No Guilt In Saying It: "The Vampire Diaries" Is One of TV's Most Addicting Shows
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No Guilt In Saying It: "The Vampire Diaries" Is One of TV's Most Addicting Shows

By Sarah Carlson | TV Reviews | October 11, 2012 | Comments ()


Judging a TV show based solely on its pilot and predicting its success -- its ability to deliver a solid story and stay entertaining, not its ratings -- isn't easy. Some pilots I love; some I hate. But most fall in the middle ground -- that murky "It has potential" realm that frustrates both critic and reader alike. I'm the first to admit that watching further episodes can change my initial opinion of a series. Sometimes, it just takes time to either warm up to or give up on a show. Seeing as we aren't in the business of going back and running an addendum to reviews, readers won't know if our minds have changed about a show or not. Today, however, I'm breaking with tradition and admitting my love for a series I at first largely dismissed: "The Vampire Diaries."
That's right -- the CW teen supernatural soap opera that starts its fourth season tonight. I love it. I have been anticipating its premiere as much I did for HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" and Showtime's "Homeland," if not more so. It may not carry the same gravitas as those shows, but it certainly is addicting. Upon its debut in 2009, I deemed "The Vampire Diaries" as unnecessary -- a "True Blood" light that looked too much like The Twilight Saga to be appealing. These days, though, I prefer it to "True Blood," which seems to have lost its ridiculous way with each season. "Diaries" isn't a great drama that should be winning all the awards. But damn it if it isn't entertaining as hell.

A lot happened in the first three seasons, which are based on the YA books by L.J. Smith, in the life of teenager Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev) and the vampire brothers she is torn between, Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder), in fictional Mystic Falls, Va. Her brother, Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen), can communicate with the dead; one of her best friends, Bonnie Bennett (Kat Graham), is a witch while another, Caroline Forbes (Candice Accola) is a vampire who is dating a vampire-werewolf hybrid, Tyler Lockwood (Michael Trevino); and Elena has been hunted on more than one occasion by members of the original vampire family, the Mikaelsons. She is a doppelganger of vampire Katerina von Schwartzchild/Katherine Pierce, a nasty piece of work that both Salvatore brothers fell for back in Civil War-era Mystic Falls before they were turned. The doppelganger development is too detailed to explain here; just know that it makes Elena a target for the "originals."

"The Vampire Diaries" doesn't have the same camp feel as "True Blood" or, say, the spunk of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Its drama is played straight, and somehow, it works, moody indie music and tales of broken teen hearts and all. I've pinpointed a few reasons why I think the show is so watchable:

  • Characters die, or better yet, transition. None of the leads have been offed just yet, but plenty of supporting characters have said goodbye throughout the years. Some characters have been turned into vampires, often against their will and to various results, and a recurring theme of the series is that there are consequences to interactions with the supernatural world. The series began with Elena and Jeremy newly orphaned after their parents were killed in a car crash, and little by little they and their friends have lost other family members, guardians and loved ones as everyone's involvement with vampires, witches and werewolves has deepened. This isn't Twilight; there is actual risk involved.

  • You can't help but care about the love stories. True, love triangles aren't exactly original, and I'm sure you can find Team Damon and Team Stefan gear at places such as Claire's Accessories in the mall. But ask a fan which brother they think Elena should be with, and you're sure to get an answer. All of the characters have had their own romantic highs and lows as well, but the triangle is at a the center of the series and has so far remained compelling and kept fans guessing -- and shipping (I'm looking at those rooting for Caroline to be with Klaus, one of the originals).

  • Flashbacks! History! Somerhalder! You see this in other works, too, including all of the vampire TV series and movies already mentioned. But there's something endearing about the mid-budget use of costumes and wigs to represent different eras and cultures. With ancient vampires in a cast, it's too irresistible not to travel back in time to see them romping about, sucking on necks here and there. "Diaries" has done a nice balancing act of revisiting the past and keeping it relevant to the present. And no matter what time period he's dwelling in, Somerhalder clearly has a blast playing the "bad" brother. His smirks and one-liners help keep the show from straying too much toward the maudlin.

I'm glad that out of curiosity I kept watching "The Vampire Diaries." Sometimes, it's the shows we least expect to which we get hooked on the most.

Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. She's Team Damon.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Lbeees

    FFS, how is this only in its fourth season? I feel like it's been on the air forever. And then other shows like.... I can't think of any examples but *all of them* suddenly out of the blue have 8 seasons and they premiered last fall?


  • eva-lon

    I refer to this show as "my secret shame." But it looks like I'm not alone! That's...<sniff> good to know. Seriously tho, so so much fun. Ridiculous. Cheese-filled. Badly wigged. Addictive as hell.

  • Red Rage

    I'm glad I'm not alone. When it first came out I tried to watch it,but when Stefan tried out for the football team I immediately dropped it. I just started rewatching it just to give it another shot and holy hell if it wasn't one of the most addicting shows I had ever seen. But I am also a sucker for "fangirl" type shows.

  • FireLizardQueen

    I am totally with you. I marathon-ed the first couple of seasons on Netflix then watched it in real time and became totally obsessed.

    There's something about this show... maybe it's because despite the time of year it's supposed to be Mystic Falls always seems stuck in the fall, and there's a strange nostalgic element to it. For me it feels like It's a combination of Buffy, Dawson's Creek and Felicity with a little kitsch thrown in for good measure.

    Or maybe I should just stop asking why I love it and just enjoy it for the awesomeness that it is.

  • Jezzer

    It can't be said enough: Elena is the anti-Bella. She's proactive, has strong convictions, and refuses to swan about and let the menfolk do all the heavy lifting. She's frequently in danger on the show, but it's usually as a result of trying to protect others or stand for what she believes in, not because she's swanning around as a professional victim.

