I probably shouldn’t confess this, but since I’m among friends I will: I love vampire fiction. Other than the occasional dream where I wake up nervous because I’ve spent the entire night trying to escape the bloodsucking fangs of a vampire, I love everything about the fictitious immortal freaks.
I became fascinated with vamps and their pretentious bloody culture in college after my goth friend Fran (she wore a Hello Kitty backpack that she’d covered in skull stickers and sharpie-written love messages to Marilyn Manson) became convinced that our American Literature professor had fangs. While I admit, Professor Nadler was indeed a pale man who sometimes gushed about Walt Whitman like the two occasionally got together on grassy knolls and frolicked, Fran never convinced me that the man slept in a coffin. Despite that, Fran’s silly little theory did interest me enough that I ended up developing a rather deep infatuation for a good (or evil) vampire narrative.
Now, like most vampire fans who were introduced to the blood-obssessed villains via “Dracula” movies and Anne Rice novels, I do have “standards” in regards to what constitutes as “good vampire fiction,” a reality that I have proudly advertised often during this most recent (and rather lengthy) pop-cultural vampire craze. For instance, I’ve often vocalized at length to Twilight fans about how much I loathe Stephanie Meyer’s pathetic excuse for vampires, quipping on more than one occasion, “They’re not vampires! They’re more like Jehovah’s Witnesses with fangs.” And I’ve logged into to online forums to defend Alan Ball (director of HBO’s “True Blood”) against his distractors who tend to despise every single variation he makes to Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series (and in my opinion, the variations that Ball makes to Harris’s rather dull story lines are what make “True Blood” watchable). And while viewing the recently concluded second season of “Being Human” (the US version that airs on Syfy), I complained weekly to my wife about the show’s vampire story line being a boring, uneventful, travesty to all good vampire fiction.
So yes, I do have rather high standards for what I deem “good” vampire fiction. Or at least I did up until about six weeks ago. That’s when I discovered (and began binging on) “The Vampire Diaries”. Before that, I scoffed at the thought of watching TVD (<-the show’s true fans acronym it). Why did I scoff? Well, for starters, because it aired on The CW. When was the last time you watched something on The CW and admitted it? Furthermore, from every promo I’d seen, TVD looked like nothing more than a fang-banging Melrose Place. And without Heather Locklear! Why would I waste my time?
Then one night in early March I was bored and surfing Netflix (a lethal combo). When I didn’t find any show or movie that piqued my viewing interest, I stumbled and thought, “I’ll just watch one episode only to see how awful it is.”
To my utter shock, that first episode didn’t suck. Yes, it was basically “Melrose Place” with fang-bangers. But I watched Melrose Place (the 90s version)! By episode 2, I was completely sucked into TVD’s evil little Stefan/Damon/Elena triangular bloody love story.
And then at some point during episode 3–perhaps when the feud between the two vampire brothers really started churning or maybe when the heat between Stefan and Elena started getting interesting–the show “turned” me. Suddenly, I couldn’t get enough of TVD. I became addicted. I started walking around the house holding my laptop, and wearing an earbud in one ear. Here’s another confession: I ended up watching all 62 available episodes… in 13 days. Please don’t ask me how I did that. It wasn’t pretty. And I’m not proud of what I had to do (and not do) to accomplish that feat. But I couldn’t help it. I’d fallen… for “The Vampire Diaries”. And I’d fallen hard. Here’s why you should fall hard, too…
1) The first two seasons (44 episodes in all) are available on Netflix.
2) It’s dark. And vampire stories have to be dark. But I didn’t think that The CW would come close to letting be TVD be dark enough. But it does… and sure, light does shine in from time to time, but it never overstays its welcome.
3) The storyline bites you. Not because it’s brilliant, but because it’s fun, engaging, sexy, and moves quickly. And that’s what makes TVD work.
4) No vampire show is complete without historical flashbacks and TVD does “flashbacks” quite well. And what I like about them is that many of them reference (and then vamperize) well-known actual events. And that makes you want to get bitten again.
5) TVD veers away from some of the best known vampire cliches. Vampires can see their reflections and are unaffected by silver bullets and garlic. But in most instances where the tired cliches are avoided, writers insert a well-crafted explanation as to why it’s true or different or not as one expected. For instance, some of the vampires on TVD are able to walk around in the sunlight. This break from the ordinary vampire rules is explained in a very creative way, one that allows for much more interesting vamps (because they can run around in the daytime) but it also allows for a few twists now and then.
6) TVD does sometimes feel a little too Melrose Placish. But I promise it’s a rare occurrence. For the most part, the show surprisingly navigates well back and forth between vivid darkness and just-the-right-amount-of light. And while TVD is certainly a little sex-crazed at times (vampires are vain, selfish, and horny creatures), the show tends to avoid sinking too low and stays focused on keeping things moving and the audience guessing.
7) TVD is not simply about vampires! There are witches, ghosts, werewolves, and yes, even humans.
8] The heroine Elena (played by Nina Dobrev) is a wonderful character who ebbs and flows well between vulnerability and strength, temptation and virtue. Doprev’s acting is strong, especially in season 2 when she (SPOILER ALERT) begins performing double duty.
9) The cliffhangers are fantastic. Okay, maybe “fantastic” is a bit much. But they are good. And for the most part, they work nicely at sucking you in for another episode.
10) If you like vampire fiction, TVD will be a delicious guilty pleasure. Tuning in won’t make you feel good about yourself and you’re probably not going to learn anything new or valuable, but like the best guilty pleasures, TVD will offer an exciting escape from reality, a destination so juicy, so evil, so completely effed up that you might find yourself wanting to go back again and again (and again) for more.