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The Vampire Diaries: "Founder's Day"


The Vampire Diaries

"Founder's Day"

Season 1 , Episode 22

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To the editors of The A.V. Club (avclub.com):

Please don't fire me.

You guys know me. You know that I'll watch any old piece of crap and try to give it a fair shake. You know that I braved three episodes of Happy Town - Happy Town! - when no one else would and thought there were some fun, goofy, guilty pleasure moments in it. You remember that whole thing when I took one for the team and reviewed Gravity? Remember that? Wasn't that a good time? And you know that when push comes to shove, when you absolutely, positively cannot stomach another hour of FlashForward, when the NETWORK ITSELF cannot stomach another hour, I will be there, and I will be staring into the abyss, hoping it doesn't stare back at me.

I say all of this because I ... kinda, sorta liked the finale of The Vampire Diaries. I know we're not supposed to like things with vampires in them. We're critics/hipsters/snobs/douchebags (really, take your pick). Twilight is stupid. True Blood is uneven (though we all like how much crazy violence and/or nakedness there is on the show from time to time). We are tired of sexy vampires. And The Vampire Diaries, which did not have the best pilot in the world, is yet another step down the road toward sexy vampire hell. The success of the show means that every network - and The CW in particular - is plumbing every possible type of supernatural sex fiend they can think of to come up with a show to match its success (or True Blood's or Twilight's success, but whatever). And this show has beaten much better shows many times, including a few weeks when it's beaten Parks and Rec. Parks and Rec!

I know we thought it might be fun to check in on this show in the finale because it's had that ratings success and the review of the pilot got a weirdly high number of viewers and other sites have had success with recaps of the show. If nothing else, it would provide a great opportunity for mockery, or so we thought, right? And there were all of those people who insisted the show had grown into a very fun guilty pleasure, people whose opinions we respected! Oh, those days were heady ones, when we thought we'd get in and out of this clean.

But, yes, I'm giving the season finale of The Vampire Diaries a B. I don't know if it's even a deserved B. I haven't watched the rest of the season, so I have no idea if this closes off the rest of the story arcs in believable fashion or if it's a fitting culmination of what's come before. But I'll tell you this: I had a damn sight more fun watching this episode than I did tonight's FlashForward, and it's not just because it was a season finale (a televisual form I'm uniquely susceptible to, with all of their crazy cliffhangers and such). The Vampire Diaries is one of those shows where everything that's happening is pretty overwrought and stupid, but unlike in the pilot, where no one involved seemed to know this, the series seems to have committed to that overwrought stupidity.

If you're the kind of person who gets really emotionally invested in this stuff, you probably were shocked when the main girl (Nina Dobrev, who's finally mastered looking pretty while appearing to think hard about things as I hoped she would) kissed Boone from Lost (who is playing a character named Damon, but is obviously Boone). Hell, I practically wanted to join you with an "OMG!" kids. But since I've never seen this show, and I find the whole concept of vampire love triangles kind of dumb, I'm far from the kind of person who would really get invested in this kind of thing. But I'll say this: It was about as well executed as this kind of trashy fun can be. All of that brooding. All of those soulful looks. All of that handsome hair gel!

After this, Nina Dobrev (who plays someone named Elena, but I just keep thinking of her as Nina Dobrev) cut off Sark from Alias' fingers. And it was awesome.
I know you don't believe me. I know your fingers are hovering above the button to click "Send" on the pre-composed "We regret to inform you we no longer have need of your services" e-mail you've had drafted to me since, oh, November. I know you think I'm dragging the name of this august publication through the mud. But you guys have totally gotta believe me here. It was, as the kids on their Twitters say, "totes amazing." (Do they still say this? Did they even say this when I was a kid?) I have absolutely NO idea what happened after that - when she turned all veiny and then Sark was, like, "Katherine!" - but it was definitely something that was happening.

There are two kinds of TV, I think. There is the kind of TV that is deliberately trying to tell you some sort of story and create compelling characters you'll care about. It wants to build a world that's worth exploring and give you something edifying to think about every week. You know the kinds of shows I'm talking about, right? Your Mad Mens, and your Breaking Bads, and your Modern Families, and your Tudorses (did I say they had to be good?). But there's another type of show, a show that simply aims to make you gasp with laughter at just how fucking audacious it is, at how much it is going over-the-top and doing crazy shit. The Vampire Diaries is the latter kind of show, just like its brasher cable cousin, True Blood, and, based on the finale, at least, it is REALLY GOOD AT THAT.

This is not nothing. I, like most TV critics, prefer watching a show that is building a movingly constructed world. But a lot of people just want to have a show that moves like a rocket and has lots of stuff happening every week. Remember how excited we all got about The O.C. back in season one? Or when Grey's Anatomy was blowing up Coach Taylor every other week? Or, hell, how it was last summer when it seemed like something bloody and naked was going nuts every week on True Blood? This kind of TV is, I think, HARDER to construct than something really well-wrought. It requires coming up with plot twists and insane character moments on a weekly basis, and it tends to burn out really, really quickly. The fans who adore The Vampire Diaries right now are going to turn on it so, so fast whenever they decide it's no longer moving quickly enough for them. It's inevitable, really, regardless of whether the show's actual quality improves or falls apart.

So I submit this to you, before you actually click that button. There are shows where Walter White very slowly goes from chemistry teacher to drug lord, and there are shows where Nina Dobrev cuts off some poor bastard's fingers. Yeah, we should usually cover the former type of show, but it's always nice to take a visit over to Crazy Town and see what's going on over there. It's fun!

Please don't fire me.

Sincerely (and very, very respectfully and also with much love for Mad Men, of course, for now and for always),

Todd VanDerWerff

P.S. Ian Somerhalder is having the time of his fucking life on this show. He is so, so hammy. Didn't know he had it in him. Check out how he delivers the following line: "Life sucks either way, Jeremy. At least if you're a vampire, you don't have to feel bad about it, if you don't want to." Glorious, amirite?

P.P.S. Do the producers of The Vampire Diaries know it should be "Founders' Day" and not "Founder's Day"? Or was there only one founder? GRAMMAR.