Posts from the ‘What Is?’ Category

NBC’s Awake: A World Without Words

My brain works in completely nonsensical ways. I’m not sure if other people find this to be true of themselves, though I suspect they do, but I can say with certainty that my brain is sometimes completely indecipherable.

 

I mention this because the introduction to this topic that first came to my mind doesn’t actually make a lot of sense unless you take that fact into account.

 

This story starts about a week ago, when I had been catching up on games one of my favorite Let’s Players had posted since the last time I checked his channel. Clearly it had been too long, since he had the time to finish almost two whole games. As I finished catching up on one, I turned to the other, Silent Hill 3, to fill some of my free time at night.

 

Why would they even BUILD an amusement park in Silent Hill, anyway? The population is like 90% shambling, inhuman monstrosities!

The happiest place on Earth this ain't.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the Silent Hill series, allow me to summarize it briefly…it’s messed up. Having watched this same commentator’s videos for the previous two installments in the franchise I had some idea of what I should expect: characters with mental instability, a nightmarish glimpse into a parallel world full of grotesque mutants and some deeply traumatizing plot twists. Believe it or not, Silent Hill’s not exactly a comedy.

 

I don’t have anything against the horror genre, per se, but it’s never really been one of my favorites. I actually don’t believe that I scare very easily (though I do sometimes respond to “jump scares”, which I loathe for their dramatic laziness if nothing else) and often find myself fairly detached while watching horror movies. That said, when a scary movie does get to me, my neurochemical response is, somewhat curiously, to become incredibly stressed out. This sometimes leads to the same sort of irrational fear response that I know other people have after watching scary movies, but is just as likely to just sort of irritate me.

 

Whether I end up scared or irate, I definitely wouldn’t put the horror genre at the top of my favorites list. However, since I am generally detached watching things of the horror genre, I had no problem watching Silent Hill 1 or 2, and I had interest in watching the third installment, because I like this guy’s work.

 

Here’s where things stop making sense.

 

Maybe two weeks ago, I saw some random segment on a daytime news show (Today, maybe?) about how technology has messed with our natural sleep cycles by introducing all of this extra ambient lighting that makes it harder for our brains to shut off when we try to go to sleep. I don’t usually put a lot of stock in daytime news, because a lot of the discoveries they discuss are fads or sheer nonsense, but this made enough logical sense to me that I stored the information for later.

 

Now back to when I was preparing to watch Silent Hill; I stopped myself before loading up the videos and had an idea.

 

“I know, Kyle,” I said, addressing myself by first name, and verbally for some slightly deranged reason, “You can use this opportunity to kill two birds with one experimental stone.”

 

“Go on, my own subconscious,” I responded, “though one of us should make a note that ‘experimental stone’ would make an interesting subtitle for a young adult adventure novel”.

 

“Well, you already had some interest in trying out this shutting off the lights before bed thing, and now you’re about to watch the You Tube equivalent of a scary movie. Why not shut off all the lights in your room and put on some headphones to feel as fully immersed as possible into that fictional world of nightmares so you will be as uncomfortable as possible watching it?”

 

“Literally no part of that idea makes sense…it MUST be brilliant, let’s do it!”

 

As if a mere mortal could kill anyone from Lidsville!

"I sure hope nothing scares me so badly I can never sleep again. Better watch a woman murder a horde of hideous, bloody monsters in a world of living nightmares...that isn't Lidsville."

So each night, at least an hour before bed I watch Let’s Play Silent Hill 3 alone, in the dark, with some headphones on and it is definitely creepier than it would otherwise be. Every unsettlingly silent corridor, every moaning zombie mutant every rusted, creaky door has its dramatic effect amplified under those conditions. It really does feel like it’s the way the game was meant to be experienced.

 

For reference though, even though my apartment feels really creepy right before I go to bed, I have been sleeping much better this past week. Go figure!

 

So why am I telling you this weird, unnecessarily thorough story about my recent, peculiar sleeping habits? Well for one, I thought it would be a fun and quirky story for my blog. Secondly there’s a TV that premiered recently that deals with both sleeping and setting a great, atmospheric stage in unconventional ways. In case you haven’t seen the ads for it, I’m talking about the new NBC drama Awake.

