'Legacies': TV Review

Pretty easy to jump into, but probably not intriguing for newbies.
10/25/2018

The CW's new spinoff of 'The Originals,' itself a spinoff of 'The Vampire Diaries,' offers an occasionally amusing version of Hogwarts for witches, vampires and werewolves.

It's hard to imagine a show with an audience more pre-established than a young adult supernatural drama that's a spinoff of a spinoff.

And it's hard to imagine a show more critic-irrelevant than The CW's new drama Legacies, spawned from the long-running The Originals, itself sired by the longer-running The Vampire Diaries.

Yet as a regular viewer of The Vampire Diaries — I swear it was the best drama on network TV for a couple of its early seasons — and somebody who watched a couple seasons of The Originals before falling behind and eventually giving up, I can at least try to add some context for those curious about Legacies, at least based on a pilot that's conspicuously bland, but not without some fresh-faced CW-style appeal.

Scripted by The Vampire Diaries mastermind Julie Plec, Legacies begins two years after the conclusion of The Originals, jumping right into things as young Rafael (Peyton Alex Smith) shows up at an Atlanta church accompanied by friend and foster brother Landon (Aria Shahghasemi). There's something lurking in Rafael, and an attempted exorcism quickly reveals him to be a werewolf. Rafael and Landon are plucked by Alaric Saltzman (Matt Davis) and Hope Mikaelson (Danielle Rose Russell) and whisked off to the Salvatore Boarding School for the Young and Gifted on the outskirts of good ol' Mystic Falls. The Salvatore School is a refuge for kids with supernatural gifts, with a special focus on vampires, witches and werewolves. Landon, none of the three, is just there to temporarily accompany Rafael before having his mind erased. It turns out, though, that he and Hope have a bit of a past, and he's unexpectedly difficult to brainwash.

For the most part, the pilot is spent getting viewers up to speed on the school and a few of its diverse pupils including Alaric's daughters Josie (Kaylee Bryant) and Lizzy (Jenny Boyd), pop culture-quoting vampire M.G. (Quincy Fouse) and self-described "evil temptress" Penelope (Lulu Antariksa). What it doesn't do effectively is provide a juicy hook for the series. The pretty bad pilot for Vampire Diaries still had the brotherly bond/rivalry between Stefan and Damon and the whole mortal/immortal romance thing the kids love so much. The slightly better The Originals pilot had a tight family emotional core and tension, plus some mortal/immortal romance, plus an all-out battle for the soul of New Orleans. Those elements were there from the first 43 minutes of each show, series quality notwithstanding. Legacies has some family stuff with Alaric and his daughters and little hints of romance, but no notable center or specific hook. Even after reaching its twist pilot ending, Legacies gives a limited indication of the series to come.

What Legacies really has instead is a backdrop that's so unquestionably derivative that there are at least three direct references to the Harry Potter franchise, one as blatant as having the supernatural kids playing a sport devised as a safer version of Quiddich. I truly wonder if a show hailing from a studio other than Warner Bros. would be able to be quite this brazen or if it's intentional misdirection since an even more obvious comparison would be Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, right down to superficial architectural similarities between the Salvatore abode and the X-Mansion. As if those probably intended homages aren't iconic enough, Legacies has the poor fortune to premiere just as people are going nuts about Netflix's prep school drama Elite — sexual fluidity and getting viewers to watch a show with subtitles are its extraordinary abilities — and literally on the eve of the premiere of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which eventually spends some time at a tony academy of witchcraft. In the Legacies version, the students all look attractive and in their mid-20s and sometimes speak with witty Plec dialogue, while the direction from Chris Grismer lacks more than a basic, surface prettiness.

But maybe that's what you want! Certainly Hollywood is loving the "exceptional private school" thing at the moment. So then the question becomes: How much knowledge of this extended and expanded CW universe do you have to have? The simple answer is probably none, but it doesn't hurt. Look, you're going to be able to figure out what a "hybrid" is — Hope, a witch/vampire/werewolf, is proudly a tri-brid — or get that "compelling" is shorthand for vampire brainwashing. You won't necessarily know the significance of the artifacts in the Stefan Salvatore Memorial Library, but if you see a tight close-up of a dagger, you'll get that it's significant. There's a cameo in the second half of the episode that will make Vampire Diaries fans happy (or amused?), though if you didn't know the character, it probably doesn't matter. Understanding the origin of Alaric's twin daughters is helpful, but the series gives basic exposition for that as well as for why Hope's parentage is notable.

Yet I think Plec and Grismer assume viewers will know some returning characters, so those figures get introduced with shorthand, to the actors' detriment. Davis is just a walking wry smirk and Russell just generally open and expressive, but I doubt anybody would instantly understand why these particular characters or performances were worth building a spinoff around. Although Smith's Rafael gets the high-profile lycanthropic introduction, he's barely used after he returns to human form. Landon is a more important character, and based on Shahghasemi's too-placid performance, I can't quite figure why. My favorite performances were more on the fringe, especially the funny Fouse, a nicely manic Boyd, plus Antariksa, who has the potential to be the sort of bad-girl character Plec has typically expanded well.

Both Vampire Diaries and The Originals, although they began with their basic dramatic structures in place, grew and deepened pretty fast. Legacies has more room to grow and has much more need of swift deepening than either show. Legacies isn't good enough for me to recommend to a viewer starting here from scratch, but it moves at a brisk clip and has the general feel familiar to fans of this storytelling world and there's reliable comfort in that. Me, I need to go watch more of Elite, in case any of them are vampires.

Cast: Danielle Rose Russell, Matt Davis, Kaylee Bryant, Jenny Boyd Aria Shahghasemi, Quincy Fouse, Peyton Alex Smith

Creator: Julie Plec

Airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW premiering October 25