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Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Vampire Diaries Fall Run

     The CW's The Vampire Diaries completed its fall run this past Thursday with the episode "By the Light of the Moon." The first season left my head spinning a bit with just how much plot and development the show's writers managed to pack in. Judging by the first eleven episodes of season two, they are going to do it again. Which means excitement, twists, romance, and plenty of flashbacks to prior centuries.

     Not quite a teen sap-fast like many of the network's other shows, and not exactly the same as Twilight and the other vampire fare for teen girls, it's also not the bloodbath that is True Blood. Staking (excuse the pun) out a middle ground, The Vampire Diaries deserves its own audience. If I had to compare it to anything, I'd say Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it takes itself a bit more seriously, stressing darkness over humor. Created by the same man that brought you Dawson's Creek and the Scream movies, Kevin Williamson, those two things will tell you more accurately than any other comparison what the show is.

     Before we get started on the review, I do have one question though: why do all recent vampire stories have to bring in werewolves? Sure, Buffy and Angel went light on the subject, and Twilight's werewolves aren't really werewolves, but seriously. The dog-hybrids are as commonplace as bloodsuckers nowadays. The Vampire Diaries have added some new things, like the fact that a single werewolf bite will eventually, through slow infection, kill a vampire. But, still! Enough already with the werewolf-vampire pairing.

     So, on to the show. As mentioned above, werewolves have arrived in Mystic Falls, courtesy of the Lockwood family. Tyler's (Michael Trevino) dad was killed last season without explaining the family's curse. Luckily, Tyler's uncle Mason (Taylor Kinney) showed up, though he, too, was killed without revealing too much of the mystery. But in this show, death can have far-reaching effects, as evidenced by the woman who showed up in this week's episode looking for Mason, prompting the town to declare him officially a missing person. I like that you can't murder someone, hide the body, and get away with it in this series.

     Caroline (Candice Accola) has had major problems since being vamped, and she has made a nice counterpoint to Tyler's story. Though I do complain that Caroline adapted to the vampire life much quicker than she should have, and unlike others did earlier in the show, her connection with Tyler, both of them accepting such a major life change early in their lives, has been nice. It's too bad their friendship will surely interfere with Caroline and Matt's (Zach Roerig) relationship, which, while currently off, is still important to them.

     Caroline has had some really touching stuff this year, especially in the episodes when her mother (Marguerite MacIntyre) learned her secret, only to have Caroline wipe her memory. The change has caused her and Tyler, who were both a bit whiny as teenagers, to suddenly grow into adults, dealing with major responsibilities and problems. It's a welcome evolution.

     Both Tyler and Caroline were forced into their transformations by a villain, bent on doing them in for their own purposes. Caroline was turned by Katherine (Nina Dobrev) as a message to Elena (also Dobrev), while Tyler was manipulated into killing an innocent girl just so someone could keep werewolves alive in Mystic Falls. Why that was done remains one of the unanswered questions still to be tackled this winter and spring.

     Speaking of Katherine, it has been awesome having her around this year. Last season was spent wondering why Elena looked like Stefan's (Paul Wesley) ex-girlfriend vampire, and now we're getting a few answers, albeit slowly. Dobrev is proving herself up to the challenge of simultaneously bringing two such different characters to life at once, and even after Katherine was locked in the tomb, there's still a lingering doubt just which one of them is appearing in each scene before some sort of confirmation surfaces. It brings new layer and excitement every time Dobrev graces the screen.

     Elena's brother, Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen), also got to mature as he learned about the secret underworld around him. Armed with his uncle's ring so he can't die, Jeremy has become an integral part to Elena, Stefan, and Damon's (Ian Somerhalder) plans. His only downside is his crush on Bonnie (Katerina Graham), who has taken his place as least likable character. Jeremy can do so much better, and besides, he has plenty of more serious things to worry about right now.

     I know Bonnie is struggling with what she can do, and how her friends are changing, but come on! The witch complains too much, can never make up her mind, and gets a nose bleed every time she does a spell. I believe that the magic involved in the series requires a witch to keep it going, making her indispensable. Still, I find myself wishing that she would be written off and replaced with a more interesting witch or warlock, one who is a match for the other supernatural forces around them. Bonnie is not.

     Competing for uselessness with Bonnie are Alaric (Matthew Davis) and Jenna (Sara Canning). I like them both, and sometimes they add a much needed element to the episodes. However, both are way underused. Alaric has held his own with creatures much more powerful than himself, but more often than not, he is not involved in the main trio's activities. Why not? He's such a great ally! His relationship with Aunt Jenna is sweet, but as long as she's kept in the dark about what's going on in the town, she'll never be more than a liability to Elena. Perhaps Alaric and Jenna should get married and move away. If they took Jeremy with them, I could even see a potential spinoff.

     Damon continues to be a major highlight, with Somerhalder as the good bad boy with just the right amount of sarcasm. How many characters can kill someone in cold blood and remain likable? I know Damon's murder of Jeremy didn't stick, but Damon wasn't aware that it wouldn't when he committed it. Yet, he is probably still my favorite character. Not only that, I feel like he has a bigger heart than just about anyone else. It's those strong emotions that cause such reckless behavior in him.

     The Vampire Diaries will not be back with new episodes until January 27th. However, this week the CW will be presenting a marathon, running season two episodes from 8pm to 10pm Monday through Friday, which covers ten of the eleven entries in this fall's run. The 11th, this week's, will surely rerun as well before the next new episode, so there is plenty of time to catch up.


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Article first published as TV Review: The Vampire Diaries - Fall Run on Blogcritics.

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