Love it or hate it, the Twilight saga has made vampires cool again. The success of the series had made possible the resurgence of vampires on the small screen, namely HBO’s True Blood and the CW’s The Vampire Diaries. There are obvious similarities between the two series: both are based on a book series, both take place in sleepy Southern towns, both have female protagonists, and both have rabid fanbases. Despite these similarities, True Blood is widely considered the better show. Why? Is it because it’s on HBO and can therefore go to places Vampire Diaries can’t? Is the acting better? Is the writing better? At this point, both have roughly the same number of episodes under their belt, so it’s not like comparing say…Bones and Castle (True Blood has 25 and Vampire Diaries has 22). Here is my (hopefully amusing) look at why I believe that The Vampire Diaries is the superior show. (We won’t even get into comparing either of these to the absurdity that is Twilight. That monstrosity can’t hold a candle to either show….)
1. Location, Location, Location
Both shows take place in sleepy Southern towns that have roots going back to the Civil War. That is pretty much the sole thing they have in common; other than vampires, of course. True Blood’s Bon Temps is an off-the-beaten-path, insular kind of town. Most of the families have lived there for generations. Political correctness hasn’t really made its way into Bon Temps as evidenced by the ravings of characters like Arlene and Mrs. Fortenberry. It’s Bon Temps’ very backwardness that creator Alan Ball uses as a backdrop to expound on issues like race, sexual orientation and class. Bon Temps is also home to a serial killer, a rest stop for a maenad and boasts the biggest horndog in the state of Louisiana. It’s a Wal-Mart town… literally. It’s got more Daisy Dukes, tube tops and sundresses than you can shake a stick at. Somewhere, Cordelia Chase is weeping.
Mystic Falls, on the other hand, has no such delusions of grandeur. While Mystic Falls is far from the highway, it’s also a place that recognizes the 14th Amendment. In most respects it represents your typical American town, if slightly WASP-ish, although that’s probably skewed by only having one African-American main character (Bonnie). What makes Mystic Falls special is its obsession with the Founders (and scarves, for some reason!). The Fells, Lockwoods, Gilberts, Fosters and Salvatores have lorded over Mystic Falls since the Civil War. Their forefathers supposedly eradicated the vampire menace in 1864 and entrusted their descendents with the job of keeping the town safe should vampires ever return. To that end, there is a seemingly endless array of Founders’ Day activities including balls, pageants and parades. Small towns all over hold celebrations just like these, albeit to a slightly less obsessive degree. It’s these events that make the location so important. True Blood could almost take place anywhere. Even better there’s no sign of a Wal-Mart!
Serial killers, maenads and Wal-Mart fashion victims vs. endless Founders’ Day activities? Vampire Diaries, plus five.
2. Meet the Townsfolk
Leaving the starring trios aside, let’s look at the supporting cast.
The majority of True Blood’s supporting characters live in the aforementioned Bon Temps. There’s Jason, Sookie’s dumb as a stump older brother; Hoyt, his adorable and dependable best friend; and Sam, Sookie’s boss who is secretly (or not so secretly; Sookie is a telepath, after all) in love with her. We have Jessica, Bill’s vamp kid who’s dating Hoyt…kinda. There’s also Arlene, Andy Bellfleur, Jane Bodehouse and Sookie’s bestie, Tara. First of all, have you heard these people talk? Jesus, Mary and Joseph are those accents horrid. I know people from Louisiana and none of them sound like that. The state of Louisiana should sue for slander or something! The best accent by far was Rene and he supposedly learned his Cajun accent from a tape for Christ sakes! The dialect coach over there at True Blood needs to be fired, STAT.
All is not lost, however. There are a few genuinely awesome characters, like Lafayette. How much do we love our gay, vampire blood-selling, PTSD-suffering, smart ass, short order cook? Lafayette just makes every scene he’s in better. To balance human Lafayette’s awesomeness, we have a vamp – in every sense of the word – Pam. Pam is an HBIC of the highest order. Not letting Pam get a crack at Maryann for destroying her shoes was an epic fail on Alan Ball’s part. As Eric’s right hand woman, she delivers the snark with just the right amount of menace that makes normal people crap their pants. Long live Pam!
Mystic Falls has its share of characters too, but they aren’t drawn as broadly as those of True Blood. Elena’s got an emo little brother; a kinda flighty, yet endearing Aunt Jenna; a witchy best friend (well sometimes. Bonnie’s currently on a highly annoying, self righteous, hypocritical steak); and another kind of shallow and obnoxious friend named Caroline. Elena’s ex Matt has the worst mom in Virginia and his bestie Tyler is werewolf, that doesn’t know he’s a werewolf! And did I mention the history teacher moonlights as a vampire slayer? The plot of season one didn’t allow the writers to explore some of these characters as well as I would have liked, but there’s a lot of potential.
Other horribly-accented players aside, Lafayette and Pam still trump Alaric. Sorry, Ric! Plus 10 to True Blood.
