Monday, August 30, 2010

The Vampire Diaries – season 1 – review

First aired: 2009

Directed by: Various

Contains spoilers

I’ll admit that I have put off watching this, having watched the pilot some time ago. Said pilot episode did not ring my bell and, despite many a person suggesting that the series improves (and it does) I had little faith. However, having watched it all in one weekend I am now suffering from… You know when you eat too much Chinese food and you get that weird too much MSG feeling? Well I am suffering from a too much angst induced weird feeling… honestly so much teen angst can’t be good for you… perhaps I should have watched this on a weekly basis and controlled my intake!

Firstly I’ll admit that I have never read the books and so had no preconception of the world the series created. So, the basic story runs like this – for those who haven’t seen the show – new boy Stefan (Paul Wesley) turns up at the Mystic Falls high school. You just know he is something odd as he looks like the bastard son of Angel and Edward Cullen – all pouty and hair gelled – plus his voice over at the head of the series talks about remaining hidden for over a century but he has to meet her. Also at the school is Elena (Nina Dobrev) – the *her* he has to meet.

writing in her journal
Elena and her brother Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen) lost their parents during the previous school year and now live with their Aunt Jenna (Sara Canning). She now copes by writing in her journal, Jeremy has turned to drugs – a subject we will return to later on. A lot of the angst of the series flows through the Stefan and Elena relationship as one invariably leaves the other episode after episode, but they can’t live without each other despite the fact that he is a vampire and she a mortal. Jeremy is another source of angst through the series.

Ian Somerhalder as Damon
Damon (Ian Somerhalder) is the ‘evil’ brother of Stefan and also turns up in town with a diabolical, but for a while undisclosed, master-plan and also an aim to make Stefan’s life a living hell. Actually, from this viewers point of view Damon was the much more interesting character – despite the fact that the writers did try and domesticate the character later, and he did become embroiled in the angst, he remained a breath of fresh air through the show.

Katherine's photo
It quickly becomes apparent that the two brothers fell out, ostensibly, over the same woman – Katherine (Nina Dobrev again) and that Elena is her spitting image. They loved her (Stefan through compulsion, or as we know it eye mojo, and Damon naturally) back in the civil war days as they were part of the founding town families (an undercurrent of the story is small town snobbery, though the series actually seems to more revel in it than condemn it). She was a vampire and they became vampires on the night that the town folk fought back, locked 26 vampires in the church and burned it down.

a spell to make feather's float
Turns out that Katherine’s servant Emily (Bianca Lawson) was a witch and ensured that the vampires were protected through a spell that sealed them in a tomb below the church. The spell was charged by a passing comet and can be broken when it passes again… Emily’s family still live in the area and Bonnie (Katerina Graham) is Elena’s best friend and also a witch just coming into her powers. Given the tomb bit I was relieved that Elena was quickly revealed not to be Katherine reborn – that would have been one cliché much too far.

Stefan with full vampire face
The vampires subsist on human blood – except for Stefan who uses animal blood. Vampires burn in sunlight – except for certain ones with mystical wards in jewellery form (including Stefan and Damon who have magic rings). These wards cannot – it seems – be transferred as they are made for the specific vampire by a witch. I have mentioned the eye mojo and they have a funky eye vein thing that goes on, around the eyes. This goes from just the veins in overdrive around the eyes to full vamp face, thus it's rather nice as it is distinctive but can be much more subtle than the Buffy face thing.

dead vampire
They can be killed through fire and staking – the latter causes a greying of the skin with prominent veins. There is no convenient dusting and the town elders (and Sheriff Forbes (Marguerite MacIntyre)) hide both dead vampires and victims’ causes of death to prevent a panic – the sordid history of Mystic Falls has been handed down through the generations. So have methods to fight the vampires – for instance an antique pocket watch is part of a vampire compass.

wood bullets
The vampires are super strong and super fast – the relative strength depends on both the age of the vampire and their diet – Stefan is relatively weak due to the animal blood diet. Wood bullets will injure and slow a vampire, so that they can be staked. I didn’t actually understand why a wood bullet through the heart would not kill itself – after all it is a mini stake. I also didn’t understand how Stefan got an elaborate (and clearly modern) tattoo? Surely the scars would heal.

summoned mist
The vampires have to be invited in – though it appears the invitation cannot be revoked. Turning is achieved by ingestion of vampire blood and dying whilst it is still in the system – other than that the blood heals human injuries. Early on it becomes apparent that vampires can summon a mist – but this seems to get ignored in later episodes. Damon had a crow that he had control over, which he eats when desperate for blood at one point. He could use it as his eyes and also as a conduit to invade dreams (presumably he could do the same if present). No use of animal familiars was shown later on in the series.

