Friday, June 1, 2012

Great Moments in Television: The Vampire Diaries

The Vampire Diaries season 1, episode 22, "Founder’s Day"

My decision to watch The Vampire Diaries was primarily based on nostalgia. Having read and loved L.J. Smith's books when I was in junior high, I was thrilled to see them having a rebirth both on the NY Times bestseller list and on the small screen. And only partially because it gave me many opportunities to exorcise my nerd rage in a health way by informing people who called TVD a Twilight ripoff, “Actually, these books were originally published in 1991, well before Twilight.”

The first episode was fine. Nothing I was too excited about, but good enough to keep me watching. But then it happened; sometime during the middle of the first season, I stopped telling people I watched TVD because I used to love the books and started telling them that this was THE BEST SHOW ON TELEVISION and if they thought they were too cool to watch it then they were MISSING OUT. All of this came to a head in the season 1 finale, when the show became so awesome, that even satirically self-described bastion of “critics/hipsters/snobs/douchebags,” the AV Club (aka, one of my favorite web sites) had to sit up and take notice.

Major spoilers ahead! (Although if you haven’t watched this yet, what are you doing? It’s on Netflix Instant and in case you didn’t hear me before, it’s SO good.)

One thing this show is really good at is creating thrilling nonstop action. TVD mercilessly cuts out stories that aren’t working in order to usher in more exciting fare. And this episode had plenty of that, featuring, among other things, a device that emits a high-pitch frequency that debilitates supernatural creatures, which causes huge problems for Mystic Falls because practically everyone there is a supernatural creature. But even after that action plays out, TVD still has some tricks up its sleeves, sliding into a dénouement that turns out to actually be an exhilarating cliffhanger.

You see, the other thing TVD is really good at is character development. Unlike other soap operas, where the characters never seem to grow or change (I’m looking at you, Gossip Girl!), TVD allows its characters to evolve in reaction to the events of their lives, making it entirely possible that Elena Gilbert, although she professes to be devoted to broody Stefan, might get swept up in a meaningful moment with his gorgeous brother Damon and steamily make out. The fact that this is a possibility for the character is essential to selling the surprise of the next moment, when Elena finds herself in the kitchen with her sleazy uncle John (who is actually her bio dad).

Now go to YouTube, watch the clip, and report back here, STAT! (

OH MY GOD. Right? You guys, she chopped off John’s fingers (on which he was wearing a magical regenerating ring) and then stabbed him! Because it’s not Elena at all, it’s Katherine! But Elena is going in there!  Elena, don’t go in there! Don’t go in there! And with a whooshing The Vampire Diaries, the season is over.

I cannot express how cliffhung I was. I was physically fiending for the fall, when the season 2 premiere would air and I would finally get to find out what happened.

This has been: Great Moments in Television.

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