Best Starting Point: ''Growing Pains'' (401) — A lot changed in last season's lead-up. It's probably best not to miss this season opener, which shows…

After reading Ken Tucker’s review of The Vampire Diaries, I knew the new show from Kevin Williamson (Dawson’s Creek, Scream) wouldn’t suck. But I’m still breathing a sigh of relief after watching last night’s premiere, because it’s one of the fall shows I was really counting on.

The setup, even if you haven’t read L.J. Smith’s young adult novels the show’s based on, is pretty predictable: Vampire Stefan (Everwood‘s Paul Wesley) returns to Mystic Falls, the town he was raised in more than a century ago, and enrolls in high school because he “needs to know” Elena (Degrassi: The Next Generation‘s Nina Dobrev), who bares a striking resemblance to a female named Katherine he knew back in 1864. Stefan’s brother, Damon (Lost‘s Ian Somerhalder), also returns to Mystic Falls, and — surprise — unlike his brother, who he hasn’t seen in 15 years, he still feeds on humans. And he’s hungry. He wants to fulfill his old promise to bring Stefan an “eternity of misery,” so he leaves one of his victims alive so her first word upon waking up in the hospital is “vampire.” Having not yet read the books, I can tell you that was the perfect place to end the pilot: I want to know how long it takes the town to figure it out and what the reaction is when they do.

I can also tell you that the only reason I was happy that said victim, Vicki (Kayla Ewell), survived was because Elena’s younger brother Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen)likes her and there’s no way that understandably fragile boy could handle her death after the loss of his parents — who died four months ago in a car-falls-off-bridge-into-lake accident that Elena somehow survived. (Jeremy is mourning with drugs; Elena by writing in diary.) The actress who plays Vicki is fine, I just have no patience for young women who date total douches (and hers tried to date rape her in the woods before Jeremy broke it up). As for the other peripheral characters, Vicki is the sister ofjock Matt, Elena’s ex boyfriend played by Zach Roerig, who looks like he should be on Friday Night Lights — and was. He’s a bit of a snooze, but Elena’s maybe-psychic friend Bonnie (Katerina Graham) and frenemy Caroline (Candice Accola) are promising. Particularly Caroline, who got brutally rebuffed by Stefan (“Caroline, you and me, it’s not gonna happen, sorry”), has said she’s tired of always coming in second to Elena, and has now caught the eye of Damon.

Some would say the success of this show rides on the chemistry between Dobrev and Wesley. They’re the ones who’ll be compared to Bella and Edward.For the record: I like that Elena isn’t as awkward as Bella, that Stefan’s eyes go red when he’s lusting for Elena’s blood or her, that he’s already given us a shirtless shot, that he participates in class, and that we have a reason that she’s drawn to him other than his insanely good looks (which remind me a bit of EW’s Dave Karger, and therefore make me feel fuzzier toward him than I should): They both feel dead inside, and they both keep journals about it! Perhaps that explains why their dialogue is generally better — unless they’re talking about how Elena’s relationship with Matt “wasn’t passionate.”

For me, however, the show will live and die by Somerhalder. We only got a taste of him in the premiere. He’s bulked up a bit from his Lostdays, and he still has that ability to smirk in a way that makes you want to slap him. (POPWATCH POLL!) Again, I haven’t read the books, but I’m sensing from the ominous music that played when Damon entered Stefan’s bedroom, the way that he flung his brother against the side of the house to prove his superior strength, and the fact that he essentially threatened to steal the ring that allows his brother to survive sunlight, that we’re not supposed to like the guy, at all. He’s going to be pure evil, as opposed to True Blood‘s Eric, who’s evil with a code. I hope that’s the case. After spending a summer loving vampires, I’m ready to hate one. Make me hate you, Ian Somerhalder. Do it!

What did you think of The Vampire Diaries premiere? Will you be tuning in for more?

P.S. If you want to discuss how the series compares to the books, please write the word BOOK at the start of your comment. That way, viewers who don’t want to be spoiled can skip it, and readers who want to join your discussion will be drawn to it.

Episode Recaps

Best Starting Point: ''Growing Pains'' (401) — A lot changed in last season's lead-up. It's probably best not to miss this season opener, which shows…
The Vampire Diaries

Ian Somerhalder, Nina Dobrev, and Paul Wesley star in the CW’s romance-infused vampire soap opera.

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