 

Awake tells the story of Michel Britten, a detective whose wife and son are killed an a car also knocks him unconscious. The strange thing, though, is that his wife (Hannah) and son (Rex) aren’t dead at the same time. You see Michael is living in two worlds. One day he lives in a world where Hannah survived the car crash, and works cases at his job as usual. When he goes to bed, though, he immediately wakes up in a world where Rex survived the crash, but his wife didn’t, and spends his time solving a completely different set of detective cases.

 

In a lot of ways, the trickiest thing about this show is that our hero doesn’t know which world is real. This has a lot of implications, though chiefly psychological (which they’ve handled in some ways I find interesting so far) and visual.

 

Psychologically, Michael resists dealing with the loss of either of his loved ones, since his circumstances have made it so he doesn’t have to deal with it. Not only does this keep him distanced from Hannah and Rex, as they each struggle to deal with the loss of the other, but it’s a potentially dangerous coping mechanism in a number of ways. For one, as one of his two job-appointed psychiatrists mentions in the first episode, if his brain is creating a world without enough detail to seems real while it should be at rest, it could eventually have serious medical ramifications. On top of that, if this whole situation is really just some sort of complex delirium, then playing into it will certainly generate psychological stress down the road.

 

Not only does the cast feel a little weighted towards the Blue, Rex world, but so does the action. I wonder what that means...

This picture very cleverly presents the cast of the show, divided into their respective "worlds" with our protagonist in the middle.

Further muddling the detective’s perception of which world is real, small details continue to seep through from one world to the other, especially regarding his police work. For example, when a physical detail like hair color of the perpetrator comes across from some testimony in one world, it often corresponds to the case and perpetrator of his case in the other world. Sometimes these details are a little less direct, and tougher to connect between the worlds, but there’s been enough bleed through to  really confuse the issue.

 

Probably my favorite aspect of the show are the psychiatrists. In order to resume work at his job in each world, Michael was assigned a psychiatrist to make sure he’s mentally fit for duty. One takes on a generally positive view of Michael’s perception of the two worlds, and his continued insistence that his cases can be solved by information from the other world, while the second psychiatrist finds both of these ideas very bleak and concerning, and constantly tries to convince him to make a change. Not only does this device allow us to see two different psychiatric views of the situation, but it also allows the two to debate through Michael which world is real. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, it’s fresh and interesting.

 

Luckily for Michael Britten, though, his wife and son don't shout at him through static, demanding colored pages in the creepiest way possible.

It actually reminds me a little of Myst, and how each brother was trapped in a colored dimensional prison and could only be save with pages of the appropriate color.

Visually this concept runs a serious risk: confusing the two worlds. Typically when a story addresses a character visiting multiple worlds it’s either another planet or like a magical world, a different culture, or at the very least a “real” world and some “other” world. In these cases, one world has some clear, usually visual distinctions setting it apart from the other. On Awake, though, one of the key points of interest is that as far as we know, these two worlds are equally valid, and both represent an extension of his life after the car crash in equally “real” worlds.

 

So what did they do to keep them straight? Well for one, there’s an almost completely different cast of characters between the two worlds: different partners, different families, different psychiatrists, etc. Of course more characters can generate more confusion, especially if you can’t remember which world that character belongs to. But to handle that, the crew of Awake devised and ingeniously simple way to visually distinguish the worlds without compromising either’s potential as “real”: color-coded lighting.

 

If you’re not familiar with lighting for film and television, which I suspect you’re not, you may not realize that most lighting has some inherent color to it. Two of the most common types are blue lighting (a quality which daylight naturally has) where as tungsten lighting (that is, ordinary light bulbs and such) has a reddish-orange color to it. These colors, and more, are often used by lighting designers both within the industry and outside of it, to generate mood, represent a location, etc. Here, the red lighting is simply a tinge to everything in the world where Michael’s wife is alive and the blue lighting denotes scenes in the world where his son is alive.

 

As I said before, to anyone in the industry, this seems like a pretty simple trick, but that’s the beauty to it. There are so many overly complicated ways to try and get the same point across, but with this you can simply glance at a scene and know which world and which characters you can expect to deal with. An idea this high concept could have fallen apart at the seams if you couldn’t tell one world from the other, let alone dream from reality, so I’m glad they’ve made such simple work of creating two whole worlds for this series.

