It’s clear that as “The Vampire Diaries” goes into its fifth season that The CW recognizes that its female-skewing fan base has grown up.
They’re graduating from high school, going off to college or starting their careers and thinking of family. Thus, that explains at least some of the timing of its spinoff, “The Originals.”
First introduced as a backdoor pilot during “TVD’s” last season, “The Originals” features Klaus (Joseph Morgan), the first vampire/werewolf hybrid, and his family who make up the first bloodsuckers, the, um, “Originals.”
On the backdoor pilot, Klaus returns to New Orleans, his stomping grounds from a century before, to find that his former protégé Marcelle (Charles Michael Davis) has become master of the town, its menagerie of humans, witches and vampires all under his thumb. He has created a modern fiefdom and, of course, emotionally unavailable and egomaniacal Klaus covets it.
Thursday’s premiere episode recasts the events of the backdoor pilot, but from the point of view of his more controlled, more sentimental brother, Elijah (Daniel Gillies), who arrives behind Klaus to clean up after him.
The episode does a moderately good job of balancing the déjà vu we feel about scenes we’ve already seen by introducing Elijah’s behind-the-scenes plotting, but he’s also the show’s tool for introducing the family to viewers who didn’t watch “TVD.” That’s the pilot’s biggest fault.
The pace of the episode feels very slow in its expository of the family’s history. And the message that seemingly surrounds Elijah’s every piece of dialogue is meant to reinforce the ideas of the family’s centuries-old vow to support each other “always and forever.”
Its other major fault for a show titled “The Originals” is that one expects to meet the fabled family on the premiere episode. Yet — and I don’t consider this a spoiler since its showrunner Julie Plec has already told fans that the episode is a redux of the backdoor pilot – but only two members of the family actually appear in New Orleans, Elijah and Klaus. Sister Rebekah (Claire Holt) literally phones in her scenes from “TVD’s” Mystic Falls.
Hayley (Phoebe Tonkin), a werewolf who has a romantic history with Klaus, may be the remedy for the lack of Originals on the show. She represents some reinvention for the family in a “miracle” pregnancy revealed during the backdoor pilot.
Another tonic for Elijah’s stony demeanor, Klaus’ constant sulking and temper tantrums, and a sea of scared witches, lies in Marcelle and his welcome array of emotions. He’s charismatic, vengeful, slightly off-kilter and pops in every one of his scenes.
With the pace and style of this episode, “The Originals” feels like a supernatural “Dynasty” or “Dallas,” a primetime soap opera. But, what it lacks is the ability to make someone who wasn’t a “TVD” fan care about its titular dysfunctional family and its power plays. To be clear, the series does a good job of downloading the family’s history. It’s not tough to grasp, but isn’t very entertaining.
In that way, new viewers to this world are underserved. And a new version of the backdoor pilot – while a treat for “TVD” fans — was a misfire for new viewers. The producers should have dropped us right into the action, reunited the family members and allowed their complicated histories to unravel organically.
Bottom line, there’s much on this episode for “TVD” fans to relish but newcomers will find themselves searching for a reason to care about these characters. I suggest waiting for the second (or third episode counting the backdoor pilot) to see if the family comes together or the other characters fill in the void. I have a lot of confidence that showrunner Julie Plec can make things very engaging soon.
“The Originals” premieres Thursday at 9/8c on The CW.