Pop culture has done wonderful things with vampires lately, from the Twilight movie to HBO's True Blood. Then there's The Vampire Diaries (Thursday, 7 p.m.). The CW's new series is nothing more than a turgid teen soap opera - Gossip Girl with sharper fangs.
Twilight fans will notice shameless similarities, including Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart look-alikes in the lead roles. Paul Wesley plays a virtuous vampire with an eternally furrowed brow, restraining himself from human prey. Nina Dobrev plays a troubled high school beauty who makes goo-goo eyes at her undead hunk in a graveyard as the fog rolls in and a raven flits about.
Yes, Vampire Diaries pours on the horror clichés, including a slut who gets bitten on the neck during a solitary nighttime stroll through the woods. But the show fails utterly in creating a sense of fear - unless it's the fear that this misbegotten mess will be renewed for 2010-11.
Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins
Sunday, 7 pm (Cartoon Network)
It might sound incongruous for the Cartoon Network to present a live-action TV movie. But Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins is as close to cartoonish as flesh-and-blood actors can get. It's an origin story about our old friends the Jock, the Hottie, the Brain and the Goofball, who come together to solve ghostly mysteries with the help of (I mean, in spite of) an accident-prone dog.
Scooby-Doo is a beloved property, familiar from its animated and feature-film versions. Happily, the Cartoon Network treats its latest incarnation with loving care. The human actors are charming, particularly Nick Palatas as Shaggy, the affable moron whose voice sounds like a gargle mixed with an accordion wheeze. Scooby-Doo himself is a CGI creation that vividly expresses joy, hunger and fear - especially fear. His gulp of dread is almost as funny as the Three Stooges' version. Indeed, the movie borrows liberally from the Stooges, as well as Looney Tunes. In other words, it steals from the best.
My only quibble is that the ghosts might be too scary for the Cartoon Network's kiddie audience. They emerge from their graves with faces right out of a creepy adult horror movie.
MTV Video Music Awards
Sunday, 8 pm (MTV)
Last year, an English comedian named Russell Brand, little known in the U.S., hosted the MTV Video Music Awards. Everyone agreed that Brand bombed, even Brand himself. The camera caught audience members staring in disbelief at his dumb one-liners, crude insults and heavy-handed political sneers. Brand admitted that he got loads of hate mail and death threats after the show.
It was quite an embarrassment for MTV. So to redeem itself, the network has chosen as this year's host...Russell Brand?! It's incomprehensible that he's been invited back, unless MTV has been plotting revenge for the last year and wanted its entire audience to experience the catharsis.
If I were Brand, I'd watch out for falling anvils.
Sunday, 8 pm (PBS)
In this week's "Inspector Lewis" mystery, Lewis (Kevin Whately) solves another crime in Oxford, a sleepy academic community that has been teeming with murderers since the series began. If I were a British college student, I'd seriously consider transferring to Cambridge.
In "Life Born of Fire," a serial killer targets a religious group called the Garden. But who cares? TV-mystery plots rarely interest me - I know the culprit will eventually emerge from the pool of bit players - but TV-mystery characters do. And Lewis is a fine character, despite a lack of distinguishing features. He's not psychic, or obsessive-compulsive, or devilishly handsome. He's just a down-to-earth bloke with sharp eyes, a no-nonsense manner and loads of chemistry with his cerebral partner (Laurence Fox). With acting this solid, who needs gimmicks?
The Jay Leno Show
Monday, 9 pm (NBC)
Ever since Jay Leno stepped down as host of The Tonight Show, there's been intense speculation about the nature of his new primetime series. But what's the mystery? I'm not a betting man, but if I were, I'd wager that Jay will tell lots of corny jokes and chortle amiably after every one.
In fact...anybody want to put $5 on it?