 

I’ve talked about tone in the past, and how it represents the personality of your show from a writer’s perspective. Usually I find myself unable to see things from any other perspective, but sometimes something transcends basic set/lighting design to really catch my attention. We shouldn’t take visual design for granted, though, because it can provide a show with just as much of an identity as its characters and dialogue. Heck, without it, those characters wouldn’t have a compelling world within our suspension of disbelief to recite that dialogue.

 

So many little details go into every episode of every TV show we watch, and we usually don't pay them any mind.

Even if you're only vaguely familiar with the specifics of the various Star Treks, you take one look at this and you can probably tell what we're looking at.

Think about how different a feel Star Trek the Next Generation has from Star Trek the Original Series, even though they’re set in the same world and have similar premises, there are all sorts of facets that signify one or the other, and very clearly set them apart from other shows. These are extreme examples too, but I hope that together with the much more subtle Awake, you can see my point.

 

Next time you’re watching your favorite show, take a moment to soak in the little details about lighting, sets or even costumes, and appreciate things that set that show apart, which you and many others take for granted every week. Maybe it will even deepen your appreciation for the show.

What Is Lidsville?

On the bright side, if I ever need a cursed object I know where to go.

Here's something of a cast photo that comes from a vintage Lidsville lunchbox...which I now own, thanks to my friend Chas' dark sense of humor.

“What is Lidsville?” is a very dangerous question.

 

This is a question with many answers, however the English language lacks the ability to fully and adequately answer this question. Before I make the futile attempt to answer what should be a simple question, let me begin by explaining how Lidsville came into my life.

 

There is an event that my friends and I sometimes attend in the basement of a building tucked in an alleyway in Chinatown, an event known as secret karaoke. Apparently it is a tradition at secret karaoke to project weird, cult television series on the wall behind where the lyrics are projected for singers. I’m not sure why, maybe because the people who run the thing got sick of all the clip art accompanying the bad midi files, but whatever the reason this was a fateful decision, for it introduced my friends and I to this forbidden series.

 

I was mesmerized by the indescribable nonsense casually and silently playing behind the karaoke. Everyone else was busy singing, getting drunk or socializing, but since I’m pretty bad at all of those things, my focus was on what was familiar to me: television. I watched in complete confusion as a green-skinned magician flew around in a crushed top hat, shooting lighting bolts from his fingertips at a boy and his living hat companions. And that was just the tip of the iceberg! There was no sound to accompany the plethora of confounding images, so after a while I had to drag someone down with me, just to make sure I hadn’t gone crazy.

 

Enter my friend Chas, who is a much more accomplished writer than I am. He, like most people in attendance, was having a good time, enjoying the atmosphere, when I brought the moving pictures to his attention. It wasn’t long before we were both shouting indignant questions about what on Earth could possibly be happening, why this was playing, and even whether it was a real television show. A fellow karaoke-goer filled us in, explaining this was an old children’s show from the 70’s.

 

A normal person would have left well enough alone, but sadly I am not normal.

 

Weenie, on the other hand, is a male geenie played by a woman, so he's always cross-dressing in a way.

Mark and Weenie, involved in one of their few plans that doesn't involve Mark putting on a silly costume and/or women's clothing.

My well-documented tolerance for all things TV beckoned me down a dark path, and I was already in too deep. I investigated the show, finding its theme song online, and even gaining access to a full episode. I conned my then-girlfriend into watching the episode, as no one else would do it. Luckily fate intervened at this point. I couldn’t find any more episodes utilizing the amount of effort I was willing to invest.

 

That could have been the end of it. That SHOULD have been the end of it. It was truly only the beginning.

 

Skip ahead to this past summer, when I was browsing the TV schedule with the help of my TiVo one Saturday morning when I discovered something I wouldn’t have believed possible. PBS was airing episodes of Lidsville! I couldn’t keep myself from switching the channel out of pure morbid curiosity, and then like with a train wreck I couldn’t avert my eyes.

 

That day I joined Chas and his girlfriend for dinner before seeing a movie, and I endeavored to use my talents as a storyteller to recount the terrors to which I had subjected myself. Whatever I said worked, to a degree. Chas was similarly intrigued, but his girlfriend was simply horrified.

