Peacock Resurrects Vampire Academy, But Does It Have a Pulse?

Vampire Academy “Pilot” Review

Vampire Academy Promo Photo

The following contains spoilers for Vampire Academy S1E1: “Pilot” (written by Julie Plec & Marguerite MacIntyre and directed by Bille Woodruff)

Peacock released the first four episodes of the new Vampire Academy series on Sept 15th as part of the grand premiere for the anticipated adaptation of Richelle Mead’s books. The movie adaptation came out in 2014 to a disappointing reception despite the promising cast; with a whopping $30 million budget, the film flopped at the box office, only making $15 million and going straight to VOD outside North America.

This new adaptation for Peacock looks promising, coming from YA Vampire alums Julie Plec and Marguerite MacIntyre, who brought us The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, and Legacies. The directors and the rest of the writers’ room are diverse creators, showing a deeper dedication to diversifying this show and the business.

However, at times, the Vampire Diaries‘ universe felt disconnected from their teen base audience; the win for Plec and MacIntyre with this new show is if it can stand with Gen Z and Gen Alpha’s culture (significantly different from the early days of The Vampire Diaries).

Lissa wears a crown and a large necklace
Photo by Peacock/Jose Haro/Peacock – © TM and © 2021 Peacock TV LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Exposition and explaining lore is hard for most writers. It takes a lot of tactical work to make world-building, character introduction, and premise flow seamlessly into a pilot without confusing the audience; Plec and MacIntyre are certainly not exempt from most writers in that sense.

The exposition is so heavy-handed in the first half of the Pilot that I think if they made Rose Hathaway (Sisi Stringer) stand up and present the history of the Moroi bloodlines for a school project, I would have been impressed with the execution. I see how Plec and MacIntyre can manipulate the first minute of the Pilot with the narration and the backstory to include a “previously on” kind of recap. However, as the first thing we see in the first episode, it comes across as lazy or amateur. There needed to be something else to pull us in, grab our attention, rather than a clumsy lesson in Moroi history that not all audiences will know to pay attention to yet. It also has the potential to get repetitive if they do intend to start every episode that way.

Although, it is easy to forgive Plec and MacIntyre because the lore of the Vampire Academy universe is complicated and challenging to twist without awkward kinks; therefore, we must persevere and watch Queen Tatiana Ivashkov (Pik Sen Lim) tell some more exposition on a talking billboard; a rushed Strigoi attack—missing the opportunity to intensify panic; Christian Ozera (Andre Dae Kim) stating his tragic backstory unprompted.

Deviating from the source material that might ruffle the feathers of some hardcore Vampire Academy fans.

They cut out the two years Rose (Stinger) and Lissa Dragomir (Daniela Nieves) spent on the run from the academy, which propels the story forward and prolongs some storylines while axing others. We also spent more time with Andre and Lissa’s parents pre-car crash, which graced our screens with a shocking butt cameo I’m positive no one was expecting, and a sex scene that struggled to convince us Andre was the sex god he was supposed to be. I also must point out that, although Lissa’s parents are canonically sweet and connected to their children, Eric Dragomir’s reaction to Andre’s playboy exploits was too casual and not at all parent-like; he also looked closer in age to Andre than a father ought to even if he is a vampire—case in point, the ever-ageing Queen (Pik Sen Lim).

Pik Sen Lim and J. August Richards In Vampire Academy
Photo by Peacock/Jose Haro/Peacock – © TM and © 2021 Peacock TV LLC. All Rights Reserved.

They’ve also transformed the original Mia Rinaldi into Mia Karp, who seems to mix with Natalie Dashkov’s character from the books as Mia Karp (Mia McKenna-Bruce) is introduced as Victor Dashkov’s (J. August Richards) daughter in the opening scenes, which makes Sonya Karp (Jonetta Kaiser) and Mia Karp, somehow, sisters—something that has yet to be explained by the show. Surprisingly, through all that exposition, some questions remain unanswered about these characters.

Mia paints Sonya as peculiar, like in the books, and calls her the “bird lady”. However, it appears Sonya is no longer a teacher at Vampire Academy but is a similar age to Mia and Lissa and doted on by Victor Dashkov, which is also a twist of fate for the character in comparison to her uneasy support by the Moroi society in the books.

These changes affect the plot in a few ways.

Sonya no longer being a teacher takes away her place of influence for Lissa. The latter briefly leans on her for support while figuring out her elemental magic, Spirit, and her similarities to St. Vladimir in the book. Now that Sonya’s level of authority is lower, how will that help or hinder Lissa’s growth in the future? Sonya has already attempted to reach out to Lissa in the church by complimenting the shade of yellow she was wearing. Will Sonya continue to try and connect with Lissa so they can explore their talents with Spirit together? Or, will Sonya suffer a similar fate as in the books and let her Spirit gifts torment her until she’s pushed to change into a Strigoi?

Sonya in garden
Photo by Peacock/Jose Haro/Peacock – © TM and © 2021 Peacock TV LLC. All Rights Reserved.

