Every teenage girl should have a vampire boyfriend – and by now, it seems like every teenage girl does. The groundbreaking genius of The Vampire Diaries is to create a teen-girl world where boys who aren’t vampires don’t even exist. For this crew, there’s no Twilight debate over whether humans and vampires belong in the same bed. None of the Vampire Diaries girls would waste time pondering the pros and cons of dating the undead versus flesh-and-blood boys. No, the only romantic dilemma for these young ladies is what kind of vampire to date.
It’s high school vampire love with the soapy romance of Twilight but also the sassy wit of Buffy. The premise is the same old story: Even though these fanged studs can travel anywhere they like in time or space, all they crave is an ordinary all-American girl stuck in a nowhere town. Breaking into tombs, going to school dances, time-traveling back to the Civil War, sensitive brooding set to a Surfer Blood song – it’s all in a typical day for these kids.
It wasn’t that long ago that Dracula fantasies were a fetish for oldsters, something a jaded, hard-drinking Seventies mom would get from a Frank Langella movie or an Anne Rice novel. But ever since the goth explosion of the Eighties, the vampire boyfriend has been rising on the teen charts. He’s become the only male who can truly understand the suburban girl: the lost boy with tweezed brows, immaculate pores and luxuriantly manscaped expressions of despair.
The Vampire Diaries chronicles the plasma-spattering love life of Elena (Nina Dobrev), a sweet goth chick going to high school in the rural town of (that’s right) Mystic Falls, Virginia. And that’s as close as this show ever gets to subtlety, which is a smart move, because when it comes to vampire lust, subtlety is a complete waste of time.
Elena lives with her brother, Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen – yes, that Steve McQueen’s grandson), after their parents are killed in a car crash. Like any self-respecting high school girl, Elena has to choose between two vampires, a good one (he gives her a protective necklace of vervain) and a bad one (you just know he’ll bite her neck the first chance he gets). And they’re brothers. Stefan (Robert Pattinson look-alike Paul Wesley), the nice one, does not drink human blood. But Damon (Rob Lowe look-alike Ian Somerhalder), his steamier older brother, has no qualms. When history teacher Mr. Tanner gets annoying, Damon just rips out his throat. (Naturally, the school board replaces him with a teacher who doubles as a professional vampire killer.)
The Vampire Diaries is amazingly unconflicted about love and sex. Elena doesn’t agonize over the pros and cons of fang-banging – she just picks the one she likes best (Stefan) and takes him to bed. So is it true love for Stefan and Elena? Or is he just into her because she looks exactly like the vamp who made him back in 1864? Will he leave her for a centuries-older woman? How long can she resist her attraction to Damon even if he did drink her brother’s girlfriend’s blood? And do you even need to be told that her best friend is a witch?
We’re surrounded by bat-porn fantasies these days, but Vampire Diaries is the one that feels most authentic, because it’s the most suburban, the most adolescent, the most ordinary. It would kill the fantasy if there were anything glamorous about Elena. (That’s why Twilight was so great, when Kristen Stewart was just some mousy girl in a flannel shirt, and New Moon sucked, when Kristen Stewart was a movie star.) The whole point of the myth is that Dracula plucks this girl from nowhere and makes her a star. And so the everyday American bleakness of Mystic Falls is what makes Vampire Diaries a real date with danger.
All these stories plug into a classic female fantasy: The heroines are the smart, lonely girls who think ordinary straight guys are meathead idiots. So vampire movies are to girls what teen-sex comedies are to guys – the dream of getting the unattainable. Maybe the girl can never fully possess her undead suitor, but that’s the point: The thrill of the chase never ends. The boy will be in a constant state of feverish pursuit – since he can never get you, his attention will never wane, and neither will the drama. Elena can’t share her mortal existence with either Damon or Stefan – so her vampire diary never reaches the final page.
This story is from the April 29, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone.