Sadly, that's what last night's "backdoor pilot" episode of Vampire Diaries felt like. I love TVD, and I'm a huge fan of Julie Plec's writing, since the Kyle XY days. But would I watch "The Originals" every week? No, I would not. Spoilers ahead...
I've been a skeptic about The Originals ever since it was announced — a spinoff about Klaus, Elijah and Rebekah, the three "original" vampires who started off as epic villains and have slowly just become more grist for TVD's endless sex-and-betrayal mill. And last night's backdoor pilot episode was basically a perfect encapsulation of why this concept just won't work, without some major retooling.
Chiefly, Klaus is extremely pretty, and actor Joseph Morgan has charisma coming out of his ears. But he's not a character we really care about, even after a few years of seeing him swaggering around MysticFalls. The only time we've come close to rooting for Klaus was in his nowhere-bound romance with Caroline, which exposed a sweet, playful side. His bromance with Stefan also had a few moments. But angry, brooding Klaus is boring Klaus.
Meanwhile, Elijah remains a bit of a cipher, and Rebekah (who was barely in last night's episode but is apparently set to be in the spinoff) has not quite progressed beyond "bratty and vulnerable."
Of course, it must be said that the pilot for Vampire Diaries was also terrible, and it took that show a half-dozen episodes before it climbed out of the hole and started finding its own identity. But last night's episode was not a good sign, nonetheless.
Part of the problem is that Klaus has been thoroughly defanged, by this point. He's had good reason to kill the Salvatore brothers, a few dozen times over, and yet he's let them live. He chased Tyler out of MysticFalls, but made no serious attempt to kill Tyler. He didn't kill Bonnie, even after it was obvious that Bonnie's death would make him safer and his life easier. He's let Silas, who's basically just a jumped-up original with some mind-frak powers, completely push him around. He didn't avenge Kol's death. And so on.
So last night, we're treated to the spectacle of Klaus going up against a completely unworthy opponent, and not simply turning him into a greasy smear on the walls of New Orleans. Marcel, who is supposed to be able to hold his own against Klaus, is an ordinary vampire, whom Klaus turned back in the day. And then, after Klaus was chased away from New Orleans by his father Mikael, Marcel took over. And now New Orleans is Marcel's town, partly thanks to some hoodoo that allows him to control the witches.
For all of this to work, Marcel would have to be a magnetic figure, who exudes power and charisma to match Klaus's... and he's definitely fun to watch. But alas, Charles Michael Davis kind of overplays the theatricality of Marcel, trying to milk so much pizzazz out of every line of dialogue, he comes across like a carnival barker. I get it, New Orleans is a place where theatricality and over-the-top performances are part of the mystique. It still doesn't quite work, though.
And you never really forget that Klaus could just rip out Marcel's heart, along with the hearts of all of his minions, in a second. (Or, if Klaus was smart, he could just chain them all up, wait until there was no vervaine in their systems, and then compel them to become utterly devoted to his well-being. Klaus really ought to be doing that with every vampire he meets and doesn't kill.)
Anyway, the basic plot of the episode is pretty simple: Klaus gets a tip from Katherine that there's witches conspiring against him in the Big Easy, so he goes down there and finds that his old protégé Marcel has set himself up as King. Meanwhile, Elijah discovers that Hailey, the werewolf Klaus slept with a while back, is pregnant with Klaus' baby. With Klaus Jr. as a hostage, the witches make Klaus conspire against Marcel, who has something over them.
We also meet some other people who would no doubt be fleshed out as supporting characters in The Originals, when it airs this fall. (I almost wrote "this fail." Freudian slip.) There's Sophie, the witch who's keeping Klaus Jr. hostage and masterminding the plot against Marcel. There's Camille aka Cammy, the bartender/psych major who has a blackbelt in whoop-ass and loves paintings, with all of her interesting qualities jammed into about 40 seconds of screen time. There are various henchwitches and henchvampires, who will no doubt blossom into fascinating personalities of their own.
All in all, it wasn't an entirely boring hour of television — the music was great, thanks to the New Orleans location, and Joseph Morgan and Daniel Gillies always manage to be fun to watch, at least. But still, a show about all the characters you don't care about from Vampire Diaries, feuding with a brand new witch and a "sassy" vampire who yells, "I'm the KING, baby!"? Umm... maybe not.
Plus this show is launching, right out of the gate, with the plot device that almost sunk Angel in its third season: the vampire having a miracle baby. (Although Angel wound up making it work amazingly well, all told, but it was touch and go for a while there.) Let's hope they keep Hayley pregnant for a long, long time.