Public Service Announcement 49 of 2014: Modern Family, The Vampire Diaries

A brief PSA this week. The highlight is the return tonight of Modern Family for its sixth season – your mileage will vary, but I thought season 5 represented an improvement on the fourth. Not that it matters much: part of the joy of a long-running comedy such as this one is our familiarity with the characters, meaning that not everything needs to be spelled out; we can fill in any blanks ourselves. It’s also assisted by an impressive consistency in its cast – even the awkward growing-up years have been negotiated with considerable grace. (Sky 1, 8pm).

Also back: The Vampire Diaries, which CJ has officially given up on (season 6, Tuesday, ITV 2, 9pm); Blue Bloods (season 5, Wednesday, Sky Atlantic, 9pm); Franklin & Bash (season 4, Thursday, Sony Entertainment Television, 10pm); and Two and a Half Men (season 12, Wednesday, Comedy Central, 9pm).

Next week’s already looking stalker-tastic, though. More in due course.

Public Service Announcement 45 of 2013: Strike Back, Ripper Street, The Escape Artist, The Vampire Diaries, The Mentalist

All righty, the clocks have gone back an hour, which is the tv schedulers’ cue to ram another bunch of shows on the box.

First up tonight (Monday) at 9pm, we have the return of two shows unpopcult won’t be troubling itself with: Strike Back (season 4 if you count the Richard Armitage season) on Sky 1 and Ripper Street (season 3) on BBC 1. I gave up on Strike Back a long time ago but if you’re looking for bombastic action tv with as much gratuitous nudity in it as possible, fill your boots. As for Ripper Street, whether it’s a good or bad addition to the period English serial killer genre, I don’t know, but if you’re a fan, enjoy.

Tomorrow night (Tuesday) at 9pm meanwhile, is even busier. BBC 1 has “The Escape Artist starring David Tennant, an actor whom I like but not quite enough to watch every single time he turns up in every second programme that’s made in the UK. Also “British legal thriller” is not a genre I’m overly enthusiastic about so I’ll be giving it a miss. Especially since The Vampire Diaries (season 5) and The Mentalist (season 6) are returning at exactly the same time, on ITV2 and Five respectively.

Both shows had their problems last year. Diaries, in particular, had an appalling fourth season and reviewing it every week put me in a terrible mood so I don’t think I’ll be doing that any more. Especially since the programme is now moving on to its college years period; always a “difficult” (and often disastrous) transition for a high school drama to make. Still, I’m daft enough to keep watching if not writing about it for now, since Damon is always good value and I’m hoping that the migration of the dreadful Klaus and the rest of the Mikkaelsons to their own spin-off series might re-energise the show and fix everything else. Hmmm.

The Mentalist meanwhile – while nowhere near as bad or as infuriating as Diaries – did not have a great fifth run either, with the mediocre episodes outnumbering the good ones by some distance. It did pull off a few home runs, however, and the news that Red John will finally be unmasked in the first half of the season is more than welcome. Again, I’m hoping that will re-energise the show and er, fix everything else. As well as giving us some serious Jisbon shipping opportunities – SQUEE!!!!!

Anyhoo, I’m still very fond of Jane and co, so, Red or Dead, the plan is to carry on reviewing each Mentalist ep as soon as I can. Even if it is now on on a Tuesday instead of a Friday, which is just wrong.

The Vampire Diaries s4 ep 23

It’s “Graduation” day.

Which is obviously ridiculous because when do these vampires/witches/whatevers ever go to school and how on earth could they have passed their classes and WTF are they doing bothering with school anyway when only one of them is actually still alive and the town is more or less hell on earth?

But I’ve said all that before so let’s just go with it’s “Graduation”. Unfortunately for those who like a quiet life, though, the veil between this world and all the supernatural nasties on the Other Side is still down for the day. Because everyone else in the show is an idiot, however, only Damon is worried about what this may mean. Until all the dead hybrids and dead witches and dead hunters turn up threatening all sorts, that is. And just for a challenge, Damon is poisoned with fatal werewolf venom too. Mercy!

Of course, nothing comes of any of this collection of grave dangers, because, as Stefan actually, unbelievably, says, saving the world is a lot less important an issue than working out how Elena feels about Damon. At which point I say “FFS!” You may have graduated 17 times, Stefan, but you’ve never truly left high school, have you?

Anyway, as shallow and silly as a lot of the episode is, it gives us the chance to spend more precious time with Alaric who is glorious, and Jer who I like a lot now too, as well as giving us a surprisingly good ending to the cure storyline – an ending that’s both shocking (usual for TVD, these days) and clever (far less common), so hurrah for that. Given that this season has been an absolute disaster with Elena’s transformation appallingly handled, the Elena-Damon romance mangled and tortured, the Originals smothering the show with supremely irritating smuggery and Stefan’s self-righteous hypocrisy wrapping it all up in a big bow of awfulness, the finale could have been a lot worse.