 

And rightly so.

 

Over the next few weeks a plan was hatched. Our mutual friend Mike was getting married soon, so his fiancé and several of our friends were heading out of town for a Vegas bachelorette party. Normal guys would probably have a guys night out, but somehow I lured my friends into a horrifying challenge instead.

 

The villainous HooDoo answers the Hat Hotline, a phone line so hot he needs a potholder to hold it. I hope you liked that pun, because there will be a lot of it. To be clear, a lot of this specific pun.

At first it was to be a competition: Starting at 9 PM, we would determine who could endure the most straight Lidsville without break. We quickly realized this was too great a challenge for anyone but possibly myself to endure, so instead it was to be a bonding experience. We would band together against the nightmare within a hat within a TV screen, and struggle to endure the entire series in one night.

 

Long story short, while we nearly lost Mike in the middle to a survival instinct-induced sleep, the three of us accomplished what we set out to do.

 

We now know our enemy. Now it is time for me to warn you of a land from which there is no escape. A world of talking hats: some racist stereotypes, some that defy any logical description. A world filled with the magic of a malicious green-skinned wizard and the absolute worst genie I’ve ever seen in my life. A world populated by puns, costumes and…the hat band.

 

Lidsville.

 

Premise:

 

Probably the easiest and most direct way to explain the premise of the show is for you to watch the show’s intro. The theme song is basically a man just telling you what the show is about in a sing-song tone.

 

 

For those of you unable to watch videos while reading this, or simply too terrified by the notion of watching that, I will summarize. A boy named Mark sees a magic show at a six flags, and is so entranced that he decides to sneak back stage to learn more about the magic. When he arrives in the magician’s dressing room he stumbles onto his top hat. Somehow he triggers the hat to magically grow to enormous size, then he climbs in and falls into the world within a hat, Lidsville.

 

Mark’s goal, and understandably so, is to find a way out of Lidsville and back home. After a while, this goal takes a certain, notable shift, but that’s an issue for later. It’s a simple premise for a show inexplicably targeted to children, especially when you consider that the way out of Lidsville is simply to go up, since Mark fell down to get there.

 

Side note though, can anyone reading this explain to me what the curious frog is up with the theme song’s abrupt transitions? We go from this weird sort of monotonous drone to this psychedelic interlude. Next the video makes it clear that Mark is being chased by an evil wizard, yet all of a sudden Mark and the hats are like laughing and dancing. Why build all that tension just to suddenly have everyone celebrating Mark being trapped inside the world of hats?

 

Characters:

 

Mark (Butch Patrick, of Munsters fame) – The tragic protagonist of the tale. Mark simply believed in magic and wanted to unravel some of its wonder. His is certainly a case of “be careful what you wish for”, since he did in fact find an entire magical world, but for him, there would be no escape. As a kid’s show from before writers really gave children any credit, Mark and the other characters are pretty two dimensional. In fact, his most defining feature would probably be his knack for solving problems by dressing in costumes (sometimes cross-dressing).

 

Hooratio J. HooDoo (Charles Nelson Reilly, primarily of Match Game Fame to my knowledge) – The unfathomably campy villain of the piece. This green-skinned magician is really more of a wizard. Chief among the magic at his disposal is his magic lightning zapper hands and his hat which converts into a flying vehicle known as the Hatamaran. He also had a magical ring that could summon a genie until it was stolen by Mark, which proves to be the main source of contention through much of the series.

 

Weenie the Genie (Billie Hayes, of H.R. Pufnstuf fame) – Weenie is the somewhat androgynous Genie whose power is linked to the ring Mark stole from HooDoo. To say that Weenie is an unhelpful companion would be an understatement, to say that he is the worst genie would not. Weenie rarely, if ever, accomplishes what he sets out to do, and often makes things worse. It makes me wonder why Mark never tried to trade Weenie back to HooDoo in exchange for help escaping this horrible place.

 

It's hard to say what the worst fate to befall someone is within Lidsville, but getting captured by the bad hats is at least embarassing.

Pictured is Mark being captured by the so-called "bad hats". This band of thugs consists of a ganster fedora, an executioner's hood, a pirate hat and a...vampire...hat.

