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Our reviews of The Vampire Diaries: The Complete First Season (published October 15th, 2010), The Vampire Diaries: The Complete First Season (Blu-Ray) (published August 31st, 2010), and The Vampire Diaries: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray) (published September 24th, 2012) are also available.
Vampires, werewolves, witches, teenage angst? Crap, right?
You would think, but Vampire Diaries beats the odds. I watch it and I enjoy and I am not ashamed!!!
Facts of the Case
At the end of Season One, the diabolical vampire doppelganger Katherine (Nina Dobrev) landed in Mystic Falls and got her stab on. Season Two is promptly shot out of a cannon as Katherine begins making life miserable for her double, high school vixen Elena (also Nina Dobrev) and Elena's two vampire BFFs, Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder, Lost).
But Katherine's shenanigans will prove to be least of our heroes' problems, as they'll soon be squaring off with werewolves and witches and a new foe more terrifying and lethal than any they've ever faced. No level of angst will get them out of this jam.
On paper, Vampire Diaries should blow. First impressions likely gauge it as simply another cash-in attempt on the adolescent vampire craze, complete with undead boy toys marching around with furrowed brows and the high school prom queen caught in between their dueling affections. Then you toss in some werewolves, a dollop of witchcraft and a melodramatic score that goes out of its way to transmit the Epic Heartbreak of it all, and how do you not arrive at a disaster?
Well, it's actually not a disaster. Pretty much the opposite of one, and this is coming from someone who finds the Twilight films as entertaining as a belt sander to the testicles. But The Vampire Diaries sucked me in and if that means my reputation as a gritty man of action with ropy biceps and a jaw chiseled from granite takes a hit, so be it. I can recognize engaging television when I see it.
Note I didn't say "great television." As much of a pleasure it is to watch the show, there is some guilt associated with tuning into The Vampire Diaries. The drama can be laid on too thick, the acting is spotty, and true-to-form, most of the characters in mortal danger make dumb-ass decisions. But here's why the show works: every episode something huge happens.
I don't think I've seen a series like it. The writers keep the narrative rocketing along, serving up arc-changing plot points regularly: characters will die, storylines will shift, new threats will be introduce and sometimes that all happens within the same episode. As I was reviewing the series the true breadth of the storytelling surprised me. What you think will be the governing second season arc from the first few episodes is, instead, merely a brick in the foundation of the big stuff that goes down as we approach the finale. This go-for-broke attitude the showrunners have adopted gives The Vampire Diaries some serious juice—it's easily one of the fasting-moving shows on TV right now.
The downside of this heavily serialized take is that you risk alienating new viewers who have no clue what's going on midstream. I think it's a worthwhile risk and the writers were wise to ignore a monster-of-the-week scenario and go all in with a prolonged story. The mythology is interesting (and surprisingly devoid of a religious component, which offers separation from so many other vamp tales) and the antagonists continually get fiercer. Ironically, Katherine was painted as the biggest of the bads in the first season, but she is soon eclipsed in round 2 by an even bigger bad (the culmination of his storyline this season has me genuinely intrigued about what happens next), making me wonder if we'll see a zombie Nero or the Antichrist make an appearance in Season Three. I kid.
If you want to catch up before broadcast, these Blu-rays are the way to go. Warner Brothers consistently delivers with its CW shows and The Vampire Diaries: Season Two maintains the trend. Episodes look fantastic in their 1.78:1, 1080p presentations, totally clean and visually precise in every moment. The production design can surprise with its ostentation (considering a certain-to-be economical budget) and the transfer pushes out the set-ups powerfully and clearly. Sound comes courtesy of a crisp, hard-working 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, a welcome surprise as virtually all of the CW shows on Blu receive standard-issue 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks. Extras: three featurettes on the show's werewolves, a look on Dobrev's two-character performance, a visual-aid-enhanced guide to the serpentine layers of character relationships, deleted scenes, a gag reel, and producer commentary on the episode "Masquerade."
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is one big issue that keeps cropping up for me: how do these high school students find time for their algebra homework?
Season One surprised me with its absorbing, addictive storytelling and the follow-up continues to engage. Great Blu-ray set.
Not Guilty. Okay, it's off to the mall to shop for some new slingback pumps!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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