And there is hope, I guess, for next season. The Originals are off to their own show, Elena has at last made the right choice of Salvatore (Squee! For now….) and hey, at least we got one likeable regular back from the dead. Yay! But I won’t be getting too optimistic. This new Silas/doppelganger story is incomprehensibly stupid and I’m worried the writers will delight in using it to wind the the audience up some more, ruining the characters and the show in the process, just like they did with all the incomprehensibly stupid storylines this year.


I really want to love Diaries again, now that this horrendous season is finally done, but the rot has set in so far it might be something of a challenge. Still, I made it this far. I might as well check out what happens next.

The Vampire Diaries s4 ep 22

So. For about the 94th time on Diaries, Brain Trust Bonnie – now the world’s most powerful, dangerous and stupid witch – decides to use her magic to do something demented. This week, it happens to be “lowering the veil between this world and the Other Side”: ie the potentially apocalyptic thing everyone has been wringing their hands trying to avoid happening for weeks now.

Said apocalypse only narrowly being avoided (largely thanks to Grams and the Salvatore boys), Bonnie then decides to ignore similar advice yet again and do something almost as idiotic and perilous because Bonnie (like Klaus, now I think of it) never learns anything from anything. Her (and his) every action is informed by a deadly (and tiresome) combination of petulance, arrogance and an absolute belief in the innate rightness of her (or his) own point of view. Despite the fact her own point of view (like his) is wildly, deeply wrong 99.9% of the time.

I freakin’ HATE Bonnie.

(And Klaus.)

However, at least her shenanigans this week meant the brief but blessed return of Alaric and Jeremy, saving the episode from complete disaster.

It’s a sign of how badly things have gone for Diaries this season that the properly-dead (as opposed to “the undead” or that quaint old concept “the actually still alive”) characters are so much more likeable than the ones still with us, but oh man, was I overjoyed to see Alaric and Jeremy. I freakin’ LOVE Alaric and Jeremy. Can’t they come back forever?!?! Sure, they had their problems but they learned from them and became awesome people in the process. Unlike Bonnie (and Klaus) whose conduct becomes more appalling by the week, but who (like Klaus) learns nothing from it because, the worse she (or he) behaves, the more the writers, inexplicably, seem to love her (and him).

Arguably, I guess, this week’s ending was supposed to teach Bonnie the ultimate lesson of humility as punishment for her hubris, but, given the way things have gone so far, I’m pretty sure it won’t stick. In fact, I’d stake my White Oak, er, Stake on the Whiniest Witch being back to her usual self by the end of next week’s finale and ready to commit more magical atrocities next season on both the people of Mystic Falls and my sanity. OH JOY.

The Vampire Diaries s4 ep 21

Oh God. In a bid to try and force her to face her emotions again, Damon and Stefan actually, literally torture Elena with starvation, solitary confinement and burning, before bringing Katherine in to get on her nerves.

Love hurts, indeed.

I appreciate that all this may sound like the ultimate in wish-fulfilment for Elena-haters and Elena herself practically laughs it all off but the whole idea is so warped and sadistic I just want to forget any of it happened. I’m just relieved that Elena’s “mean girl” phase is finally over (thanks to a surprising but powerful twist), she can stop needling everyone and we don’t have to watch any more domestic abuse dressed up as loving intervention.

In other news, Bonnie is still the worst person in the world, Rebekah’s suddenly pledging eternal fealty to Matt and this season is still not over. On a positive note though, as Elena finally broke down and as Caroline fought to save her mother, I was struck by just how good Nina Dobrev and Candice Accola’s performances were in those scenes. Here’s hoping next season brings better – and I don’t mean just “which of my boyfriends should I choose?”- material for them both.

The Vampire Diaries s4 ep 20

This episode was of course conceived as a “backdoor pilot” for new TVD spin-off series, “The Originals”, so while it was topped and tailed with various Diaries characters, it was mostly “Klaus’ Adventures In New Orleans,” guest-starring people I have no intention of bothering with because even Elijah could not persuade me to watch “The Originals” for all the vervain in wherever vervain comes from. Having said that, the unspeakable Klaus fecking off to his own show is the best thing that has happened to Diaries in ages, so yay for that and can Bonnie get one of her own too, please? Thanks!

Anyhoo, as far as this ep goes, what with fast-forwarding through all the “Klaus’s New Show” scenes, I think I only watched about 5 minutes in total. It was still 5 minutes I wish I hadn’t seen, however. Firstly because Rebekah threatened to stay in Mystic Falls – PLEASE GOD, NO – and secondly because Damon and Stefan began trying to torture Elena into getting her humanity back.

WTF is WRONG with this show?

I know I’m forever going on about the deeply warped gender dynamics on Diaries but it has all gone so insanely wrong lately it almost feels like they’re taunting me with it now. This episode ended with an astonishingly provocative and disturbing scene: an underground cell door closing on Elena – who is a vampire in the story, yes, but she’s also small, slight, and looks like a teenage girl – trapped between Damon and Stefan – who are also vampires, and look like stronger, older men – challenging them to do their worst to her.

I say again: WTF?

