Thursday, October 3, 2013

Pilot Review: The Originals

The Originals (Tuesdays at 8:00 on The CW; Premieres October 3)

I gave up on The Vampire Diaries very early into its most recent season (its fourth). After a rocky beginning to season one, the show grew into one of television's more entertaining primetime soaps. Some of that fun got lost by the end of the third season when the show took the inevitable turn of making its leading human lady into a vampire. That's about the time I stopped watching it, though not solely because of this turning point. I also hated vampire Klaus (Joseph Morgan), who originally boarded the show in the second season and just never left, despite the writers constantly running his storyline into walls. Now he's getting his own spin-off, and I'm about as taken with it as I was with the later seasons of the parent series... which is to say, I'm not really taken with it at all.

Niklaus "Klaus" Mikaelson (Morgan) is one of the Original Vampires; he, his brothers and sister were created through a blood ritual by their witch mother in order to protect them from werewolves. (I bet you already don't understand what's going on, and I'm only recapping necessary information from The Vampire Diaries.) That was thousands of years ago, but the surviving Original family of Elijah (Daniel Gillies) and Rebekah (Claire Holt) is still around. Klaus is a hybrid vampire/werewolf, and on top of that, he's truly immortal. He returns to New Orleans, a town he once lived in but was chased out of by his vampire-hunting father, because he finds out that his werewolf girlfriend, Hayley (Phoebe Tonkin, late of The Secret Circle), is pregnant with his child, and Kluast must find an old witch friend to help him out. But New Orleans has changed a lot since he was last there, and his former protege Marcel (Charles Michael Davis) is now in charge of an army of vampires and witches. Klaus must take down Marcel in order to take back his former home and safely raise his miraculous offspring.

If you're still on board for giving The Originals a shot after that synopsis, then you'll probably end up being more enamored of it than I was. I'm always up for a good paranormal urban fantasy, but The Originals forgot the "good" part. There are some decent moments of action, but the show is so bogged down in its own confusing and ridiculous mythology that it turns into an endless string of talky, exposition scenes meant to fill in new viewers on what they missed in the past three seasons over on The Vampire Diaries. But I highly doubt that new viewers will want to stick with this one, which is thick with backstory and thin on originality. It begs for comparison to True Blood (which, even its later, weaker seasons is far superior); Interview with the Vampire (thanks to its setting and its structurally-identical opening); Angel (spin-off of a vampire series, plus the story of the baby that shouldn't exist but somehow does); and, obviously, The Vampire Diaries. The spin-off takes the same element of good vampire brother vs. bad vampire brother that has sustained its parent for so long and just transfers that rivalry onto two new brothers in a new city.

The performances are expectedly over-the-top from the Mystic Falls transplants (Morgan, Gillies, Tonkin, and Holt, whose presence in the pilot is minimal and forgettable), while Davis is nearly boring as Marcel, seemingly attempting to act only with his eyebrows. Klaus is much less annoying here than I remember him being on The Vampire Diaries. The problem, though, is that Julie Plec and Michael Narducci have written a plodding, heavy-handed script full of lofty, unsubtle proclamations like, "Family is power." Chris Grismer's direction is similarly scattered and mostly uninteresting, though there are some wonderful shots of New Orleans and the cinematography is darkly gorgeous.

Overall, though, The Originals ends up on the "no, thanks" pile. It's little more than an expansion of a series that didn't need expanding, and it doesn't bring anything new to the table. Diehard Vampire Diaries fans may find enough here to like, but there's too much information and not enough action thrown at the casual viewer to really recruit any newbies.

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