As Vampire Diaries returns tonight, I wonder: Should a grownup like this show this much?
To prepare for the herculean task of reviewing the tonight's return of The CW's Vampire Diaries, I did what any sensible journalist might do.
I polled a focus group. Consisting of my two teenage daughters.
Together, we watched tonight's season two opener in advance -- I'm hoping that scored the old man at least a few cool points with the kids -- and one thing was immediately obvious. I'm not supposed to get this.
As a fortysomething father of four, I'm not supposed to enjoy watching scrappy 17-year-old Elena Gilbert negotiate the smoldering love triangle between brothers Stefan and Damon Salvatore. I'm not supposed to identify with the teen cliques and conflicts that fill their world in sleepy Mystic Falls, Va.
But here's the thing. When vampires are involved, I'm all in.
So even though the drama filling the action-packed return of Vampire Diaries can make me giggle sometimes, the thrill of watching witches, werewolves and blood suckers try to keep up with a murderous vampire who looks like the heroine — well, that's all kinds of fun no matter what your age.
As the show returns, Elena, Stefan and Damon must cope with the return of Katherine — a ruthless vampire who looks exactly like Elena, in part, because the teen is her descendant. The new episode opens with Katherine attacking a member of Elena's family; eventually, she'll go after someone else among their close circle of pals, just to send a message.
Vampire Diaries executive producer Kevin Williamson, who made coming of age in the steamy South an adventure on Dawson's Creek, kicks it up a notch here, surrounding Elena with a spell-casting witch buddy (who hates vampires), a slacker brother who flirts with killing himself and a schoolmate who just might be a werewolf.
Lay all that stuff on top of the typical high school angst about love and finding your place in the world, and it's no wonder this series has resonated with the same tweens swooning under Bieber fever.
Still, at times Vampire Diaries feels like a grab bag of conventions from all the other vampire products out there.
The bloodsuckers here move at super speed and can use their blood to heal humans, just like the ghouls on HBO's True Blood. And the show's producers have worked out a nifty trick allowing the vampires to walk around in daylight, just like that other gargantuan teen supernatural phenomenon, Twilight.
Indeed, it is tough to watch the triangle between Elena, Stefan and Damon wind on without thinking of Edward, Bella and Jacob. Like those pouty teens in the big budget movies, the kids in Mystic Falls spend lots of time moping about their pasts.
And the star-crossed couple at the show's heart, human teen Elena (Nina Dobrev) and century-old vampire Stefan (Paul Wesley), are just trying to love each other in peace, like a certain tortured couple in Forks, Wash.
The real star of this show, however, is Ian Somerhalder (at left); the refugee from Lost who has recharged his career playing Mystic Falls' evil vampire brother with a heart, Damon.
His character beat out classic baddies such as Hugh Jackman's Wolverine and Robert Pattinson's Edward Cullen to win Entertainment Weekly's sexiest beast online poll. And the changes Katherine puts him through in Thursday's episode only add new depth to a character already ranked among the most fun to watch on television.
So, even though there are still times when this series makes me laugh out loud — how many times are the villains going to pass up chances to take out puny human pretty girl Elena? — I get why my teen daughters are hooked.
And who knows? After Thursday's action-packed installment, I just might join them on the couch for an episode or two.