Almost every episode of Peacock’s Vampire Academy opens with a quick history lesson breaking down the show’s labyrinthine mythology. It’s a wise decision because, like most fantasy genre projects, VA’s early installments face the thorny hiccups of fleshing out an imaginative new universe. How will everyone understand details about species like Moroi, Strigoi, and Dhampir otherwise? (Those words will make sense shortly.) Although VA’s first half has clunky world-building and rushed character introductions, the pieces eventually start to fit together once the actors smoothly settle into their roles.
VA infuses new blood into TV’s crop of vamps, who are seen in everything from Buffy The Vampire Slayer to True Blood to The Vampire Diaries. The latter’s framework is most reminiscent in Vampire Academy since showrunner Julie Plec adapted both of those shows from popular YA novels. (VA also has TVD’s Marguerite MacIntyre as a co-creator.) Plec has a knack for transforming these books into entertaining dramas full of good-looking actors, catchy pop music, and winning character dynamics. VA’s 10-part first season—which premieres with four episodes on September 15—doesn’t pack a punch like The Vampire Diaries, which spawned two additional spin-offs. But there’s still plenty of enjoyment to devour from Peacock’s best supernatural series to date. (Sorry, The Girl In The Woods and Supernatural Academy.)
Based on Richelle Mead’s novels, Vampire Academy takes place in an intricate universe full of fanged creatures, but its primary focus is the resolute bond between Vasilisa “Lissa” Dragomir (Daniela Nieves) and Rosemarie “Rose” Hathaway (Sisi Stringer). Lissa is a royal Moroi—that is, a mortal vampire who periodically chugs blood from human volunteers. Rose is a Dhampir (part-Moroi, part-human), whose job is to guard noble Moroi lords or help them breed more Dhampir. (We know, it’s a lot of information). Any class differences notwithstanding, Lissa and Rose are best friends who’d die for each other.
They battle personal and literal demons while studying at St. Vladimir’s Academy and grieving the loss of Lissa’s entire family. Their sudden deaths thrust her into the limelight as the last Dragomir heir, while Rose’s position as the best guardian-in-training is threatened when she falls for someone forbidden: Lissa’s current guardian, Dimitri Belikov (Kieron Moore). Expect the angsty vibe of Elena and Damon from TVD, minus a bit of the chemistry.
In constantly being plagued with life-changing problems, Lissa and Rose gloriously emerge as unflinching heroines fighting for their worth. However, their approaches are different—one succumbs to the pressures of her lineage, and the other decides to rebel against it. It causes believable tension between them and adds to the emotional value of the show overall. Their internal dilemmas become the crux of Vampire Academy, which finds its groove whenever the two leads share the screen. Lissa and Rose discovering their purpose is even more enticing once VA inevitably embraces the autocratic establishment and hierarchy as the real enemy.
It’s not like VA doesn’t have actual villains, though. The two women face off against Tatiana Vogel (Anita-Joy Uwajeh), another Moroi who challenges Lissa’s ascension to the throne. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to care for her because Tatiana’s motives and personality are extremely underbaked. And then there are the Strigoi, a.k.a. Moroi gone rogue, immortal entities who’d rather bleed people dry and look more like zombies than hot vamps. VA spends season one busting myths about the seemingly mindless and bloodthirsty Strigoi because no one knows their true strength yet. The question of “What are they planning?” drives the thrilling fantasy forward, and the final few episodes excel in striking a balance between action and tender character moments.
It’s too bad, then, that VA frantically packs several other storylines in its short run: Lissa’s surprising powers and her connection with an outcast student, Rose’s fraught relationship with her brilliant mother, and a surface-level queer romance that isn’t well-developed yet. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s J. August Richards plays Viktor Dashkov, a Moroi royal and Lissa’s mentor with his own power-hungry agenda, and his family also factors into the show in a big way.
VA suffers from juggling one too many narratives and lacking memorable performances. Nieves and Stringer both get off to a rocky start, but (much like their characters) their talent emerges as they sink their teeth into Lissa and Rose’s psyches. (Okay, that’s the last vamp reference ... for now.) Vampire Academy remains entertaining due to its fast pace, noteworthy female leads, and twisty second half. Hopefully, it holds on its own and isn’t, ahem, bit with a cancelation like other recent one-season-and-done vampire shows like Netflix’s First Kill and V-Wars.