It would be tempting to dismiss 'The Vampire Diaries' as another mediocre show riding on the wave of the public's fascination for all things vampire, by conveniently cashing in on the multi-million franchise that started it all. Taken at the pilot episode's most basic premise, 'The Vampire Diaries' doesn't sound exactly original: a teenage girl is drawn to a mysterious new boy hiding a dark secret; 'so far, so Twilight' you might think. But once the show gets going, it becomes obvious that 'The Vampire Diaries' is far more epic in scope than 'Twilight'.
The story is set in the small town of Mystic Falls, Virginia, where our heroine, Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev) is trying to hold her family together after losing her parents in a car accident four months before. At the start of a new school year, she finds herself immediately attracted to new student Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley), a vampire who has lived in solitude for a century but who is unwillingly lured from his shadowy existence by his infatuation with Elena. Elena bears an uncanny resemblance to a picture of a woman called Katherine, whom Stefan and his older brother who is also a vampire, Damon (Ian Somerhalder) loved more than a century ago, a story which ended in tragedy and a bitter feud. Stefan hasn't spoken to Damon for 15 years, but when he shows up in Mystic Falls in the wake of several brutal murders, Stefan is deeply troubled.
Stefan is the sensitive, 'good' brother who refuses to drink human blood because he believes killing people is wrong. Damon however, does not share his conviction and does not hesitate when it comes to feeding on, or taking human life to sate his thirst. He continually ridicules Stefan's moral principles and sees it as a betrayal of their identity as vampires. Damon is significantly stronger than Stefan and possesses the ability to manipulate people's minds through a power called compulsion.
It would be easy to describe Damon as evil, but even as early as episode 3 his 'evil' intentions regarding his brother and Elena are questionable. Stefan challenges Damon, stating "You're not going to hurt her (Elena) Damon, because deep down inside of you there's a part of you that feels for her." He argues that Damon isn't the monster he pretends to be. When Damon shockingly kills Stefan's football coach, Stefan sadly concludes that he was wrong to hope. "There's nothing human left in Damon...only a monster who must be stopped." But even as he's speaking, we know this isn't true as we see Damon at the sleeping Elena's bedside, gently caressing her cheek with his fingertip. At the heart of the show is a love triangle, but a far more engrossing one than seen in 'Twilight': two vampire brothers, one good, one evil, battling for the soul of a mortal girl who is caught between them. But is Damon really evil? Glimpses of his humanity is one of the most intriguing thing about him. Although the writers focus on Elena's romance with Stefan, there is something captivating about her scenes with Damon. I can appreciate that Stefan and Elena have chemistry though, I just find Elena and Damon a more exciting, compelling match. I suppose I find Stefan a little dull in comparison to Damon, but then Damon would make any vampire - Edward Cullen included -look dull. Apart from being gorgeous and charming, Damon is pretty much the antithesis of Edward: arrogant, sarcastic, funny, devastatingly sexy and deadly; often all at once. He gets all the best lines in the show and steals every scene he's in. Ian Somerhalder (who clearly relishes his role as a bad boy) is brilliant as Damon.
A word of caution - I have never read any of LJ Smith's books, but there are many people who have, who feel strongly about how the show should work out, and who should get together based on what happens in the books. Do not expect the show to be a duplicate of them, because the TV show will inevitably go a completely different way. Two of the producers, Bob Levy and Leslie Morgenstein also produce 'Gossip Girl', which took Cecily Von Zeigesar's characters and then did their own thing. If you are a die-hard fan of the books, do not spoil your enjoyment of this amazing show by trying to anticipate how closely the writers will follow the books. Otherwise, 'The Vampire Diaries' has it all: a cast so beautiful it shouldn't be allowed, the potential for an epic love triangle, humour, darkness, witty dialogue, charismatic multi-layered characters and fantastic story-telling. It also has an incredible soundtrack, with songs that always capture and accentuate the intensity of the scene. Anberlin's 'Enjoy The Silence', 'Cut' by Plumb (Stefan and Elena's love scene) and Within Temptation's 'All I Need' (Elena and Damon's dance) are some stand-outs. Even the most cynical fans of the vampire genre may not be able to resist this.