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Welcome to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' potential offerings for the 2009-2010 season. Over the next couple weeks we'll walk you through some of the scripts being shot as pilots with an eye towards a series commitment next season. With that in mind, it's important to remember that a lot can change from the drafts we've seen - rewriting, recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
THE VAMPIRE DIARIES (The CW)
(written by Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec; 63 pages)
The network's description: No official description has been released.
What did they leave out: It's based on L.J. Smith's series of young adult novels of the same name.
The plot in a nutshell: The new school year marks a new beginning for 17-year-old Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev) of Mystic Falls, Virginia. "They will see that Elena is alive and well," she writes in her diary. "And if I can convince them, then maybe, just maybe, I can believe it myself." After all, it's been a year since her parents died - a car wreck which only she survived - and she and her brother, Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen, "has an original take on grunge punk, nothing extreme"), have settled into a new domestic status quo with their aunt Jenna. And so, along with her best friends - Bonnie, the amateur psychic ("I predicted Obama, I predicted David Cook, Heath Ledger, Britney's comeback and I still think Florida will break off and become little resort islands."), and Caroline, the queen bee (Bonnie: "I say we both throw ourselves at him and whoever he picks gets him." Caroline: "That's the same as saying he's mine.") - Elena makes a go at resuming life as an ordinary teen girl. Not helping matters: things between Elena and her ex, football jock Matt, are awkward at best while Jeremy has dipped his toe into drug dealing.
That's all about the change though with the arrival of transfer student Stefan Whitmore. In addition to his looks ("He's a gloriously, amazingly, epic-ly beautiful young man," explains the script), he also has a tragic past of his own - his parents passed away as well, leaving him with his great uncle Pete - and it's not long before the two are exchanging longing glances in class. But there's a lot more to Stefan than he lets on: the sunglasses he wears indoors aren't really for his scratched retina, nor is his sensitivity to blood an act, it's all to cover up the fact he's... a vampire. "I never should have tried to enter her life," he writes in his diary (hence the title). "What would she do if she ever learned the truth? About me...and why I'm really here." Even worse, his arrival coincides with the disappearance/potential murder of a local couple. And if that wasn't enough: Damon, Stefan's arrogant, reckless brother, turns up, threatening to derail Stefan's new life. Yes, it's a new beginning for everyone.
What works: Williamson's trademark teen-speak from "Dawson's Creek" is in full force here (Mr. Tanner: "Would you like to take this opportunity to overcome your
embedded jock stereotype?"; Darren: "He sounded like James Blunt." Brooke: "What's wrong with that?" Darren: "We already have a James Blunt. One's all we need.") as is Plec's always enjoyable earnestness from "Kyle XY" (Jeremy: "Why do you talk that way about yourself?" Vicki: "It's a joke." Jeremy: "Lacking in humor and self esteem.") however it's all...
What doesn't: ...still pretty boilerplate teen (or vampire) stuff. From the opening teaser (two people get killed after stopping to help a man they hit on an old country road) to the emo star-crossed lovers (gorgeous outsider picks the nice girl despite the beauties throwing themselves at him) to the good guy who wants to protect the girl he loves from his bad guy past, there's nothing here you haven't seen before (and done better). Making the situation even more frustrating: Williamson has a history of taking genres (from "Scream" to the "Creek"), pointing out their cliches and having fun with them. Here though it's just a buffet of them - Tyler, the local douche, spills his tray on Stefan's shirt to bait him into fighting; Stefan proves to be overly versed in the town's history - you know, because he was there; vampires can't enter a home unless invited, can turn into animals and have their veins protrude from under their skin when revved up; and Damon gives Stefan a hard time about losing sight of his vampire nature, giving up eating people and all that fun stuff. Even the show's central hook - Stefan and Elena write their thoughts in diaries (and share them with us via voiceovers) - feels very warmed over. It's all just kind of shrug-ish. The end product obviously could produce some sparks via the actors, but for now...
The bottom line: ...I'm not exactly riveted.