So of course I sat down and wrote about my expectations for this season of The Vampire Diaries the day before the season 4 promo was released. And of course the show appears to be zigging rather than zagging.
This is certainly not what I was expecting after the season three finale, but that’s not a bad thing. The show has loosely explored the mythology of its own “transition period,” the time between human death and choosing to become a vampire, in the past, both in Stefan and Damon’s origin story in season 1 and again twice more when Caroline’s father and then Bonnie’s mother were turned this past season, but they’ve never tried to loophole their way out of it. I’m curious to see if they’ll actually do it, or if they’ll follow through on the Elena-as-vampire arc. If they do try and find a way to back out, I am hopeful that they will manage it as elegantly as possible.
I’m also psyched that Sheriff Forbes looks like she’ll be getting more screentime this season.
And really I’m just excited. Only a few more weeks!
A few days ago I talked about some of the new series I’m anticipating this fall, but they’re not the only thing I’m looking forward to come the start of the TV season. For the first time possibly ever, nearly every show I watch got picked up for another season–everything except Bent, which was sadly never coming back anyway, and Ringer, which I won’t so much mourn as lament, since SIOBHAN AND BRIDGET NEVER CAME FACE TO FACE!!!!!–even the shows that seemed like they stood no chance. I never thought I would be looking forward to fourth seasons of Community or Cougar Town, for example, as much as I may have hoped for both.
So with the new television season looming, here are some of my most anticipated returns, in no particular order:
1. Castle (ABC)
Castle finished off last season by finally (finally) turning its will-they-won’t-they central romance into a THEY WILL! central romance. While they may not have waited as long as Bones did (and, unlike Bones, had the decency to actually show Castle and Beckett’s long awaited union), it certainly felt like it took awhile for us to get here. With the big kiss closing out the season, it’s easy to forget that another major shift took place in those final minutes, with Beckett resigning from the twelfth precinct and Esposito getting suspended. While it seems unlikely that the show will give up its police procedural premise, it will be interesting to see how things are resolved. And to see how the show handles the romance.
2. The Vampire Diaries (The CW)
I’ve talked before about the non-stop thrill-fest that is The Vampire Diaries, the way the show employs rapid-fire, tight plotting to keep its audience invested and to keep the story barreling along–I don’t know if you could get off the train if you tried. But last season ended with possibly the biggest plot twist yet: Elena, choosing to give up her own life out of love for one of her oldest friends, and then waking up as a transitioning vampire.
A year ago, at the end of the second season, Elena was given a choice: become a vampire and “live” forever, or face certain death. At the time she chose death (obviously her friends found a loophole), and she gave a big speech about how much she did not want to become a vampire. About how she wanted to grow old, have a life, meet her own potential. She was perhaps the only teenager in the history of fiction to understand that just because she loved a vampire (or really anyone) passionately when she was 17, their love may not be eternal. Or at least she stands in stark contrast to Bella Swan.
A few characters on the show have now made the transition from human to vampire (or werewolf in one case…well, werewolf and then werewolf/vampire hybrid), and that change is never the same for any two characters. Elena has always functioned out of love, making choices and sacrifices again and again for her brother, her boyfriend, her friends. And the vampire canon of The Vampire Diaries long ago established that a character’s personality isn’t so much changed as magnified by vampirism. Setting up the season with Elena in transition opens up a myriad of possibilities for telling stories about control, about choices and about Elena–my favorite subject. I am excited to see where the story goes.
3. Bones (FOX)
I’ve never considered Bones to be my favorite show, but it’s always had a curious affect on me–almost the second an episode ends I find myself itching for the next one to air. I find even short hiatuses to be interminable. Which is unfortunate, since it seems to take a long break every spring for the new season of American Idol. Basically, I am always in a state of anticipating new episodes of Bones.
While I do agree with the popular opinion that the series is not as good as it once was, and while I’ve already mentioned my frustration that they chose to unite Booth and Brennan off-screen last year, after making the audience wait six seasons, I still find myself eager for the show’s return.
It helps that they ended last season with an intriguing cliff-hanger, with Brennan accused of murder and taking her parents’ way out–running away. Of course, she took her kid with her, having been the kid that got left behind, but she did not take Booth. And while I doubt the show will do what I want it to–a massive time jump–I’m still interested to see how this pans out, how it affects Booth and Brennan’s relationship, and how Brennan ultimately proves herself innocent.
4. Community (NBC)
My interest here is less plot based than creative.
I love Community. I was seriously bummed when it went off the air for much of last spring–bummed to the point of attending a goatee-ed Christmas flash mob outside of Rockefeller Center last winter–and thrilled at the initial news of a surprise fourth season pick-up.
But I also know that a huge part of what makes Community so great is that it comes out of Dan Harmon’s brain, which is clearly a weird, somewhat disturbed, but largely delightful place. I don’t doubt that Harmon is difficult to work with, that he’s pretty screwed up, and that he’s made some mistakes in his professional life that would contribute to the decision to let him go, but I also know that the entertainment industry has made a lot of allowances for brilliant screwed up people over the years, and I worry that they’re sacrificing the very thing that makes Community great. They might be giving the fans another season, a season they didn’t really expect, but…are they really?
There are still enough of the same people involved with this new era of Community that I won’t be writing off the show until I’ve seen it. Obviously the cast is the same, and writers whose episodes I have loved, like Megan Ganz, are still on board. The information coming out about season 4 has been encouraging. So I am excited to see what’s next for the show. I’m just a little nervous as well.
5. Parenthood (NBC)
Parenthood has never quite managed to fill the Friday Night Lights shaped place in my heart, hard as it tries, but I do love it quite a bit. It’s a show that manages to tell compelling stories about nearly all of its characters–Joel and Julia are the big exception there, but the writers have gotten some things right with them of late and set up their season 4 arc in an interesting way–and allows each of the Bravermans to be flawed (often deeply flawed) and still sympathetic.