And the rest – There’s a pretty big, largely pointless ensemble cast on the show. This includes a plethora of magical puppets that populate HooDoo’s hat home (yes, he lives in a hat within a world of hats that exists inside a larger hat), HooDoo’s bumbling sidekick Raunchy Rabbit, a gang of lesser villains known as the bad hats and of course the “good hats” that inhabit Lidsville proper. It’s actually unclear as to whether lidsville is the entire world, some sort of county or province or merely just the town where most of the hats live. There’s a rather horrifying revelation down the line that clarifies things a little, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

 

At some point I will venture back through the terrible world of Lidsville, as something of a public service. In case you ever find yourself in the same situation as poor, star-crossed Mark, you need to know what you’re up against. Of course, there’s no guarantee that I will survive another trip there, but I will find a way to send you whatever warnings I can to you from the other side. Really the best advice I can give you is what a wise man once told me, “DON’T GO IN THE HAT!”

What Is Lost Girl?

No, seriously, what IS this show?

 

Okay, there’s a good chance you haven’t heard of Lost Girl, so give me a minute to catch you up to speed. Lost Girl is a supernatural drama that the Syfy channel has been promoting for several months. The ads presented the concept of a young woman named Bo (played by Anna Silk) who had some type of supernatural powers, did not know what she was and discovered what sounded like a civil war between two faction of fae. For the most part, this is an accurate representation of the series, however, there is one important character detail that they played very close to the vest, which doesn’t come to light until about halfway through the pilot; the main character is a succubus.

 

Now I’m going to give you a minute to perform any spit takes, double takes or comedic series of shouting “wha-wha-WHAT!?” that you might feel necessary. Good? Good.

 

I can think of worse ways to die, but then I can think of plenty of worse case scenarios that I'd rather not experience.

"Hey baby, wanna come back to my place so we can have sex, drain your body of life, then dispose of your corpse?" "Heck yeah! You said sex, right?"

Yeah, that’s right, the main character is apparently a succubus. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, succubi (the plural of succubus) are typically demonic figures of women who seduce men and drain their energy via sexual encounter. Said encounters leave the man with deteriorated health if they don’t outright kill him.

 

Even knowing this, you might be wondering why I find this one element of the show so utterly surprising. Well, for one, it seems like a pretty big thing to hide about the show. I don’t remember any indication from the commercials that the show would be rated MA, but it is. Really though, the most unusual part of the succubus angle is the way they portray the heroine, Bo.

 

Essentially a succubus in this world is like a sex vampire; she must drain life force from a human via physical contact or her own health starts to deteriorate. Unlike the “good” vampire trope I touched on while writing about The Vampire Diaries, Bo does not try to control or mitigate her lethal hunger. She’s spent her whole life feeding on and killing men, through mostly casual sexual encounters and really doesn’t seem to show shame or remorse about it.

 

Now I don’t mean to say that this is wrong, or that this type of character shouldn’t be shown on TV, I merely mean to explain my reaction. American Television rarely has characters representing this type of lifestyle or even moral ambiguity. Furthermore, the vast majority of original programming on the Sci Fi Channel…sorry, I mean SyFy is relatively family friendly. SyFy’s been trying to rebrand itself for years, but it’s still far from the established grittiness of a network like FX, and it’s not a premium channel like HBO which has much greater freedom in experimenting with its programming than a basic cable channel like SyFy.

 

It turns out, though, that this isn’t a SyFy original series at all, prompting me to wonder why they’re allowed to bill it as one in the first place. In fact, Lost Girl is a Candian TV series developed and produced by Prodigy Pictures for a Candaian cable channel called Showcase Television. The fact that this show is Canadian-made answers some of my questions about the unconventional nature of the premise, and makes me interested in learning more about Canadian television, but it generates some mystery as to the meaning of the phrase “SyFy Original Series”, particularly the “original” part.

 

I’ve bored you enough with that, let’s get on with the show.

 

Premise:

 

As I’ve touched on already, the show centers around a woman named Bo with supernatural powers whose origins she does not understand. After saving a human girl named Kenzi from a sleazy predator of a man by killing him with her powers, the two become fast friends. Kenzi appreciates Bo’s unique qualities rather than thinking of her as a freak or a monster. A pair of detectives find the body of that sleazy man Bo killed before, and immediately detect foul play (or, if you prefer, fae play).

