“The Originals” is a rather unfortunate name for a series that so clearly isn’t — a “Vampire Diaries” spinoff that at least has less awkward initials than its sire. Vampires in various forms have become a swoon-inducing conceit in terms of wooing young female demos, which is certainly in CW’s wheelhouse. Still, this busy pilot — teeming with vamps, witches and werewolves — is so dense with backstory it fails to provide uninitiated viewers with what vampires require: An overt invitation to come in. “These aren’t just any vampires,” we’re told at the outset. But yeah, they sort of are.
The title — repeated so often as to sound like fodder for a drinking game (red wine will suffice) — refers to the Original Vampires (not to be confused with Original Gangstas), a family transformed to the undead side a millennium ago that eventually fled Europe for New Orleans. Leaving no prior screen Nosferatu unturned, the setting inevitably evokes parallels to “Interview With the Vampire,” made even more conspicuous by an opening flashback and voiceover.
Flash to the present day and after a 100-year absence, the Originals are back — the werewolf/vamp hybrid Klaus (Joseph Morgan) and his half-brother Elijah (Daniel Gillies) — but their old haunt has changed. For starters, the witches are living under the dominion of vampire leader Marcel (Charles Michael Davis), a protege of Klaus’ with an army of bloodsuckers at his disposal.
The mismatched brothers thus threaten to upend the status quo, but not without a lot of tedious exposition about the transcendent power and importance of family, and just how special Klaus is, while introducing an array of supernatural players of different stripes, a la later seasons of “True Blood.”
Even with bursts of reasonably gruesome action, the biggest threat in the premiere (which receives a post-“Vampire Diaries” preview before perching Tuesdays after “Supernatural”) is getting talked to death. And while CW hasn’t lost its knack for casting talent well suited to gracing billboards, the heavy-handed dialogue, courtesy of series creator Julie Plec and Michael Narducci, doesn’t deliver much bite.
So while “The Originals” comes with a built-in audience, it seemingly has nowhere to go but down from the foundation of “Vampire Diaries” loyalists potentially hungry for a second similarly flavored hour when twilight time rolls around.
Perhaps it’ll all work out, but to those even mildly resistant to vampires’ hypnotic charms, the been-there, seen-that nature of this latest permutation on the undead — despite all the hushed reverence the Originals elicit — appears to have an age-old problem, if not an old-age one.