Primetime Vampires Take a Bite out of Sanity

Vampire fiction is here to stay. While Twilight certainly didn’t invent the genre, it did bring vampires back into the light. Sparkles aside, I’ve always been a fan of vampire lore, and I’ve grown accustomed to the absurd supernatural plot twists these stories often take–although I draw the line at miracle babies. 

Three vampire shows are currently airing on broadcast television: The Vampire Diaries, its spinoff The Originals, and NBC’s heavily hyped Dracula, which premiered last week. Not only will these shows never live up to the classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but they also seem to be getting crazier and crazier, and not always in a fun way. Doppelgängers, bad accents, overcomplicated mythologies, and yes, even a miracle baby make these shows increasingly frustrating to watch.

The Vampire Diaries (Thursdays at 8 p.m. on The CW) has always been a runaway train of insanity (and a Buffy ripoff), but this season, the show has officially lost its mind. Suddenly, there are more doppelgängers than you can shake a cure for vampirism at. Their existence was finally explained by the vengeful witch Qetsiyah in a necessary but mind-numbing flood of exposition—apparently the universe course-corrected for the first immortal beings by creating doppelgängers, who are destined to fall in love with each other until the end of time. The fact that all of this makes a reasonable amount of sense to me makes me worry for my own sanity. 

But that’s not all! You’ve got a mysterious traveler possessing Matt, Zach Roerig’s vaguely Eastern European accent, and how about the creepy college professor and his assistant doing vampire research? It’s a page straight out of the Buffy handbook, but one I was hoping to never read again. Of course, the only reason I have ever watched The Vampire Diaries is Ian Somerhalder, whose departure from Lost I will never get over. The reformed bad-boy vampire role has allowed Somerhalder to flex his acting chops as well as his eyebrows. As long as Damon has snark to give and hearts to rip out, I will tune into this stew of supernatural surprises every week with popcorn in hand.

The Originals (Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW) is The Vampire Diaries’ answer to Angel. It uses the New Orleans setting to its advantage, like Angel did with Los Angeles, and gives off a more mature, urban vibe than suburban Virginia-set The Vampire Diaries (TVD). The Originals started off strong via a backdoor pilot in April, but now it can’t seem to stop tripping over its own feet. It drowns in exposition: Not only does the premiere rehash the events of the backdoor pilot, but subsequent episodes excessively reexplain the history and mythology already shown in TVD. For those watching The Originals without any background in TVD, I would urge you to sort out your priorities. High school drama is certainly less engaging now that we’re out of high school, but TVD—and the Original Family’s involvement in it—is much more entertaining to watch, with better pacing and smoother myth construction. The Originals has solid characters, but is built on the most ludicrous premise: Klaus, a vampire-werewolf hybrid, has impregnated the werewolf Hayley. Will the miracle baby bring the family together? Will Klaus reclaim his title as Vampire King of New Orleans? Will I ever stop having flashbacks to Breaking Dawn long enough to care?

Speaking of flashbacks, vampire drama has always been at least partially period drama, using histories of our heroes’ past exploits as excuses for fancy costumes and inexplicable hairstyles. But The Vampire Diaries and The Originals are child’s play compared to Dracula (Fridays at 10 p.m. on NBC), a re-imagining of Bram Stoker’s novel set in Victorian London. There’s a charming ridiculousness that makes horror-inspired shows like Sleepy Hollow amusing to watch, and Dracula has even more fun, premiering with at least one decapitation and a steamy opera scene that pushes the boundaries of primetime. After all, vampirism has always been a convenient metaphor for sex. 

But Dracula loses its appeal by juggling far too many half-baked plots. Most notably, Dracula’s usual antagonist Abraham Van Helsing is now his ally, but the villains that take Van Helsing’s place, a gang of wealthy oil barons known as the Order of the Dragon, are neither compelling nor supernatural enough to pose any real threat. Furthermore, Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ American accent is almost as grating as his character’s attempt to one-up Nikola Tesla and produce free energy. There’s also a romantic subplot involving Mina Murray, who Dracula seems to have loved in a previous life. Sadly, I’m a bit tired of doppelgängers. The production value of Dracula is certainly high for broadcast television, and the costumes and scenery are nice to look at. However, the show suffers from incompatible plot elements that fail to live up to their potential. Dracula is mediocre at best.

In a landscape rigged with lumbering exposition, half-hearted period drama, and symbolic sexuality and gore that can never quite go far enough, The Vampire Diaries proves the most fun to be had in broadcast vampire television. Still, you’d be better off streaming Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel on Netflix. They’re smarter, funnier, and more capable of mixing supernatural horrors with satisfying character drama. If you’re not already invested in vampire fiction, Buffy is the best place to start.

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