Why You Think You’re Too Good for “The Vampire Diaries”…and Why You’re Wrong

You think you’re too good for “The Vampire Diaries.” I know you do. I know it because I was once you, so young and naive. So full of opinions on what is “good” television and why you couldn’t possibly watch something on the former WB, something so thoroughly overpopulated with ridiculously good-looking people. Your argument against it probably includes an offhand reference to Twilight,  a reminder that you’re not 13 years old, and some lame excuse that you have better things to do. Let’s face it—we both know you don’t. And really, you’re just fighting fate.

It’s true, “The Vampire Diaries” has one of the more absurd premises you’ve recently heard: feuding vampire brothers both fall for the same mortal high school girl—and, oh yeah, everybody keeps diaries and stuff. And, sure, all of the witches and werewolves and werewolf-vampire hybrids and doppelgängers take some getting used to. You’re probably wondering what’s so great about the protagonist, Elena Gilbert, aside from the fact that she has pretty hair and is deep, or whatever, because she hangs out at the cemetery to write in her diary. And you might spend a couple episodes getting into it, maybe because you’re continually distracted by doing Google image searches of Ian Somerhalder before he darkened his hair, back when he was on “Lost.” But once you get hooked, and you will get hooked—it will sneak up on you, like an evil, centuries-old vampire slyly hanging out at a high school dance, and sink its teeth into your helpless mortal neck—you won’t be able to resist. You’ll breeze through the existing 60 plus episodes in less than a month, which is totally not embarrassing, okay? Totally. Not. Embarrassing.

And you’ll quickly understand that even though this is a show about vampires and love and looking hot even when you’re dead, it’s not another Twilight. It’s not another “True Blood” for that matter, and not just because a random passerby won’t mistake it for soft-core porn. For one thing, it is thrillingly plot-driven, focused not only on longing looks between a mortal girl and the boys who want to eat her but also real life-and-death-(and-undeath) situations. Everyone is in peril, all the time, and the enemies just as often come from within as from without. Action is constant: former adversaries became allies, former friends become foes, and sometimes former cheerleaders become creatures of the night who want to drain you of blood. Every episode is a roller coaster ride. Make that a roller coaster ride in the dark: you can never see what’s coming.

The first episodes set up a dramatic arc that a sane person—or, at least, someone not addicted to amphetamines—would assume could be resolved only over the course of a season (maybe more if your head writer is Veena Sud from”The Killing”). After all, Elena (Nina Dobrev) will need time to fall head-over-heels in love with vampire Stefan (Paul Wesley) before learning he’s a full-fledged, full-fanged predator, right? Well, since this is still a teen show we are talking about, and since, for fictional teens, a reasonably good first date will invariably result in the two protagonists proclaiming that they would die for each other, of course not. Elena quickly learns that Stefan is a vampire, and that he has an evil (but hot) vampire brother, but she decides she’s totally okay with it. Suddenly, it’s the two of them against the world, first taking on Stefan’s evil-but-hot (don’t forget hot!) brother Damon (Ian Somerhalder), but then moving on to even greater threats.

Basically, on “The Vampire Diaries” one scary villain has an even scarier villain behind him or her. Without giving away too much of the plot, I will mention that Damon is remaining in their hometown of Mystic Falls for a very specific reason, and that it has something to do with a vampire even more powerful (and treacherous) than he is. This person, in turn, has been on the run from an even more powerful vampire. And so on, and so forth. The plot twists are manifold, the mythology endless. A new mystery develops at every turn, forever feeding the addiction to find out what happens next. I was up to four episodes a day of this show when I watched the first two seasons on Netflix. That’s not an embarrassing personal failure—that’s just science. Don’t think this won’t happen to you. You’re smug, but so, so stupid.

