’t stand up well.

The Vampire Diaries should slot in neatly between two other shows airing on The CW channel, Gossip Girl with its high school setting and Supernatural (which airs immediately after Vampire Diaries) with its, well, supernatural stuff. The problem is that the Vampire Diaries is nowhere near either of them and just looks amateur when held up beside them. It has nothing that we haven’t seen or read a hundred times before and makes no attempt to do anything new. If the diary narration from both of the two leads was supposed to be the interesting motif, it backfired because every time the words “Dear Diary” were uttered a vein pulsed in my forehead and threatened an aneurysm.

The biggest problem with the show is the dialogue, which is absolutely bloody awful and delivered without even a trace of irony. Buffy and Gossip Girl both developed their own vocabularies and linguistic style, the lines of dialogue were clever on the page and delivered with timing and passion. The dialogue for the Vampire Diaries reads as if it was written by a whiny teenage emo blogger and is being delivered by actors who would be better suited to play dead bodies on CSI. There’s no indication that there’s anything really going on below the surface beyond consideration of what shade of lip gloss to wear next.

It’s a struggle to find anything positive to say, but in a desperate bid to be even handed… The character of Aunt Jenna could prove interesting, a grad student who suddenly becomes responsible for her teenage niece and nephew when their parents dies. There’s potential there I think, although it runs a risk of turning into Party of Five and having just looked at imdb, she doesn’t seem to appear in the next couple of episodes. It’s nice to see Ian Somerhalder (Boone from Lost) back on screen as well and he was pretty much the only member of the cast who seemed to be having fun. The relationship between the two brothers could develop into something interesting, although again I don’t think it’s going to be able to compare with Supernatural. I’m sure the soundtrack will end up selling a lot of copies as well, if you like that kinda thing.

This show is crippled from the very beginning. It doesn’t matter that the original books were probably a huge influence on Buffy and Twilight, the television show is late to the party and if it wanted to play it should have brought beer or munchies. With decent dialogue, sparky acting or interesting visuals I might have been able to overlook the “been there, done that, got the broody t-shirt” storylines. But with the old hat concept, non-existent visual style, vanilla characters and stroke inducing dialogue The Vampire Diaries is just not worth spending time on.

The official site, IMDB, TV.com, TV Squad review

ITV has bought the rights to show The Vampire Diaries and it will apparently air on ITV2 in “early 2010”.