Elena’s dialogue may have been intended to suggest the power was in her hands, but it didn’t. The visuals were far too reminiscent of certain types of real-world violent crime against women and, given the sub-text in this particular storyline that it’s the woman’s fault, that the men have been forced into abusing her for her own good – God. Never mind watching it, even writing it is making me want to throw up.

Turns out there’s a lot more wrong with this season than just Klaus.

The Vampire Diaries s4 eps 18 & 19

Elijah! Katherine!

Oh, thank goodness – characters who haven’t yet succumbed to the toxic sludge that has been this season’s TVD plots! Can they rescue any of the others? Hm. Maybe?

Certainly, “American Gothic”, the first of these episodes is a zillion times more entertaining, coherent and FUN than the previous week’s abject disaster. And it didn’t make me want to switch it off every ten seconds either, so yay! Of course, this is entirely because the bulk of it is set AWAY from Mystic Falls, meaning that Elena and the Salvatores (and Rebekah but she’s slightly more bearable when she’s with Elena and the Salvatores, so I can live with that) get the chance to enjoy trying to best Katherine and Elijah instead of the appalling Klaus, Bonnie and each other.

The return of these two vamp heavyweights definitely lifts the show out of the doldrums. Katherine’s still super-evil, but in a consistent way that makes sense (not always a given in TVD) and Elijah’s still weirdly good (given his entire family are completely psychotic) but she’s a Petrova doppelganger and he’s a male vampire so obviously he’s in love with her anyway (see also Gilbert, Elena and Salvatores, The). That’s fine, though, really. At this point, I could cope with Elijah falling in love with his front door if it meant more him and less Klaus so, regardless of romantic choices, you and I are cool, Elijah, we are VERY cool.

The plot is of course more mince about getting hold of the cure – the Originals get in the way as usual – but the episode has a cheerfully snarky craziness that keeps things running too fast to get bogged down in the usual Salvatore/Original intra-familial whining. The only time it skirts with non-watchability is when the focus is on Klaus but even then he’s in agony, so y’know, there’s a definite silver lining.

The second episode (“Pictures of You”) isn’t quite as enjoyable – the action shifts back to Mystic Falls, the Originals get back to bickering, and Silas runs about pretending to be everyone else. Oh yeah and there is PROM. Which means High School (and the season) is nearly over – God, I am so ready for that day. The ep’s all right, I suppose, but too many missed opportunities (I mean, WHY couldn’t they just let Elena kill Bonnie? It would’ve made my year!) and too much Klaus meant it wasn’t my favourite.

The Vampire Diaries s4 ep 16

Elena has turned off her feelings! Booooo!!!!!!

But, after a season of being told what to do by everyone else in town, this means she finally takes control of her own life. Yay!!!!!

Although….. Elena taking control means being a baaaaaad girl: she’ll eat you soon as look at you, and she’ll like it! Boooo!!!!

But it also means Elena telling Caroline and Stefan where to shove it! Yay!!!!!!

Or, um, Boo?!?!? Thanks to the weirdly screwed-up gender politics of Diaries, even lots of great lines from Damon couldn’t make me feel good about this episode; Elena taking control is an apparently disastrous thing – instead of being the usual good little girl at the centre of everyone’s approval and control, she’s now a single-minded, manipulative sociopath. So yet again, the message we can take from this show stuffed with gorgeous super-people and directed squarely at young women is that us girls should really let our menfolk (and maybe Caroline, a worthy mentor because she now divides her time between pining over her own useless, absent boyfriend, and judging Elena over Elena’s choice in men) tell us what to do, because trust us to make any decisions ourselves and it’s bloody anarchy. Sigh.

The Vampire Diaries s4 ep 15

The Silas story is, of course, annoying as all hell, and Bonnie, the worst character in the world, is appalling in every possible way. But ignore them both and ignore the stupid Hunter with the stupid accent, and “Stand By Me” is a surprisingly good episode of Diaries.

Everybody is struggling to deal with you-know-who’s death; not so much in terms of their own grief but in terms of how Elena is going to make it through, but, for once, this is more than just unearned nonsense about Elena’s super-sized “Compassion.” This is writing firmly rooted in the four years of unbearable, unending loss we’ve watched the character live through. At last, then, something about Elena’s story this season actually feels true to who she is, instead of an idiotic plot device to mess with the audience.

Nina Dobrev gives an astonishing performance; raw and real, and all the more impressive given the often cartoonish nature of the show, and those scenes are the highlight. I’d have liked Damon to be a bit braver, emotionally, by flying home with her at the start instead of staying on the island for most of the episode, but, having thought about it, his “I have to find Bonnie to fix it” attitude makes sense for his character, just like Caroline’s “lists and casseroles” make sense for her. Even Matt’s discreet but acute grief is handled sensitively and movingly, and some of the visuals – Elena’s face as she “turns off” her humanity, the trio walking away from the Gilbert house for the last time, and everything slowly, quietly being consumed by the flames – are haunting and beautiful. Diaries is a very silly tv show and season 4 has given us plenty of rubbish to endure every week but, every now and again, amongst it all, an episode will remind me why I’ve stuck with it so long regardless – this is one of them.