So, to recap, you are not better than “The Vampire Diaries.” You may think you are, but try watching a few episodes and then giving up cold turkey. What’s that, you just found out about the secretive council of founding families that knows there are vampires living in their town? Oh, now you just discovered that Stefan and Damon’s former love, Katherine Pierce, looks exactly like Elena? Good luck trying to stop thinking about that while you go about your boring everyday duties like grocery shopping and explaining that your favorite tv shows are “Downton Abbey” and the news.

…I’m prettty sure everyone knows what “‘Downton Abbey’ and the news” is a euphemism for. You only wish Dame Maggie Smith were a centuries-old vampire…instead of, you know, just centuries old.


The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To

If you’ve ever seen D.C. Pierson’s work with DERRICK comedy, like the 2009 full-length feature Mystery Team, then you should have a basic idea of what you’re getting into with The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To. Both sophomoric and inspired, keenly observed and absurdly over the top, this book—marketed to adults, but essentially YA—is reminiscent of Pierson’s comedy…yet no less a novel in its own right. Though not perfect, it is a solid debut: while the plot can feel uneven, the pacing inconsistent, Pierson shines in his characterization and his impeccable knack for finding humor in everyday high school situations. At his worst, he is a funny guy trying his hand at novel-writing; at his best, he echoes Salinger and celebrated contemporary YA authors like John Green. More often than not, however, he falls somewhere between these two extremes, crafting an assured tale of high school nerds, rites of passage, and the most bizarre form of insomnia you’ve ever encountered.

The boy in The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To is, in fact, not our narrator, Darren Bennett, but rather his strange new friend—in fact, his only friend—Eric Lederer. While both are social outcasts, only Eric has been blessed (cursed?) with a quirk that is somewhere between a super power and a medical condition. Eric, as the title suggests, cannot sleep, has never slept, and is actually beyond the need for sleep. When he tells Darren this, Darren is naturally a little suspicious…but he is quickly persuaded. The two begin a friendship based on a shared love for sci-fi, and together they create an entire alternate universe for a fantasy series they call TimeBlaze. Darren is a talented artist (or “draw-er,” as his inarticulate classmates would deem him), while Eric has plenty of time to dream up backstories and new characters since he never actually, well, dreams. Their collaboration is going well, and their friendship is solid, when they succumb, naturally, to the greatest temptation of high school boys: girls. More specifically, they both fall for one girl, and this rivalry tears them apart. It also leads Darren to do a very stupid, spiteful thing: he tells someone about Eric’s condition.

Soon, Eric is being pursued by a mysterious man whose motives are unclear yet undoubtedly sinister. Both Eric and Darren suspect that the man wants to capture Eric to perform experiments on him; with no other choice, the two, who easily reconcile, go on the run. They hide out in the desert, where Darren makes a shocking discovery: the creatures from TimeBlaze are real. Or rather, Eric has made them real, dreaming them into the real world because that is the only dreamworld he has ever known. How can the two use this incredible ability to save themselves from their powerful adversary? Can Eric be saved, or has Darren ensured his destruction?

The final third of The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To abruptly shifts from realistic coming-of-age story to…well, something a lot less realistic. I suppose it is unfair to fault a book that, according to its title, is about a boy who never sleeps, but it is still jarring to go from reading about Darren and Eric’s girl problems to learning that Eric can create things in the real world just be getting really tired and thinking about them. Pierson ties everything together nicely in the end, so this absurd development should sit better with the reader in retrospect. Still, there’s something inherently problematic with the pacing, which goes from languorous—even a little boring—to suddenly high-octane. It makes the tone of the book that much harder to pinpoint.

In the end, however, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes their stories witty, offbeat, and a little juvenile. Pierson reminded me of writers like Frank Portman and John Green, which I think is a good thing (except that, you know, the book isn’t technically YA). He’s a funny guy, sure, but he really impressed me when he proved himself to be more than that. The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To is at times more than its silly premise, deeper than its jokes; it’s about friendship, about trust and betrayal, and, above all, about celebrating what makes us unique, those qualities that must be preserved rather than destroyed.

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