 

For something called a "Pain-Eater" these guys are pretty monstrous looking. It does prove the point about under fae, though.

"Avada Kedavra! Oh sorry, wrong franchise."

The detectives manage to track the girls down and use their own supernatural abilities to incapacitate them, capturing Bo in the process. She is taken before the leaders of the light and dark factions of fae, which are creatures with a variety of supernatural abilities who can often otherwise pass as humans. They tell her she is one of them and perform a test on her, verifying that she is a succubus. The two factions then put Bo through a life threatening combat trial against two more monstrous breeds of fae, after which she’s meant to choose a side and swear allegiance to them.

 

With the help of Kenzi and one of the detectives from earlier, Bo passes the trial, but declares that she is on the side of humans, effectively neutral. Virtually everyone disapproves of this and views her as a threat to the fae way of life. Bo and Kenzi establish something of a supernatural detective agency, taking on cases that those in the dark about the fae world would probably get killed trying to solve. Bo continues meeting various breeds of fae and learning more about this strange culture while helping others and trying to discover more about her birth parents and her origins as fae.

 

Characters:

You would think the queen of the dark fae would be important...or at least show up from time to time, but not so much. I guess she's a lazy queen.

Also pictured here are Lauren (a fae doctor), Hale (Dyson's partner) and Trick, a leprechaun-esque light fae. They all seem important but I currently know little about them.

 

Ysabeau “Bo” Dennis: The bisexual, super-powered succubus and central protagonist of the show. Born of two fae parents, raised by two humans who knew nothing of the fae Bo has spent most of her life confused by her compulsion to feed on humans, as well as her other abilities. After she gets some answers in the pilot episodes, she is not content to keep living in the dark, and makes it her mission to learn more about her origins and also to learn more about the rest of the fae.

 

From what I know, her abilities include heightened strength and speed, impressive regenerative abilities drawing from sexual energies and the ability to manipulate and sexually attract humans via touch.

 

Kenzi: Kenzi is Bo’s snarky and witty human sidekick. Kenzi is very open to all of the craziness that swept her life when meeting Bo opened the floodgates. She is also very reliable and protective of her newfound fae friend. Kenzi has an unusual habit of spontaneously wearing wigs of various colors, and while this is sometimes motivated as one element of a disguise, she is just as likely to do so on any given day.

 

Dyson: A homicide detective and werewolf-esque fae who has taken a liking to Bo and decides to help her despite his fae allegiance and probably his better judgment. The two have a complicated, sometimes-sexual relationship, partially because his fae powers keep her from killing him. This enables Bo to feed and recover her health without having to kill humans, which always poses some slight risk of exposure to human kind. Dyson also keeps close contact with fae from his side (the light fae), and may be spying on Bo for their agenda.

 

As I said, Dyson’s fae abilities make him something of a werewolf. He has heightened strength, speed and senses, plus he can actually transform into a wolf, which seems to alter the strength and usage of his other abilities.

 

There are a few other characters of importance, but as of now I’ve only seen a few episodes, and none of those characters have been developed enough for me to provide you with any useful information about them.

Granted, I'm only like three episodes in, episode four could be a naked death orgy for all I know.

From what I've seen so far, despite the ideological complexities of the premise, the show doesn't use the MA rating to its fullest extent. This is the most nudity I've really seen on the show, for example.

 

This is definitely an interesting new series, and one I intend to watch more of, at least for it’s unique nature and creative world. I can’t say that I’ve fully made up my mind about my feelings for this show just yet, because on some level I think I’m still reacting to that crazy revelation. Still, if the information I have provided you with didn’t scare you off, or even intrigued you, then Lost Girl is probably a show worth checking out.

What Are The Vampire Diaries?

I for one think the title card should be printed on a book with vampire fangs. Seems logical to me, even if a little on the nose.

The Standard Vampire Diaries title card, sometimes depicted with dripping blood.

Vampire Diaries is a CW Teen Drama, which like the WB teen dramas which existed before its merger with UPN created the CW, is characterized by teens whose social problems are treated like life or death situations (though depending on the show, sometimes they are), and frequently feature excessive angst and/or brooding about the teenage condition.

