Mark Waters’ Vampire Academy movie, released in 2014, begins with a deadly car crash soundtracked by M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls;” it’s a shockingly ridiculous start to a movie so hilariously bad that it becomes almost enjoyable, but not enough to avoid completely getting lost in its own attempt at ambition. In comparison, Peacock’s addictive and fun Vampire Academy series might as well be a masterpiece.
Produced by The Vampire Diaries Universe’s Julie Plec and Marguerite MacIntyre, Vampire Academy follows royal Moroi—this universe’s word for vampire—Lissa Dragomir (Daniela Nieves) and her half-vampire, Guardian best friend Rose Hathaway (Sisi Stringer), as they navigate the intricate politics of the vampire Dominion, which has been closed-off from the human world for centuries. After a horrible accident leaves both the Dominion and the Dragomir family in shambles, Lissa and Rose attempt to survive among a world filled with ancient rules trying to pull them apart, all while confronting a larger conspiracy around their mortal enemy, the Strigoi—a type of feral vampire that knows only to hunt and kill.
In the first eight episodes available for review, Vampire Academy succeeds in creating a series that is a lite political drama intertwined with a classic supernatural teen drama, swirling together to create a season-long story filled with mystery and intrigue. Rose and Lissa, along with Guardians Mason (Andrew Liner), Meredith (Rhian Blundell), and mentor Dimitri (Kieron Moore), as well as Moroi Christian (André Dae Kim) and Mia (Mia McKenna-Bruce), aim to change the Dominion through the sheer force of their empathy and insolence, and it’s wonderful to watch as their actions affect those on high within the Moroi council. That stubbornness forces change onto their world, allowing the series to confront the injustices within its vampiric society, ultimately holding up a mirror to our own along the way.
Based on how well the film worked out, it seemed that Richelle Mead’s sprawling, 6-novel series might be beyond the realm of adaptation, perhaps too complicated to accurately bring to the screen. But Peacock’s production blows that assumption out of the water. Rather than use exposition to info-dump on the audience, this series takes its time introducing us to the Dominion and its traditions, unfolding the Moroi, Dhampir, and Strigoi lore as the episodes go on. Lissa and Sonya Karp, especially, act as anchors for the most interesting aspects of the series, and the empathetic and heartfelt portrayals by Nieves and Jonetta Kaiser respectively ground the most complicated moving parts. Additionally, the stunning castle and elaborate sets create an incredible sense of immersion, pulling its audience into this world from the Pilot.
This series is a wonderful showcase of character work as well, especially in how Vampire Academy contextualizes its leads amongst their Moroi, Dhampir, and Strigoi factions. The series unwinds its central players slowly, especially its eventual villains, and makes them seem both whole and heightened. Whereas the film created caricatures out of these characters, pigeonholing them in boxes with shallow arcs, Vampire Academy lays the groundwork for satisfying corruption and redemption for its central players. This show is also ripe for ‘shipping, with Christian and Lissa being a stand out couple. The chemistry between Nieves and Dae Kim is electric, and Christian is the perfect sad, soft, brooding loner certain to make viewers absolutely swoon.
Most importantly, Vampire Academy is also just incredibly fun to watch. It has all the classic vampiric drama we know and love from The Vampire Diaries Universe, this time with a visibly higher budget and a larger focus on the political intrigue. It’s quintessential popcorn TV, and will surely have viewers coming back every single week. (I’m already impatiently awaiting Episode 9, as the Episode 8 cliffhanger was downright jaw-dropping.)
Of course, it’s not perfect, falling into some old habits that die hard within the teen drama genre. Despite the age-gap being less creepy (Rose is “of age” rather than 17 in this version), Rose and Dimitri’s relationship still contains shades of that mentor-student dynamic that, frankly, I could live without. Additionally, the series’ queer characters, particularly Meredith and Mia, don’t get the time to truly shine the way their straight peers do, which is a problem many shows continue to face when trying to incorporate LGBTQ representation into their ensembles.
But aside from a few minor complaints, this show is perfect for anyone who will be missing The Vampire Diaries Universe this fall, or for any fan of the vampire genre. Though this is not a word-for-word adaptation of the book series, I believe fans of the novels will be pleasantly surprised, as Vampire Academy builds on the world they know and love, while also bringing something new to the table. It’s fresh, it’s smart, it’s a hell of a lot of fun, and it’s absolutely worth sinking your teeth into.
Vampire Academy premieres on Peacock with four episodes on September 15th; subsequent episodes will premiere weekly.
Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.
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