From 'Buffy' to 'Legacies,' TV Has an Eternal Love of Vampire Stories

Years after 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and 'The Vampire Diaries,' such supernatural TV dramas are being told in new, nuanced ways.
by Whitney Friedlander — 

Sarah Michelle Gellar in 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

Courtesy of WBTV / YouTube

It has been 25 years since fan-favorite TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer premiered on The WB Network and five years since The Vampire Diaries signed off of The CW Network. But with upcoming TV titles including Peacock's Vampire Academy, Showtime's Let the Right One In, and AMC's Interview With the Vampire about to join the success of FX's Emmy-nominated What We Do In The Shadows and The CW's Legacies, some things appear certain: The vampire genre is not dead and TV executives are loving it.

But will audiences feel the same? 

"Vampires offer us many metaphors for how we live as humans [and] represent different things at different points in time," Kim Snowden, the chair of the Institute of Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at The University of British Columbia, who teaches classes on gender and sexuality in fairy tales, tells Metacritic.

"TV offers opportunities to reinvent the vampire to tell stories about our current world and reimagine our relationships to identity, family, love, relationships et cetera and also how we live," she continues, adding that "monsters appear at moments of cultural anxiety," and specifically, they are "related to anxiety about challenges to the status quo or where those with power are threatened." 

She points to classics like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which used "a young woman with strength to talk about gender roles" or True Blood, which used "the vampire as a way to talk about racism and discrimination." 

This can be seen in the new crop of shows as well. By its very title, Let the Right One In is a story about trust and a form of xenophobia. What We Do in the Shadows is about, well, a lot of things — be it bosses who don't respect their underlings or former world rulers who don't have a place in today's society. Vampire Academy and Legacies are about training new generations to be better than the last. 

"I think one of the reasons people have historically connected to shows in this genre, specifically the YA approaches, is because the storytellers — myself included — are working with themes of loneliness and a deep-rooted desire for the kind of connection that feels eternal," suggests Julie Plec, the co-creator of The Vampire Diaries and the upcoming Vampire Academy and the creator of TVD spin-offs Legacies and The Originals. She raises a valid question in, "What's the point of living forever if you have no one to share it with?" 

Snowden says that programs like Buffy or even the original Charmed, which is about witches, succeeded because they show that "growing up is monstrous" and that "vampires/slayers were a perfect metaphor for battling the things life throws at you from the ridiculous and funny to the completely heartbreaking." 

"This is why many of these shows are aimed at teens and young adults: They provide ways to talk about issues that may not get discussed in other contexts such as intimate partner violence or consent," she explains.

Conversely to conversations of girl power and teen angst, vampire lore is also associated with eroticism. Snowden says this is often related to author Bram Stoker's Dracula novel, which was published in 1897 and has seen various adaptations — including the 2020 TV series starring Claes Bang and the 2013 one starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers. She says that the vampire folklore and myths that are many centuries old don't explore this, but in western tradition "there was a fascination with vampires in the 19th literary imagination" and that, of those, "many representations showed vampires being intimately connected to their victims beyond biting and drinking their blood. They were not just monsters lurking in the dark waiting to drink from your neck; they were seducers and built relationships with their victims before showing their fangs." 


AMC's 'Interview With the Vampire'


There is also a fear that, since it's been done so many times, vampire eroticism can come across as campy. Mark Johnson, executive producer of AMC's Interview With the Vampire doesn't agree. 

"I never thought that eroticism would necessarily verge into camp," he says. "Hopefully, the eroticism in our show is lusty, carnal, and very real. We have no intention of bordering or invading camp."  

Snowden adds that some of these stories, such as True Blood or Interview With the Vampire, use the genre's ties to sexuality as a way to explore queer relationships and "draw on this eroticism that has always existed but without confining it to the 'fated heterosexual romance' trope." 

However, looking back at some of these stories with a modern mindset can show that a lot of this can be seen as problematic — causing a new problem for series creators. Think for a second about the inherent age discrepancy between a 100+ year-old being and a young woman, which were central story lines on shows from True Blood to The Vampire Diaries and featured into movies including Twilight.

"The inherent eroticism of the genre has actually made it quite difficult to tell these stories in the same way," Plec says. "If you look at the sexy vampires of the last 20 or so years through an unflinching contemporary progressive lens, a lot of them are actually predatory stalkers and sexual abusers who defy all rules of consent." 

Plec reminds that her series Legacies has a young vampire named MG (Quincy Fouse) "who repeatedly calls out these tropes and works hard to rise above them," though. 


Quincy Fouse in 'Legacies'

The CW

This is one example of how, and if, the vampire story can evolve. 

Snowden says these plots "can stay fresh, provided the same old stories aren't just retold in the same way. Vampires offer so many possibilities; even those [such as Dracula] whose stories have already been told." 

Johnson points out that the vampire genre is no different than anything else and that "there are scores of World War II movies; some are memorable, and some are not."  

"Like anything else that is genre dependent, the narrative attack needs to be fresh and original," he says. "While we have seen many vampires before, we need to make sure that our vampires are absolutely unique." 

That said, Snowden doesn't see the need to reboot all material — a talked-about remake of True Blood may not be needed, she says "when there are other ways to tell the stories [of] Charlaine Harris," the author who wrote the best-selling source material for that series.  

"There are so many brilliant vampire stories out there that I hope we'll always be telling their stories," Snowden says. 

It certainly sounds like vampires will never die.

"In my lifetime I'm pretty sure I've lived through five vampire crazes, which amounts to a cycle of about one per decade," Plec says. "Given that logic, vampires actually never really go away. They are eternal, which seems fitting."