3. Three’s a Crowd
True Blood is billed as an ensemble show, but let’s be honest here. At its core, it’s all about Bill, Sookie and Eric. One human girl torn between two vampires – one good, one bad. Sound familiar? Joss Whedon would like his plot back. Bill and Sookie get together in about a nanosecond. Why? I have no frickin’ idea. Sookie’s a telepath and can’t hear Bill’s thoughts, thereby making her head blissfully clear whenever they’re together. But as far I can tell that’s all he’s got going for him. Dude’s not even hot. I mean, come on. That’s not even taking into account Bill’s potentially less than honorable reasons for being back in his childhood home. And the most atrocious attempt at a Southern accent I have ever heard. SOOKEH!!!! Good lord. Someone please make Bill shut the hell up. Sorry, is my Bill-hate showing? Anyway, Eric is supposedly the “bad” vampire. Or at least, that’s what Bill leads Sookie to believe in the beginning. Yes, Eric is selfish, menacing, and a first-rate, if bored, businessman. He’s also very old, very powerful and very hot. We’re never really shown anything that makes Eric “bad.” Things that Sookie objects to are perfectly justified demonstrations of Eric’s powers and responsibilities as Sheriff. If Eric is so bad, Alan Ball, show us. Oh wait, you can’t because he’s not. He’s simply a GQMF that you have to repress to prop up Wet!Blanket Bill. Sookie doesn’t like much of what Eric does in the name of vampire security, but she is one of the very few people that can convince Eric to do anything that doesn’t directly benefit himself. Eric is intrigued by her and can’t figure out why. Their exchanges are the highlight of the show, really. (Despite Anna Paquin’s equally bad Southern accent. Sweet baby Jesus, it’s bad. Really, really bad. How did she get a Golden Globe again?)
Vampire Diaries has ostensibly the exact same premise: human girl (Elena) torn between two vampire brothers – one good (Stefan) and one bad (Damon). The relationships are far more complicated than they are on True Blood, though. There’s no love lost between Eric and Bill. It’s very much a boss/subordinate relationship (minds out of the gutter people! Although there was that time with Eric in Bill’s tub…). Eric and Bill aren’t even friends. Stefan and Damon, on the other hand, are related by blood and not just in the vampire-y kind of way. They were both sired by the same vampire, but they were brothers as humans too. They’ve spent the last century and a half at each other’s throats, for the love of a woman who didn’t give two shits about either of them. It’s seriously messed up. And the really insane part? Elena looks exactly like their long lost love (and sire) Katherine. Like I said, seriously fucked up. But at the beginning of Vampire Diaries we are given a clear delineation between the brothers: Stefan drinks only animal blood, which makes him physically weaker but morally superior. But for all his moralizing and hand-wringing, Stefan is far and away more interesting than Bill. And he’s not yelling “SOOKEH!!!” every five seconds. Hallelujah. Damon kills people. Straight up. He revels in being a vampire and mocks Stefan mercilessly for his scruples. Things begin to change for Damon the longer he stays in Mystic Falls, though. Damon’s not going to be sitting around a camp fire singing “Kumbaya” anytime soon, but he’s not forcing anyone to play never ending games of Yahtzee either. So that’s definitely a good thing. It’s the journey that makes him a fascinating character. A journey that Eric sadly will not get to go on, because he’s on the wrong show. Damn it.
Eric/Bill versus Stefan/Damon? The Salvatores win in a walk. Seriously, it’s not even close. Vampire Diaries plus 100.
4. Leading Ladies
Sookie and Elena. Elena and Sookie. One’s a blonde; one’s a brunette. One’s still in high school; the other is a telepathic waitress. Both have a highly attuned moral compass and are extremely loyal to their friends and family. And for all these things, Elena is the less annoying. Elena is downright likeable. She is empathetic almost to a fault. She is genuinely kind. She looks for the good in everyone, even Damon. Elena sticks up for herself, but knows when a situation is beyond her. Her ability to roll with the punches and accept whatever life throws at her is almost Buffy-like. Most importantly, she’s painfully normal. There’s not a whiff of the supernatural about Elena, other than her still unexplained resemblance to Katherine. Sookie, for all her professions of normality (if I hear her profess to be “just a waitress” one more time I’m going to strangle her!), Sookie is not normal. Her gift of telepathy is what makes her valuable to the vampires, but it’s hard to see why exactly. The show doesn’t utilize it enough (She couldn’t figure out Rene was the serial killer until the end of the season? Seriously?). Now she’s got this strange, unexplained glowy hand thing going on. WTF?! On top of this, she’s not the brightest bulb in the box. Although she is smarter than Jason, so that’s got to count in her favor. Like Elena, Sookie sticks up for herself, but Sookie takes it to a near pathological degree. Everyone loves girl power, but Sookie often shows a sense of false entitlement and self-righteousness. The world’s not black and white, Sookie. Get used to it. And it’s got to be said again… that accent. Whoever came up with that accent needs to be dragged out into the street and shot. Plus, Nina Dobrev is prettier than Anna Paquin. Hey, it’s a TV show; we’re all about the pretty, people.