 

The TV series, however is based on a trilogy of “young adult vampire horror” novels, written by L.J. Smith and published over a decade before Twilight. The series proved popular enough for fan demand to spark the writing of a fourth novel, and later two additional trilogies (though the most recent is being written by a ghost writer instead of the original author). Despite this popularity and being around before Twilight really exploded the vampire romance genre, I doubt this series would have been adapted for television had Twilight not opened the floodgates for popular culture.

 

Now I’m no fan of the Twilight series, and my reactions to vampires in fiction are often lukewarm, but I am a student of all kind of television, which means I try to give shows a fair chance even if they seem sub par or downright unwatchable at first glance. My first experience with this show was during what some of my friends with similar industry aspirations call a “Pilot Party”. At the start of the fall TV season we’ll get together to watch the premiere episodes of various shows, good or bad and discuss them. We watched Vampire Diaries’ pilot and I was on board with the general consensus; it was better than expected but probably not something I would watch.

I wonder if a vampire could compel your mind through a photo. It would explain my recent taste for human blood.

This is what the cover to the season 1 DVD set looks like. I've had sexy male vampire staring at me for a few weeks asking "why aren't you watching us?"

 

Flash forward to late last year, when I was hanging out with a friend of mine, Amy. When just the two of us are hanging out, we will often watch shows that most of our friends don’t or won’t watch, because she has slightly different taste than most, and as I often say, I’ll watch almost anything. On this particular night, I watched a current episode of Vampire Diaries, and Amy was eager to see what my reaction would be. I had to admit I enjoyed it more than I expected. It still had some problems typical of teen dramas, but I’ve watched at least my fair share of those in the past and enjoyed them despite such issues. This set the wheels in motion.

 

Flash forward again to when Amy acquired the first two seasons of Vampire Diaries on DVD. She loaned the first season to me and told me to watch the whole thing. Well I’ve been gently nudging my friends to give me suggestions or what I like to think of as Challenges of shows suitable for this blog to write about. A challenger approaches: The Vampire Diaries!

 

Enough about me, let’s get into the basics of the show. Let’s start with the supernatural namesake, vampires. As a well-established monster, vampires have reached a point where authors often tweak the rules of vampires powers and weaknesses. The Vampire Diaries follows this trend, but certainly not so egregiously as “Vampires sparkle in the sunlight”. Have I mentioned I don’t like Twilight?

 

Vampire Powers (or Vampowers if you like portmanteaus):

 

-Immortality: Vampires don’t age and will live forever unless someone uses one of their weaknesses to kill them.

-Healing Factor: Vampires aren’t completely indestructible, and can be cut or otherwise hurt, but their natural healing abilities quickly kick in and prevent lasting damage.

-Super Strength: While I don’t actually recall the vampires of the series using their strength for anything especially noteworthy so far, there have been multiple arguments ending with someone being tossed with obviously superhuman strength.

-Super Speed: This one’s pretty straightforward. Vampires are fast! It makes getting from place to place in a small town like Mystic Falls without a car pretty convenient.

Say, since vampires have reflections in this world, I bet they could compel themselves to quit smoking.

Damon Salvatore compels you to watch The Vampire Diaries. And also keep reading my blog.

-Mind Compulsion: This one’s the real kicker, and this show rarely pulls any punches with it, which I appreciate. Vampires can control other people’s minds plus they can erase or create false memories in them. I assume there’s some limit to this power, or else the two central vampires of this show would have compelled their issues away years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

Vampire Weaknesses (or Vampeaknesses if you just like mashing words together):

 

-Wooden Stake: Taking one to the heart will kill a vampire, this holds true as vampire 101.

-Sunlight: Does burn vampires, though if the exposure is not sustained it seems that the healing factor can undo the damage to some degree.

-Invitation: A vampire cannot enter a house without being invited, though once invited they are free to come and go.

-Vervain: Admittedly I’m not a vampire scholar, so I don’t know if this was made up for the show, or established yet obscure. Vervain is an herb of some kind that weakens vampires, to an extreme degree if it’s ingested. If worn or kept in close proximity, vervain also provides some degree of protection for humans, at least to counteract their ability to compel minds.