    Also, Nina Dobrev is just a joy in the role, and is a much better actress than you typically find on a teen soap. You can tell Katherine from Elena just on body language alone.

  • FireLizardQueen

    That and Nina Dobrev is just stunningly gorgeous... Her hair alone makes me green with envy.

  • Kolby

    I can't agree more. I sometimes wonder if there's a competition between Nina Dobrev and Candace Accola to see who is a better actress from episode to episode. I love my Caroline.

  • slicker7574

    Oh I so agree with you! My addiction to that show is so so very strong! It's ridiculous

  • I don't even know when it got so compelling. I was utterly unimpressed with the pilot, but it seemed like it might be fun to mock, so some friends and I kept watching. Now I come for the Magnificient Bitchery (both male and female) and stay for the narrative surprises and characters who actually develop. And The Damon.

  • elirt

    It was around episode 5 where I thought - wow, this is really good! Then my husband caught on then and he had questions to start since he missed the first few, but I told him that honestly, he didn't miss much because it started so cheesy and teen drama that he's fine missing it. I started it because I wanted something fun to watch on my own, with out him (we share our serious shows and I have my fluff he could care less about), but now he loves the show too! Heh...

  • I unabashedly love this show, and it's because of Pajibans that I decided to give it a try in the first place. I really hope Sarah's article convinces others to check it out! It's insane how quickly you can tear through the first three seasons on Netflix.

  • Miss Laaw-yuhr

    I am actually thinking of giving it a shot. I thought Nina Dobrev was adorable in the low budget but very fun "Never Cry Werewolf" so I might start Netflixing this series.

    And as to the first sentence of this artice :Judging a TV show based solely on its pilot and predicting its success — its ability to deliver a solid story and stay entertaining, not its ratings — isn’t easy". Generally very true, but then again, sometimes it is too easy, and I submit Community favorite "The Cape" as evidence of this category.

  • Amy

    I am pretty much obsessed with this show, and I totally agree with everything you've written here (including the initial skepticism). I often try and explain how awesome this show is to non-watchers (the incredibly complex, fast-paced storylines keep things interesting, plus, you know, The Pretty), but never do it justice. I always get a little (a lot) excited when someone just gets it without my fumbling sales pitches. :)

  • Kate at June

    I thought I had clicked on my tumblr.

    But no! A Vampire Diaries photo on Pajiba. This makes me feel happy and oddly vindicated. Such an addictive, fun show.

  • alwaysanswerb

    This would be a good time for me to insert one of those "I regret nothing" GIFs here with regards to this show

  • Jezzer

    I am so hooked on this show it isn't even funny. It never plays out like you're expecting it to, and takes great pleasure in surprising the audience and keeping us on our toes. Not to mention all the "Hell YEAH!" character moments, and the actual character growth. I am on tenterhooks for tonight, and I'm not even entirely sure what a tenterhook is.

  • Leelee

    I would also like to note that on no other show has the whiny younger brother turned out SO WELL. Good lord.
    Also, a haircut has never done so much for one man as it did for Elijah.

  • Amanda

    I too had to come at this a second time; I watched the pilot and was all "meh". Only when friends raved did I go back. AND GO BACK I DID.

  • Amanda

    Just re-watched ALL THREE SEASONS in preparation for season 4. I now call a meeting of The Evil Handsome Club! /bangs gavel

  • This youtube clip about how fans watch TVD pretty much says it all. (and yes, it is my only appointment show even though I'm 36.)

  • Rooks

    Thank you, katie. This video made my evening. I am crying and grinning so bad my face hurts.

  • you're welcome! I felt the same way when I saw it. :)

  • Artemis

    I recently decided to give this a shot on Netflix and ended up watching the entire run in about two weeks. Definitely my favorite guilty pleasure currently on TV. Ian Somerhalder is obviously having the time of his life, and in general they've managed to make even the stereotypical characters likeable (in particular, Nina Dobrev's Elena could have easily become a really, really annoying Twilight-replica, but somehow hasn't). The whole thing is just really FUN in a way that the very best shows can't be because they expect shit from you.

    And having just re-read your original review, Sarah, was the Twilight birth scene everything you hoped it would be?

  • PerpetualIntern

    I did the same on Netflix, tearing through it to be done in time for the premiere. When I mentioned it somewhat abashedly at work, I found out half the people in my office watch it too. I describe it as a hot mess of trashy awesomeness.

  • zyzzyva

    Like pretty much every fantasy or science fiction work, it sounds ridiculous when everything is written out. However, I agree, it is one of my favorite shows on now. It is totally engrossing.
    It's a bit tiring trying to get people to watch, though, especially since the plot turns/twists are the best part so one doesn't want to spoil them. I'd say the biggest problem is that the first six or so episodes are rather difficult to get through. They're very 'high school' as they set everything up, only to tear it all down in the subsequent seasons.

    I'd also like to add the lighting as one of the reasons to watch. Gorgeously dark and sepia-esque.

  • Anna von Beav

    Mmmmm Klaus.


  • zyzzyva

    Don't forget Elijah and his fancy hair! :D

  • Hater from Siloam Springs

    Ian Somerholder is the doppleganger of David Hasselhoff. Same big head and stupid squinty eyes. He probably has a chest like a burlap sack.

  • Artemis

    His many, many shirtless scenes in this show conclusively prove that you are wrong.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Sort of a light brown, cheap, and full of potatoes?

  • I guess I agree. I hated last season and I'm still excited for tonight. Please come back Kevin Williamson.

  • DemonWaterPolo

    I enjoy my hour of Vampire Diaries every week more than an other hour long program I watch. Solid fun all the way through.

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