Season 3 did not leave a lot of plots hanging, probably due to the series’ uncertain future, but there was an impulsive marriage proposal in the final minutes. Mostly I am eager to spend time with these characters again. If that’s not a hallmark of a good show then I don’t know what is.
6. Gossip Girl (The CW)
I am actually furious with this show right now. I’m furious because I’m only invested in it over the relationship between two characters (Dan and Blair), a relationship that has basically been set on fire to service a different relationship (between Blair and Chuck), which I will never understand. I’m also furious because the season 5 finale basically functioned as a reset button for the series, taking nearly every character and relationship back to where it stood in the second season, no matter how ridiculously most of the characters had to behave to get there. It’s lazy writing done to service demanding fans. And it’s not particularly surprising coming from this show.
Unfortunately, now that I’ve gotten invested in Gossip Girl again, I’m going to have a hard time letting it go. Though I may seethe my way through it each week, I’m ready for the show to come back. The faster it comes back, the faster we can get through these final twelve episodes and the faster I can move on.
(There’s also the tiny part of me that is hoping things will turn around, that everything the show has done up until this point has been a giant misdirect and it will all shake out the way I’d like it to. That seems highly unlikely, but as I am still a fangirl, a certain amount of delusion is built into the way I function.)
7. Once Upon a Time (ABC)
Once Upon a Time never quite grew into the show I wanted it to be. It had its moments over the course of the first season, but I mostly found it frustrating. The show did some cool things with its series finale, though, mostly by letting everyone remember who they are and where they came from, but also by unleashing magic into the “real world.” And I have always been a sucker for stories that allow the world we live in to coexist with fantasy worlds.
I don’t know if things will improve in the second season, but I certainly hope so. This show still has the potential to be something really cool, I still want it to be something really cool. And I am interested to see how the relationships between the characters shift as the memories of their old lives get tacked on to the memories of their new ones. The relationship between Emma and Mary Margaret and David should be particularly intriguing–how do you deal with the discovery that your best friend is also your mother? That you’re the same age as your daughter? The show has nothing but potential and I’d like to see it live up to that.
Allow me to say this without qualifiers: Vampire Diaries is currently the best show on TV.
It is fearless, it moves at an insane pace, and it’s grounded in some really spectacular performances from young actors.
You may not expect much from an actress who got her start on Degrassi, but Nina Dobrev flawlessly embodies two wildly different characters, and she can draw the line between them with the tiniest of gestures. Paul Wesley does some awesome eyeball acting. Ian Somerhalder, who started off a scenery-chewing villain (having more fun than anyone else in the business), has demonstrated the skill to pull Damon in for the quiet scenes. And Candice Accola has turned Caroline into an endlessly fierce and heartbreakingly human vampire.
Episode’s like tonight’s (“The Reckoning”) are prime examples of The Vampire Diaries doing all the things it does best: tight, fast plotting, detailed character work, foreshadowing and follow through.
“The Reckoning” had several different plot lines going (Stefan and Elena and Klaus, Tyler and Caroline and Rebekah, Bonnie and Matt and Vicki, Damon and Katherine and Jeremy and Anna) all of them interwoven, all but one taking place on the high school campus, all within a single night, mostly within a twenty minute period. All of the stories were given about equal screen time and nothing was wasted.
Vampire Diaries has a knack for setting up its stories–both long and short term–and it always plays them out to their end, but it doesn’t waste time. The series moves lightning fast, the writers dive right into the action, but they weave it through the narrative, telling small stories about senior prank night alongside big stories about eternity and love and loneliness and addiction. Klaus can find Elena, his supposedly dead doppelgänger, almost immediately, but then you’re going to get a scene where Tyler and Caroline rig a door handle with honey and chat about Matt. But then they’re going to get interrupted by a crazy, ancient vampire, but she’s going to be playing with a camera phone and dealing with a small jealousy issue. Our leading lady’s life will be on the line, but Bonnie and Matt will have time to talk about how weird their lives are now, compared to a couple of years ago when they were just lifeguards. And then Matt’s going to try to kill himself so he can talk to his dead sister.
Three characters were technically dead for part of tonight’s episode. Admittedly they all came back, but that’s not always the case on this show. There is an innate fearlessness attached to the show that makes watching it absolutely thrilling. You literally never know what’s going to happen next because you can’t rely on the series to stop where most shows would. Characters can and do die. And they can and do lose themselves.
Vampire Diaries knows its characters and it relies on the audience to know its characters–sometimes that’s Elena’s absolute faith in Stefan and Stefan’s love for Elena, sometimes it’s Damon’s moral gray areas or Bonnie’s moral absolutes. The show also knows that making a change on the character level can completely shake up the story. Tonight that meant Stefan losing his last piece of humanity, his love for Elena. It also meant Elena putting her faith in Damon. The stories they set up on the character level–Stefan moving back to Mystic Falls, but without the emotional attachment that was tying him to the town before, Damon giving into Elena’s need for him to be the “good brother,” though we’ve seen it tear him apart in the past–will always be more compelling than a crazy chase scene. And Vampire Diaries has offered up some excellent chase scenes.
Mostly though, this is a series that knows where it’s going and it leaves breadcrumbs along the way. Often we don’t know that’s what they are until we’ve moved past them, but there is a clear path through this story. Everything is relevant eventually.
So when I say Vampire Diaries is the best show on TV I don’t feel the need to qualify it. I don’t mean it’s the best fantasy show on TV, or the best show on Thursday nights (which is stiff competition anyway!). I don’t mean it’s the best show on the CW, or the best network show. I mean it is the best show.
And you should really be watching.