 

There may be more weaknesses that eventually develop or haven’t been discussed, but those cover the main bases.

 

The Premise:

 

The show revolves around two brothers, Stefan and Damon Salvatore, who were turned into vampires about 150 years ago. They take sibling rivalry to a new level as a woman they fought over even before they were turned is still driving hostilities between them. The pair seemed to be affluent members of society when they were young, but eventually left the town where they lived, Mystic Falls, for reasons not entirely clear to me just yet (though I suspect it was due to a rise in the rates of vampire hunters in town).

 

Things start off as Stefan returns to Mystic Falls, being compelled to meet a girl named Elena Gilbert, the spitting image (and possible descendant) of his and Damon’s old flame, Katherine. Damon quickly shows up and takes just about every opportunity he can to spite Stefan and make him miserable. Things continue largely from there with Stefan merely trying to live a quasai-normal life, Damon being a sociopath and the rest of the town trying to cope with “mysterious animal attacks” and other such vampire fallout.

 

Also not pictured is Matt, who is like Schrodinger's main character. So far the box is empty.

Not pictured is Aunt Jenna, who looks way too young to be anyone's legal guardian.

Characters:

 

There are many, but the show focuses largely around three and a half of them, who I will discuss here.

 

Stefan Salvatore: The “good” vampire who doesn’t feed on humans, but instead feeds on the blood of animals. As a result his vampire abilities are relatively weak, especially his ability to compel humans. Stefan is sensitive, caring and introspective, which combined with his lonely life as a vampire obviously leads him to brood with some regularity. Stefan is remorseful about things he has done in the past due to his vampirism, but has largely changed his ways. He still worries that he is a danger to others because of his relationship to his brother, Damon.

 

Damon Salvatore: The evil vampire brother, no quotes for that one, Damon’s a full on sociopath. He makes it clear that humans are at best pawns in his mind games and at worst nothing more than food. Whatever the details are regarding his love triangle with Stefan and Katherine (a girl the boys knew way back before they were vampires) are they seem to have had a severe impact on Damon’s mental stability. He has no qualms feeding on people or using people to hurt Stefan…or really doing anything that might hurt Stefan. He’s very smart and feeding on humans makes him strong as well, this guy’s seriously dangerous.

 

Elena Gilbert: She is the object of vampire affections in this story. As things kick off Elena and her brother, Jeremy, are being raised by their aunt after their parents died in a car accident. The pair of them are both handling things in a pretty emo fashion, but at least she’s not taking copious drugs and picking fights with guys at school. She is however complaining to her (vampire) diary that she’s totally emotionally stunted. Well, she was until Stefan came along. She feels like she can open up and relate to Stefan. Things are complicated of course by the fact that he is a vampire, and she quickly grows tired of all the secret keeping and moral peril.

 

Bonnie Bennett: This is the half-character of importance I mentioned before. Bonnie is somehow the best friend of every teenage girl in Mystic Falls, despite rarely interacting with them in a typical best friend fashion. It turns out that Bonnie’s a witch. Don’t mistake that for a spoiler, her first conversation brings up the possibility that she’s a witch and almost every single scene or exchange of dialogue with her in it somehow pertains to the fact that she’s a witch. This bothers me mostly because the fact that she is a witch has yet to impact the story in any meaningful way, but she just keeps bringing it up and talking about it incessantly. I strongly suspect that it is a rule of witches in this continuity that if you are a witch and you don’t talk about the fact that you’re a witch once every fifteen minutes you will spontaneously combust. If that IS the case, I hope Damon finds an excuse to muzzle her.

 

Bonnie seems nice enough, maybe I will hate her less if/when she finally gets an actual storyline.

Alright already, Bonnie, I get it, you're a witch! Did you have to ruin my pillow to prove the point?

 

I think that does it for my primer on this wacky world of Vampires (or Wampires if you have a Russian accent or a deep appreciation for alliteration). I figure examining a supernatural romantic teen drama is a good way for me to spend the week of Valentine’s Day. After that, you may continue to see some periodical and unconventional updates on the subject.

 

All you happy relationship people enjoy tomorrow. Me? I’ll be celebrating Vampentine’s Day.