The high schooler vs. the telepath? Elena wins easily. Vampire Diaries plus 10.
5. The Big Bads
They say that a show or movie is only as good as its villain. Well, if that’s true then this isn’t even a contest. True Blood’s had two main villains: Rene in Season One and Maryann in Season Two, not to mention some crazy church peeps. The Rene plot was reasonably well done, but the Maryann one fell apart. Well, it’s hard to break something that never really existed. What the hell made Bon Temps so special? Why there specifically? What was the point of her? What did she want? To raise Dionysus? She needed to waste the entire season having pointless orgies for that? Seriously? Note to Maryann (and Alan Ball): if you’re not going to have Eric at your orgy, there’s no point in having it. The story went on for far too long (it started in late Season One for fuck’s sake!), had no point and an absolute lame ending. Sam shapeshifts into a bull and gores her? Seriously? The only thing it accomplished was getting rid of the equally lame Eggs. Ugh.
Vampire Diaries only has Season One under its belt, but they’ve already had about 50 villains! Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but the ones they had have been so effective, it seems that way! Damon was ostensibly the villain at first. Then he gave way to Anna and Pearl, the other tomb vampires, Uncle John, Isobel and, finally, Katherine. Each of these characters had a motive for being in Mystic Falls. Each of them had an arc. They came, they caused trouble and, except for Damon and Katherine, they’re gone. Damon’s not really a villain anymore, as much as he would like to be. Even goody-goody Stefan got in on the mayhem-causing for a few minutes. The great thing about all of these characters was that they kept the story moving. They didn’t bog it down with pointless orgies and meat trees.
Even the giant mystery egg can’t save this one. Vampire Diaries plus 500.
6. My Tire’s Busted (‘Cause I Just Hit a Plot-Hole)
Writing is the thing that really sets the two shows apart. The writing clearly favors Vampire Diaries. Story moving at a breakneck speed, hardly a line wasted, and actual character development? Sign me up. Plus we have the makings of a believable and intense love triangle, emphasis on triangle. If True Blood winds up anything like the Sookie novels, then it will wind up being a love octagon or something. Seriously, how many suitors does Sookie have? Right now, she’s got at least three (Bill, Sam and Eric), but with all that glowing hand stuff you know that’s bound to change!
Inevitably, where there are vampires, other supernatural creatures are sure to follow. So far True Blood has shape shifters (Sam) and a maenad (Maryann) – which may or may not be a god. Or a demi-god. Or something. But judging by the Season Three premiere, a more famous brand of supe is about to make an appearance. <howl> On the flip side, Vampire Diaries has the Bennett witches. Bonnie is just coming into her powers as the show progresses through the season, but her development is one of the key components of the plot. She is useful. In addition, there’s tantalizing hints of another supernatural creature in Mystic Falls. Aggression during a full moon ringing any bells? Not to mention otherworldly eyes and hearing things no human can. Bueller? Bueller? In any case, the supernatural creatures on The Vampire Diaries aren’t there to represent an oppressed (and highly sexed, apparently) portion of society. They are relevant to the plot. We can identify with Stefan and Damon – hell, even Isobel – as people. Sadly, the same can not be said for many of the supes in Ball’s universe.
Additionally, the pacing of the two shows could not be more different. True Blood, despite the shorter seasons, often feels like it’s moving slower than molasses in January. How long was Maryann throwing pointless orgies? Rene killed how many people before Sookie heard what was going on in his head? We keep hearing that only a few weeks have passed in the show itself, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. On the plus side, the Dallas storyline with Eric, Godric and the Fellowship was well done. It was paced well and carried an emotional punch, unlike any other True Blood story line has had so far.
On the other hand, TheVampire Diaries often feels like it’s moving at about a hundred miles an hour. The tomb vampire story lasted the entire season, but within it there were about five or six smaller ones (i.e. John Gilbert, Anna and Pearl, Vicki becoming a vampire, Isobel’s return to Mystic Falls, Stefan going off the deep end, to name a few) that were introduced, explored and resolved every few episodes. At no point did it feel like the tires were spinning. Actions on The Vampire Diaries have consequences. Damon turning Vicki into a vampire leads to Jeremy’s suicide attempt in the finale. Hell, the whole series is a consequence of Stefan’s inability to stay away from Elena, even though he knows he should (“I have to know her.” Um, no, you don’t, Stefan. You’re making a choice to stay. Don’t make it sound like some mystical force has you on a leash!).
In a classic case of the tortoise and the hare? The hare actually wins! Vampire Diaries plus 500.
Sure, True Blood gets all the attention and acclaim because it’s on HBO. Give the people their vampire porn and they will come. But if you want a real story with plot, character development and really, really pretty people (hi Ian, Nina and Paul!), then don’t be afraid to come on down to Mystic Falls and check out The Vampire Diaries. Just make sure to bring your scarf!
– Michelle Herr, contributor