1. Because Kevin Williamson
I didn’t give The Vampire Diaries a chance until after the third season had already aired, and I blame this fact on all of the terrible people who didn’t tell me that Kevin Williamson was involved. For me it’s the Scream franchise (which Williamson wrote the screenplays for) that makes this a good thing–it’s rare to see work that has that level of genre self-awareness, while being simultaneously fully committed to its genre elements.
2. Because Plotting
There’s a stretch of the first few episodes of TVD where it feels like not a lot is happening–which is to say, people are dying left and right, and there are vampires, and also pep rallies. This is what Chekhov once referred to as Gathering Bricks for the Wall Where You Will Later Hang the Rifle that Will Later Go Off Randomly Whenever You Think Everyone You Care About is Safe. (Chekhov never actually said this, but he would have, if he had been writing about the first six episodes of The Vampire Diaries.) And then suddenly everyone’s plans and desires reach a kind of plot-potential critical mass, and everything starts to happen right on top of everything else, and it just keeps barreling along that way for the next eighty-three episodes. (Season 5 starts a little slow.)
It’s not that the writers just start vomiting events onto the page. There are a lot of characters, and while most of them are ostensibly friends and allies, they don’t always agree on the best way to keep everyone safe, or who precisely “everyone” consists of. Also, the usual lazy-TV assumptions that protagonists make new plans while antagonists just go on about their basic badness doesn’t apply here. Everything is in motion, everyone is reacting, adjusting to new information, and just generally upping the stakes wherever possible. It’s delicious.
3. Because Caroline Forbes.
If Louis Pasteur had gotten off his lazy ass and developed antibiotics in the 1800s in time to save Jane Austen from dying of bovine tuberculosis and Ms. Austen had lived into her 90s and collaborated on a vampire novel with that brash Irishman Bram Stoker, she might have verbally smacked him around on his approach to female characters until they co-created Caroline Forbes. She’s like if Dracula had gone after Emma instead of Mina, turned her, and then discovered that she was wayyyy more than he could handle. Caroline, it turns out, is better than being a vampire than anyone has ever been, assuming that your metrics for being a good vampire include things like being a good sponsor for other vampires who can’t hold their blood.
There’s a scene early in the second season — shortly after Caroline has made the transition from sweetly tyrannical dance-committee and bikini car wash-organizing teenager to a blood-starved vampire — where she has a heart-to-heart with her mother, who happens to be the local sheriff. That it takes place in the wake of Sheriff Forbes witnessing her daughter killing two of her deputies in a decidedly vampiric way is — well, no relationship is perfect. Caroline tells her mom about the way her life has changed since she’s become undead, about how she’s managing to curb her desire to kill and feed off of humans, recent events notwithstanding. Liz can’t take it all in.
“It’s just that you’ve become this person–” she says.
“Don’t,” Caroline says. “Don’t. We were just starting to get along.”
“This strong, this confident person,” Liz continues, to Caroline’s surprise.
“Oh,” she says. “Thank you.”
And then she uses her vampire powers to compel her mother to forget all about everything she’s learned, because there is an angst quota here, after all.
Everybody knows a Caroline: she’s an overachiever but you don’t hate her because she really, genuinely wants you to achieve too, and she’s got family problems and boy problems and bad-guys-trying-to-kill-her-friends problems, but she wakes up every morning and tells herself to BUCK UP LITTLE CAMPER because today is a new day, let’s fix this. Her superpower doesn’t have anything to do with being a vampire, really. It’s determination, and you can’t hate that when it’s backed up with caring an awful lot about her friends.
4. Because Layers.
Oh, so, don’t worry about keeping track of all that stuff I talked about up there under plot. The important stuff will be repeated, first of all. (Try drinking every time someone says “vervain” or “doppelganger.” Or rather, don’t, unless you’d like to wake up in detox.) Secondly, most of the time when characters explain what’s happening, they’re lying. Whatever you think is happening usually isn’t, either because someone’s been withholding information, or because they never knew the truth, or because everything’s just changed. I despair of illustrating this without unleashing all kinds of spoilers. Just know that my best friend likes to sit in the adjacent room while I watch TVD, because she finds my gasps of shock extremely entertaining.
5. Because Damon-Snark.
As Damon Salvatore, the oft-shirtless, never-speechless bad (BAD) boy of TVD, Ian Somerhalder is the single most consistently watchable cast member–I confess that early on in my viewings, I mostly just listened to the show, rarely looking up from my iPhone games to watch unless Somerhalder was on the screen. It’s hardly surprising that the bad (SERIOUSLY HE IS VERY BAD) vampire gets the good lines, but Damon’s snark is as sharp as his teeth, and quite a bit funnier. It’s a good thing, too, because he can be truly despicable (BAD THIS IS NOT HYPERBOLE HE IS BAD).
Because Not Reason:
1. If You Get Through Five or Six Episodes and You Still Can’t Tell Anybody Apart and You Just Couldn’t Give a Shit
Honestly, it wasn’t until sometime in the second season that I could consistently tell Matt and Taylor apart. These are very, very pretty people who kind of blend together when you’re not paying close attention. And it’s not until the third season that they more or less abandon the conceit that these people are really going to classes. Also, the contemporary pop soundtrack might be too much to bear. Look, everything isn’t for everyone. Just know that you’ll be letting Caroline down if you don’t watch.