Coffee helps a vampire’s circulation, thus allowing them to blend in, and alcohol can subdue their cravings. A vampire can switch off emotions such as guilt. Holy objects have no impact, nor does garlic but there is a new idea in the form of vervain – this will knock a vampire for six if ingested (even in a victim’s blood) and prevents compulsion if worn or carried by a human. A liquid essence of it burns a vampire like holy water does in other stories.

I mentioned drugs and it seems that someone in the writing staff has a real addiction bee in their bonnet. From casual drug use leading to death (by vampires), to alcohol leading to getting off with your best friend’s mom, to drunk vampires and blood as a drug this programme really does use the vampire/addict allegory a lot, as well as highlighting more mundane substance abuse, and is fairly preachy with it. Stefan on human blood for a couple of episodes went down a relapsed junky route and one fears that he will relapse once a season - much like Angel seemed to become Angelus once a season for a while.

the corpse is bloodless, the series not so
Beyond that, though, it wasn’t too bad. Despite the angst levels being on overdrive the acting was good and, in the last couple of episodes, they did raise the bar. It certainly shows the Twilight film franchise that you can do teen romance and angst with good acting – if only you hire good actors and get decent dialogue writers – and it is not a bloodless programme either.

That said, compare it to the current crop of vampire related series and it fails to touch either True Blood or Being Human. Perhaps it still is a tad too teen?

Take it in small sips – 6 out of 10 (for the season as a whole, earlier episodes would drop a point).

The imdb page is here.


Zahir Blue said...

Been debating whether to watch this show. Didn't think the pilot was all that great, and every time I tuned in there was the same episode about four times in a row it seemed! But some folks say it got a lot better, and I've a bit of a thing for Mia Kirschner--so I'll probably give it a go!

Christine said...

I have avoided this series because I have thought it was another Buffy or teen version of True blood - two series which I feel overrated and impossible to enjoy.
But there seems to be some enterataining ideas in this show.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Zahir, as I said the pilot was urgh... so we probably had the same reaction.

It isn't too bad, it does improve but it is very angsty in places... that caveat aside you may well like it.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Christine: Its not as funny as Buffy, or as racy as True Blood. It is angsty but there will be ideas within you'll like I feel.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Oh, Zahir - should have said and you'll probably already be aware but Mia Kirschner is in 30 Days of Night: Dark Days as Lilith

Zahir Blue said...

Heh heh--yes I already know about Mia playing her third vampire (not including the character I "cast" her as in WATCHERS the virtual spinoff of BUFFY--Cassandra of Bruges).

Gabriel said...

I thought the teaming up between Damon and Alaric kicking ass were the best scenes in the show, and I enjoyed Pearl and her daughter as well.

I thought the season finale was very interesting, and you wonder whether at the end if Damon figured out what was going on.

Lastly in regards to the books - in them Damon IS the crow. Vampires can shapeshift in the books, but I assume they didn't do that in the show for CGI $$$. Also in the books from memory there was no tomb and Katherine fakes her own death, (the boys discover a pile of ash and her ring) to begin the start of her centuries old mind game...and the boys are also from Renaissance Italy, not Civil-War era America....

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Gabe, Pearl and daughter were good and the Alaric Damon dunamic interesting.

cheers for the book info

JaredMithrandir said...

Anna is the definition of Awesome.

Unknown said...

I started this series pretty reluctant. I was afraid if this was a Twilish vamp series. After 4 episodes I stopped. But then, all of my friends started and ended season 1 giving it good reviews. The made me reconsider. I must say after episode 7 the series gets very interesting. The developing of the characters is very good. It really kept me on my screen for the rest of the season after episode 7 and the series finale is a great cliffhanger.

I would give 7/10.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Δημάκος Ρού, the first 4 episodes were awful... I felt it improved from episode 5 but take your point re episode 7.

I think my score about right from my point of view but appreciate where you are coming from with yours.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

Unknown said...

Taliesin_ttlg, I am the one who should be thanking you for your great blog and your reviews. I am to watch more of the movies/series you have on your data and I will be back with comments about my point of (re)view.

Thanks for your hosting!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Taliesin_ttlg said...

Holly Lily, your comment has been removed as it contained links that were certainly commercial (without permission) and possibly harmful.

Please do not link to such sites from my blog without express permission. Any future links of that type will be reported as spam.

LoBo said...

I watching it now for the first time. I agree the first episode wasn't so good, but as you said it improved a few episdoes later. I will buy the rest of the seasons later on Blu-ray.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Lobo, yeah - I've lost this at season 5, where it is all predicated around one thing I can't abide in plotlines and that was body swapping. As a whole thing I believe the series outstayed its welcome but this season had a worthwhile aspect definitely