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Blu-ray Review: The Vampire Diaries: The Complete First Season

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Written by Caballero Oscuro

Seriously? Another vampire show? Aside from being a blatant attempt to cash in on the inexplicable vampire craze of the last few years, The Vampire Diaries seemed like an ill-advised concept from the start, offering precious little originality in its take on what basically boils down to a supernatural love triangle between a woman and two vampire brothers.

Didn’t get your fill of the Twilight books and movies? The many books but shorter seasons of True Blood just aren’t enough to quench your thirst? You don’t get BBC America so you’re shut out of Being Human? You’re too young to have watched Angel? If so, you’re the target demographic.

Me, not so much, which is why I flatly boycotted this show during its first-season TV broadcasts, but based on good reviews from a couple of co-workers who should know better, I forged ahead with a full season marathon thanks to the new Blu-ray box set.

The show’s weak stab at a differentiator is its focus on high-school characters, adding teen drama to the vampire theme. That makes it a good fit amongst its similarly-aged CW neighbors such as Gossip Girl and 90210, but doesn’t add much to the concept. The show also marks the return of Dawson ’s Creek creator Kevin Williamson to a teen-centric series, although he admits in a bonus feature that he consciously molded these characters far from the “wise beyond their years“ Dawson ’s” gang, so as a result there’s not much noticeable trace of his previously distinctive stamp to be found. Instead, we’re left with a group of very pretty, humorless, and not particularly intelligent people grappling with the impact of vampirism on their lives and afterlives.

Regrettably, after watching all 22 season-one episodes I can report that my initial misgiving was spot-on. My wife, normally a genre TV junkie, gave up after about six episodes, finding the proceedings entirely too melodramatic and sappy (not her exact colorful term). These sexy kids mope around their small town pursuing typical high-school activities and occasionally find themselves in some minor supernatural peril, but that peril never boils over into drama compelling enough to warrant continued viewing.

The plot moves quickly, frequently bounces back into the past to add some historical impact to the love triangle, and has no qualms about summarily introducing and dispatching characters, and yet I found myself frequently struggling to care enough to stay awake even within my normal viewing hours. You’d think a show with vampires and witches could produce some fantastic situations brimming with suspense and excitement, but instead we’re mostly left with emo wusses going through the motions of their small-town, high-school lives with brief supernatural interruptions.

Also, the music is mostly terrible, with a soap-opera score and unappealing pop-rock tracks from minor acts that overshadow and ruin any forward momentum the plot may have managed. After hearing two weak modern covers of classic ’80s new-wave songs within the span of the first three episodes, my wife had already mostly checked out.

I will readily admit that Nina Dobrev is an inspired choice for the lead actress, although apparently that choice caused great dismay among fans of the novels based on the literary character’s frequently mentioned blonde hair and Dobrev’s brunette mane. It’s a delight to watch her develop her skills throughout the season, especially given her relatively young age that almost lets her legitimately pass as a high-school student. As for the vampire brothers, I’m sure they’re not hard on the eyes but they didn’t do much for me. Ian Somerhalder gets to show much more range than his stint on Lost, but I never really buy him as a slimy antagonist no matter how many smirks he employs. Paul Wesley just seems like a boring cardboard cutout as the stoic brother fighting to keep his blood lust in check while also pining for Dobrev’s character, although he finally gets to emote a bit in the final episodes of the season.

The series is crammed onto four Blu-ray discs, so those who like to blaze through a disc at a time are in for a 4 ½ hour marathon per disc. Each of the first three discs contains a few deleted scenes relevant to the episodes on those discs, while disc four (with only four episodes) also houses other bonus featurettes where the cast and producers mostly talk about how awesome it is to work with everyone else. My favorite bonus was the inclusion of the original casting footage, showing the actors in their pre-fame state struggling for their eventual roles. The bonus features also include a few webisodes and a seemingly out of place gag reel. Thankfully, the show doesn’t scrimp on its production quality so the Blu image absolutely sparkles, with any given still pristine enough to be suitable for framing. The sound mix is right in line with what one would expect…if you can get past the “music”.

The Vampire Diaries: The Complete First Season is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download.

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