Every generation gets the vampire fantasies they deserve. Bela Lugosi’s middle-European 1930s “Dracula” was a perfect symbol of world weary decadence and death from a continent that had just finished one military bloodbath and was about to embark on another. Christopher Lee brought a post-war confidence and physicality to his dark Hammer Studios vampires.
Monster movies were being spoofed by the time Ann Rice revived the genre in earnest in the mid 1970s. With her book “Interview with a Vampire,” she imagined an elaborate demimonde, that like the Mafia movies of the same period, offered a twisted mirror image of the rites and rituals of Rice’s formative, if lapsed, Roman Catholic faith.
Our current Vampire mania arrives with “True Blood,” and the “Twilight” series, the BBC series “Being Human” and now “The Vampire Diaries” (7 p.m., CW), each with strong young female characters hung up on handsome male figures who are a tad long in the tooth.
Strangely, both “True Blood” and “Diaries” draw on a more American mythology and hearken back to the Civil War, more specifically, to the lost cause of the Confederacy.
In “Diaries” “DeGrassi” regular Nina Dobrev stars as Elena Gilbert, a high school student still grieving for her parents, lost in a car accident. Her moody demeanor and frequent trips to the graveyard put her touch with another newcomer, the dreamy Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley).
Of course he’s not a newcomer at all, but an old resident of the Virginia town, returned for reasons we don’t know yet. Could it have something to do with the old tintype from 1864, a picture of a young maiden who looks a little too much like Elena?
This being the CW, all is not moody conversation about destiny and profound journal entries. High school has its cliques: the nerds and stoners, cheerleaders and “easy” girls. What will the arrival of a blood sucker or two do to upset that social order?
Elena’s younger brother has no direction and he deals drugs. And Stefan, let’s just say he has sibling problems of his own. And some in his family don’t share his “why can’t we all get along” attitude when it comes to mortals.
“Vampire” deserves high praise for a tone that nicely blends teen angst and more gothic melancholy. Like every high school show —except “DeGrassi” — many of the students look at least 30 years old. Elena’s aunt and new guardian looks younger than her charges.
Maybe this is all intentional. Vampires aren’t all that hung up on time. Ultimately, “Diaries” is not about the eternally wandering vampire, but the ongoing misery and uncertainty of sensitive teenagers, an intense emotional state that only seems like it lasts forever.
• A year after the roughest September on Wall Street in two generations, CNBC will air a series of reports beginning with “Banking on Geithner” (6 p.m. and 9 p.m., CNBC), a Town Hall event with the secretary of Treasury.
Tonight’s other highlights
• The professional football season begins in earnest with NFL Opening Kickoff 2009 (7 p.m., NBC), followed by a regular season game between Tennessee and Pittsburgh.
• Answers arrive and so does an attack on the inner circle on “Fringe” (8 p.m., Fox).
• Lucifer escapes the bonds of the underworld on the sixth season premiere of “Supernatural” (8 p.m., CW).