31 Pilots in 31 Days: The Vampire Diaries

When it was originally on: 2009-2017

Original network: The CW

Where you can stream it now: HBO Max or Peacock Premium

Had I seen it before: No.

What IMDb says: The lives, loves, dangers and disasters in the town, Mystic Falls, Virginia. Creatures of unspeakable horror lurk beneath this town as a teenage girl is suddenly torn between two vampire brothers.

Why I picked it: As I mentioned during yesterday’s True Blood pilot review, the sexy vampire trend of the late ’00s is something I rolled my eyes at well it was happening, and I thought it was worth giving it a fair shake. It’s also another opportunity to see a network version and an HBO version of the same trend.

What I liked: The concept of two vampire brothers with fundamentally different approaches to “feeding” is a great one. The Vampire Diaries also a pretty good job setting this up despite relatively little screen time between the two. Damon isn’t properly introduced until fairly late in the pilot (Act 3 maybe?) though he is alluded to earlier. Regardless of what breakups and makeups and other teen soap shenanigans happen with the human characters, a character struggling to be a reformed vampire while his big brother is constantly urging him to turn to the dark side certainly has my attention.

Part of why this works is that the show does a fairly good job of building Stefan up as a character. We get to see him resist the urge to kill Elena when she scrapes her leg; we get him putting a history teacher in his place about some local civil war history. By the time Damon comes into the picture, all we have to know is that this guy is everything Stefan doesn’t want to be, and by now we know Stefan well enough to know what that means.

I also think they did a great job of hinting at the answer of “why is Stefan so obsessed with Elena?” but at the same time left an air of mystery around this. At one point we see Stephen looking at a photo from 1864 of someone named “Katherine” who looks exactly like Elena. Presumably, this was some sort of lover of Stefan’s back when he was alive, though the full story is still hazy. Maybe this is connected to the civilian deaths referred to in some civil war battle Stefan mentions, but we don’t know yet. We also don’t know if Elena is an actual descendent of Katherine or if this is a pure coincidence. So much of a a successful pilot boils down to how well you thread this needle between exposition and mystery, and all in all The Vampire Diaries did a pretty good job with it.

Another great set up comes at the very end when Caroline, one of Elena’s classmates who threw herself at Stefan before being rejected in favor of Elena, makes eye contact with Damon. I spent a good amount of this pilot not caring about Caroline and wondering why they were spending as much time on her as they were, but one glance from Damon and now I get it. Damon has his own target in Mystic Creek to parallel the Stefan’s thing for Elena. It’s a great loose end to pick up next time.

What I didn’t like: I don’t really care about Elena’s brother near as much as the show wants me to. We spend a lot of time watching him sell drugs and try to convince a girl to sleep with him, and that was never particularly entertaining. You’d think the end of this pilot, where the aforementioned target of this brother’s affections gets attacked by a vampire, would make it all work. I still just don’t really care about any of the characters in this plotline at all, not the brother, not Elena’s ex, not the girl who got attacked.

Elena also doesn’t really have much character definition beyond “the girl with dead parents” and that’s a bit of a bummer. She’s likable enough, certainly nothing about her that’s actively irritating or hard to watch, but for one of the centerpieces of the whole show… I wish there was more here in the pilot.

Do I want to watch Ep. 2: I wouldn’t mind watching episode 2, but I can’t say it’s a high priority either.

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