Thursday, August 26, 2010

US Television: The Vampire Diaries, An Introduction

The Vampire Diaries is a weekly scripted drama that airs on the CW network.  It is based on a series of novels of the same name by L.J. Smith.  The series stars Ian Somerhalder as Damon Salvatore, Paul Wesley as Stefan Salvatore and Nina Dobrev and Elena Gilbert.  Set in the fictional town of Mystic Falls, Virginia, The Vampire Diaries is filmed on location in various locations in the state of Georgia with the pilot episode having been filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  Vampire Diaries currently has one successful season of twenty-two one-hour episodes under its belt.  Filming for the second season began on July 13, 2010 and the show will be returning to the CW network on Thursday, September 9, 2010 for its second season.

The Vampire Diaries focuses on the lives (albeit undead lives) of the Salvatore brothers, Damon and Stefan, and the girl they are both in love with, Elena Gilbert.  Elena is the spitting image of a girl they both loved in their past and the one who turned them into vampires, Katherine Pierce.

I'm definitely a fan of this show and I told a friend that I wouldn't be doing any fangirling over it, or anyone in it, on this site over the long haul and I fully intend to stick to that.  So, I'm going to say this quickly and get it done and out of the way. 

Are there great looking guys in Vampire Diaries?  Yes, Damon and Stefan are hot.  Ian Somerhalder is super hot.  I'm talking "it should be illegal for any one person to be that hot" hot.  Paul Wesley is quite the charmer as well with his soft manner of speaking and brooding good looks.  And, from all reports from the CW, both Ian and Paul will be shirtless in season two.  A lot.  Sigh.

That brief little bit of one-time-only fangirling aside, when this series first premiered in September of 2009, I watched it for two reasons and two reasons only:  I am a fan of L.J. Smith's writing and Ian Somerhalder being cast as Damon Salvatore sealed the deal.  I wasn't expecting to become a huge fan of the show and I wasn't expecting it to be anything more than just your average show about bloodsuckers aimed at a teenage audience.

Boy, was I wrong!  This isn't just a show for cougars and brooding teenagers as some might think.  Vampire Diaries has some really great drama in it along with some fine actors. 

Ian Somerhalder (you may remember him as "Boone" on Lost) does an absolutely brilliant job as the bad guy (the most important bad guy, anyway), Damon Salvatore.  There are moments when you hate him because he's so nasty, cruel and heartless.  He's a vampire after all.  That's kind of how they are.  But, then he has his moments where he is genuinely a nice guy and you really get the feeling that there is someone in there who still feels and loves despite the tough exterior.  He apparently has a deep vein of hatred for Stefan running through him, but, when the chips are down, he's always right there to fight on his brother's side.  If anyone is going to get the best of Stefan it's going to be his brother.  Damon suffered a very big disappointment in the first season and I felt for him.  But, he picked up the pieces and was soon dastardly Damon again.  The season finale showed yet another side of Damon that I didn't think we'd see for a very long time, if ever.  Damon is a multi-faceted character and Somerhalder does an amazing job at making each and every facet believable.

I didn't have the pleasure of seeing Paul Wesley in anything before Vampire Diaries and I must admit that he has impressed me.  His role is that of Stefan Salvatore, a dark and brooding 162-year-old vampire, and younger brother to Damon, who is carrying around a lot of baggage.  Stefan wants to lead a normal life, or as normal of a life as he can seeing as how he is a vampire.  He doesn't drink human blood or hunt human prey unlike Damon.  As the first season progresses, we learn more and more about why Stefan has made the choices he has and why some of them haunt him so.  We also see him struggle with a major issue that threatens to destroy him and everyone around him that he cares about.  Wesley easily moves from dark to funny to viciously angry to sensitive and caring.  Stefan is a very likable guy thanks to Wesley's interpretation of him.  You want to see Stefan get the the happiness he deserves.