These two original Vampire Academy plotlines play out as opposites: Mia Rinaldi is a foe who eventually becomes a friend, and Natalie Dashkov is a friend who eventually becomes a foe. Mia Rinaldi was Lissa’s enemy from the jump in the books and film, whereas Natalie Dashkov played Lissa’s ally until her father’s final act came to pass. How Plec and MacIntyre combined these characters is very important to the storyline. I’m interested to see how they’ve pulled it off down the line because it takes a significant detour from the source material, which may come to bite the co-showrunners in the butt; pardon the pun.

The cameo of the Dragomir family pre-crash has less consequence to the plot—aside from taking demerit points from the casting directors, whom I otherwise admire.

Skipping the fact that Rose and Lissa ran away in Vampire Academy (2007) is already being remedied in the new Pilot as Rose’s class ranking is deteriorated by her newfound connection to Lissa post-crash. Taking out the two-year gap is practically unnoticeable, aside from how Plec and MacIntyre will have to work a little harder to make Lissa an outsider. And Dimitri Belikov (Kieron Moore) is introduced as Lissa’s Guardian, not because they ran away but because Lissa is now the last (known) member of the Dragomir line, which makes her more vulnerable and valuable to the Moroi.

Dimitri and Rose
Photo by Peacock/Jose Haro/Peacock – © TM and © 2021 Peacock TV LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Back to the casting director, kudos to Sophie Holland and Veronica Collins Rooney, who diversified the white pages of Richelle Mead’s books. With a world as big as Vampire Academy‘s, it’s rather hard to justify an all-white cast without sounding racist these days. If you have a problem with diversifying these characters, take a hike because you’re not welcome here.

The actors’ choices, not the choice of actors.

First, why do some characters have accents and some do not? In the 2014 Vampire Academy movie, Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry) had an accent, and Rose Hathaway (Zoe Deutch) did not. Now, in the 2022 adaptation, Rose (Stinger) has an accent, and Lissa (Nieves) does not. Why? Make it make sense.

Nieves’s acting has good moments and some… not so good moments. In particular, when Victor Dashkov (J. August Richards) triggers a memory from the crash night after breaking Lissa’s rose-coloured glasses, Nieves’s panic attack performance gave eighth-grade drama class, not primetime television. However, I’ll let it go because the script may not have been precisely Emmy-worthy. The monologue Lissa is forced to give after Rose catches her self-harming in the sunlight about grief was so on the nose that it read like a testimonial from a self-help pamphlet. Plec and MacIntyre seem to miss some of the subtleties and nuances of mental illness. Let’s hope some of the other writers have more to give in that department; the actors could use the elevated material.

As for chemistry: I vibe with many of the pairings thus far; however, I feel like Lissa (Nieves) and Christian (Andre Dae Kim) don’t quite have the undeniable connection they’re meant to have. They feel more like a nice, slow burn than a fiery force. Their moment alone together receiving old Moroi texts was sweet and kindling, but the passion fell amiss. I also felt that Christian’s true outcast nature would have him prefer to sit alone, not be peeved when other Moroi left their seats when he sat down for Saturday service—this felt, again, like heavy-handed exposition and this time at the expense of staying true to character.

I wish Mason Ashford (Andrew Liner) pined harder for Rose (Stinger); I’m not sure I like that they’re already friends with benefits. Our first introduction to Mason is in class, and despite Rose being angry about losing her top spot, Stinger’s reaction could have been a bit softer to establish more of a bond there. I also think their spar midway through the Pilot could have used more angst and some horniness, particularly from Mason. From that solo first interaction, a novice viewer would assume Mason was a classic class rivel and not a steamy romantic prospect for the lead.

I think Daniela Nieves and Sisi Stringer are playing great friends so far; they have the kind of chemistry that shows their comfortability from years in each other’s lives. Their friendship doesn’t have the giggles Fry and Deutch did in Vampire Academy (2014), but Nieves and Stringer have an inlaid history and trust, which is essential to exhibit for the shadow-kiss bond to make sense. Notably, Nieves and Stringer’s performances by the lake after the self-harm incident laid the way for a solid foundation of friendship and backstory; the exposition of Rose’s family history and connection to the Dragomir family was smooth.

Lissa 2
Photo by Peacock/Jose Haro/Peacock – © TM and © 2021 Peacock TV LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Honestly, after the exposition is well and done, the Pilot gets pretty good. The sets are well crafted and believable, if not sometimes too big and a bit sparse (which can get better with time). The fight sequences and stunts are seamless. I was impressed by Rose (Stinger) and Mason’s (Liner) spar; the coordination looked like a real fight, which sometimes can go amiss on TV.

So far, this adaptation has a lot of promise. It will be interesting to see where Plec and MacIntyre go from here storywise; they’ve made some significant deviations from the source material, not to mention the first book Vampire Academy came out 15 years ago. Although the story takes place outside regular society, they still interact with the “real” world. It will be interesting to see how the show will face “reality”.

I look forward to the rest of the series.

Written by Isobel Grieve

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