Thursdays at 8 p.m. on the CW. Fourteen episodes into the second season.
The Vampire Diaries started out as a guilty pleasure for me because—sue me—I like vampire stories, and sparkly abstinent Mormon ones don’t count, and Sean and I don’t get HBO anymore. As time has gone by, though, I’ve begun feeling less and less guilty—and more and more sincere—about my appreciation of the supernatural drama. It’s smarter than it looks, for starters. The writers are clearly working to avoid the whole passive damsel-in-distress thing that tends to crop up when mortal heroines fall in love with blood-sucking creatures of the night, and they’ve been surprisingly successful in doing so. They’ve also avoided many of the pitfalls surrounding the good boy/bad boy dichotomy of teen dramas, muddying up the binary to entertaining effect and making both characters more interesting in the process.
But this is how snobs like me always try to prop up a guilty pleasure. We defensively point out how sharp and clever it can be, despite the trivial veneer, intellectualizing the thing into some stuffy paragon, and that’s not what I want to do with Vampire Diaries. The show is sharp and clever, but not shockingly so. It doesn’t transcend genre, and it makes no pretensions to—vampires are just vampires here, not symbols in an allegory. But you know what? That’s totally fine. There’s something to be said for a TV show that’s simply trying to use fun characters to tell a fun story: suspenseful and hot-blooded, emotional but never broody or (god forbid) maudlin, just plain fun.