Nina Dobrev who plays Elena Gilbert is another that I hadn't seen before Vampire Diaries.  I will admit that, at first, I didn't care for her.  I don't know if it was her style of acting or what but there was something about her that I found off-putting.  It took a few episodes but I have come to like her.  She looks gorgeous with both Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley and she brings a sensitive, yet strong quality to Elena that makes her a character you can really root for.  You want things to work out for Elena even though you know they probably won't because things never work out on TV like you want them to.  Not only does Dobrev get to play the strong, independent and conscientious Elena Gilbert but she also doubles as the cruel, heartless and selfish Katherine Pierce.  When season two starts in September, we'll get to see more of Katherine and I'm really looking forward to that.  I want to see some sparks fly between her and Damon!  (I believe Damon knows it wasn't Elena he kissed on that porch!)

Legendary actor Steve McQueen's grandson, Steven R. McQueen plays Elena's younger brother, Jeremy Gilbert.  Throughout the first season he is dealing with a whole host of demons of his own.  Kelly Hu (Martial Law) and Jasmine Guy (A Different World & Dead Like Me) make guest appearances as Pearl and Sheila Bennett respectively.  Katerina Graham appears as Elena's best/former friend Bonnie Bennett.  I can't say I'm too pleased about the new attitude Bonnie has taken since returning from a brief leave of absence but it does provide a bit of tension to the show.  And, given the circumstances that caused the change in her character, I guess I can't say that I really blame her.

To all who say that the CW might have decided to run Vampire Diaries just because of all the Twilight hype going around now, yeah, you're probably spot on there.  But nothing annoys me more than to read a comment by someone or hear someone say "Vampire Diaries is just a Twilight ripoff!".  Nothing could be farther from the truth!

The Vampire Diaries was around long before Stephenie Meyer decided to write the Twilight series.  The first three Vampire Diaries novels, The Awakening, The Struggle and The Fury, were published as a trilogy in 1991 with the fourth, The Dark Reunion coming out in 1992.  Twilight wasn't hacked out published until October 5, 2005.  A lot of time passed between the original Vampire Diaries and Twilight.  In fact, of the seven books currently in the Vampire Diaries series, all four of the original series were already published and the three spin-off novels, The Return, were already announced (1998) before Twilight was ever published.  It was recently announced that three prequel novels titled Vampire Diaries:  Stefan's Diaries will be published by the UK publishing house Hodder Children's Books.

There are several differences between the novels and the television series.  As with any work of fiction that becomes a movie or television show, certain liberties must be taken.  It is a lot easier to put things on a page than it is to put them on a screen.  I won't go into every single difference here because it would take up way too much space but I will say that I feel Kevin Williamson (Dawson's Creek) did a rather good job with adapting the series to television.  Some of the characters themselves are different and Williamson has even added new characters.  Williamson focuses on the darkness and secrets that lurk beneath the exterior of the town of Mystic Falls rather than the entire teenage experience of high school.  We've seen dozens of high school shows before and to have focused on that with some hot vampires thrown in would have made for a pretty bad series. 

The series is shot well and it doesn't appear that the producers have skimped on the budget just because it's a television show as opposed to a movie.  The locations are beautiful (the South is always a beautiful choice for a filming location), the lavish Salvatore house is gorgeous (I could live there, especially if its occupants came with it) and the special effects that you see from time to time don't look cheaply done or laughable as they sometimes do on television shows because of budget restraints.

I'm not so much of a fan of the Vampire Diaries that I'm blinded by my liking of it to where I'll say it's the perfect show.  It isn't and it isn't for everyone, I'll admit.  You have to be a fan of vampire stories first and foremost.  If you aren't, you won't enjoy it no matter how many gorgeous hunks and beautiful ladies are on the screen to try and draw you in.  You also need to have an appreciation for current music as almost every episode has a few popular songs in it.  Sometimes this music can get in the way a bit and overshadow what is happening on screen.  Just watching one or two episodes won't give you the full picture of this series because as the first season progressed, the show got better and better.  The actors became more comfortable with their characters, we learned more about those characters, about the town and about all of the histories involved.

I think the Vampire Diaries has proved itself to be more than just a show that tried to capitalize on the current "vampires are the hottest thing out there" trend in the entertainment industry.  It's a show with good actors and a good storyline that can stand on its own two feet and be a show that could quite possibly be around for a long time.

For more information:
The Vampire Diaries Official Web Site
Vampire Diaries at the Internet Movie Database
Vampire Diaries at TVRage

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