How do you build buzz for a show that hasn’t come out yet, and is targeting vampire fans, whose needs are already being met by True Blood and Twilight? Retrofit
directors producers Chris Hanada and Tanner Kling have a lot of experience making web series designed to get fans excited about pre-established TV franchises like Heroes or Smallville — but for the CW’s upcoming new series The Vampire Diaries, they’ve taken a prequel approach.
The Vampire Diaries: A Darker Truth, which premiered last week, is a four-part series written by Diaries staff co-producer Sean Raycraft and directed by
Kling and Hanada that’s meant to serve as a prelude to the teen vampire drama that kicks off Sept. 10th. In preparation for this review, I tracked down a copy of the show’s pilot script, which is adapted from the L.J. Smith book series of the same name and has resulted in pretty standard CW fare with a True Blood twist. The series’ focus is on Elena (played by Nina Dobrev), a teenager with a tragic past who becomes entangled with vampire brothers Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon (Ian Somerhalder). Teen angst ensues, albeit fairly edgy and well-written teen angst that tackles some serious issues — props to Dawson’s Creek creator Kevin Williamson and co-writer Julie Plec for that.
While Vampire Diaries is all about Elena, A Darker Truth belongs to an entirely different character. Jason Harris (Matt Perello) is an enterprising young man armed with a laptop, a DV camera and a mission: His sister Joanne was recently killed, and he suspects Stefan, whom he’s thus followed from New York to the sleepy little town of Mystic Falls, Va., (where the series takes place, thus enabling the web series to be shot on the same locations as its parent show). Jason has evidence that proves Stefan’s much, much older than he looks, and he’s determined to make sure no one else gets hurt. It’s a clever way of building up elements of the show’s premise — including the fact that Stefan is obsessed with Elena — without needing to make use of its stars, who appear in archive footage and still images. And it perpetuates the notion that Stefan is violent and dangerous, which (SPOILER ALERT) proves to be one of the pilot’s biggest twists, as Damon is revealed to be the one who still feeds on humans. (END OF SPOILERS)
Darker Truth is presented less as a vlogging experience and more as found footage, which, for those who remember The Blair Witch Project, suggests that nothing good happens to our man Jason. Though to be honest, that’s not terribly surprising, as the second episode is pretty blunt about how he’s not terribly well-prepared or well-informed about vampires, at least in this mythology, which shows little indication of its vampires being vulnerable to the rays of the sun, garlic or crosses. There’s a playfulness to that presentation which is fun, and I have to say, I much prefer Darker Truth‘s use of the titular diaries. In the script for the pilot, they’re a pretty blatant excuse to incorporate voice-over hinting at mysterious backstories, whereas in Darker Truth they’re a much bigger plot point.
Is this series enough to intrigue new viewers? Is there any end to young America’s hunger for vampire tales? It’s hard to be sure from only four minutes (each episode is less than two minutes long), but if the last two installments of Darker Truth set up why Vampire Diaries isn’t just a Twilight copycat, then on a creative level it’ll have done its job and more so.