Have no fear, AOL TV is here. We've been spotlighting five episodes from some of the best scripted comedies and dramas on TV that you need to see before jumping into the new season this fall.
Up now? 'The Vampire Diaries.'
In the grand tradition of high school shows before it (including co-creator Kevin Williamson's own 'Dawson's Creek'), 'The Vampire Diaries' features one epic love triangle. Our 17-year-old heroine Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev) and her troubled little brother Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen) live in Mystic Falls, Virginia with their Aunt Jenna (Sara Canning) after the tragic death of their parents. As is wont to happen on The CW, Elena falls for the heartthrob new kid in town, Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley). One problem -- he's a vampire (and has been stuck at 17 years old since 1864), and so is his evil older brother, Damon (Ian Somerhalder).
While Stefan is the typical nice guy that teen daydreams are made of, the elder Salvatore is the complete opposite -- a sexy bad boy, though still unfortunately hung up on the hottie who turned him and his bro into vampires in the 19th century. Did we mention that said hottie looks identical to Elena? Her name's Katherine, and it turns out Mystic Falls isn't the sleepy little town we previously thought. It's got a rich supernatural heritage, and the bloodlines of the town's original founders run deep.
Vampires aren't the only otherworldly beings who made their way to Virginia -- Elena's best friend, Bonnie (Katerina Graham), comes from a long line of witches, and school friend Tyler (Michael Trevino) is descended from werewolves. Though Elena does have BFFs who are human like her -- Caroline (Candice Accola) and Matt (Zach Roerig). During Season 1, doppelganger Katherine causes the most trouble, while Season 2 deals with some complicated werewolf- and vampire-related mythology you'd usually expect to see on Syfy -- not a teen soap.
But 'The Vampire Diaries' isn't your typical teen drama. After its 2009 debut, it quickly became one of the most fast-paced, well-written shows on TV. The storylines are intricate and move fast, the dialogue is sharp and funny, and the acting is probably the best The CW has ever seen. Don't believe me? Check out these five episodes carefully selected from the first two seasons and then try to tell me you're not hooked. (Although I highly, highly recommend watching more like 10 to 15 episodes. Choosing just five was a near-impossible task.)
1. 'Lost Girls' and 'Haunted' (Season 1, Episodes 6 and 7)
Why you need to watch it: Forget the pilot, forget the first few episodes -- this is where the writers finally hit their storytelling stride. Elena discovered her new crush was actually a vampire, he handily outlined some of 'TVD''s vampire mythology. Yet despite that important revelation, this episode belonged to Damon and Vicki, Jeremy's troublemaker girlfriend whom the elder Salvatore turned into a vampire. Warning: Things get tragic in the second ep. 'TVD' doesn't do two-parters in the traditional sense, but this is definitely a two-episode story.
2. 'Founder's Day' (Season 1, Episode 22)
Why you need to watch it: The season 1 finale wraps up the central mystery of the season, and it turns out Katherine has been behind it all. In true 'TVD' fashion, it's both heartbreaking and beautiful, as Jeremy's second vampire girlfriend, Anna, and the rest of the town's vampires die in a fire set by evil Uncle John. And, also in true 'TVD' fashion, it ends with a cliffhanger for the ages -- Elena and Katherine about to meet face-to-face.
3. 'Bad Moon Rising' (Season 2, Episode 3)
Why you need to watch it: Not only are we introduced to the tremendous acting skills of Candice Accola, who was fun as bitchy popular Caroline in Season 1, but is a revelation as a sweet, confused vampire in Season 2, we also learn all about the sun and moon curse -- the central Season 2 mystery. Plus, Tyler's hot uncle Mason comes to town and confirms once and for all that the Lockwood family is of the lupine persuasion. (RIP Mason -- you should know that newbies in Mystic Falls generally don't last very long.)
4. 'Klaus' (Season 2, Episode 19)
Why you need to watch it: At last, we meet the ultimate bad guy the 'TVD' writers have been teasing all season long -- Klaus, one of the Originals (the first vampires). We spend time in presence of copious amounts of Flashback Hair, and there's also plenty of Elijah, who is Klaus's brother and the best recurring character to come out of Season 2. And finally, oops! Clueless Aunt Jenna isn't as clueless anymore, as she finally (FINALLY) finds out about the vampires in her midst.
5. 'The Sun Also Rises' and the last 5 minutes of 'As I Lay Dying' (Season 2, Episodes 21 and 22)
Why you need to watch it: 'The Sun Also Rises' is the culmination of the season-long quest to break the sun and moon curse (which, turns out, has nothing to do with ancient mythology and everything to do with Klaus). Surprise! Another beloved character dies after becoming a vampire. After the sacrifice is complete, skip forward to the last five minutes of 'As I Lay Dying, which provides possibly the most gasp-worthy revelation of the entire second season and sets up what's sure to be a nail-bitingly dramatic Season 3.
And yes, I know this is absolutely cheating, but here are a couple more moments you should check out for the full 'TVD' experience: For fine acting, watch Caroline's post-transition life in 'Brave New World,' or Tyler's first werewolf transformation in 'By the Light of the Moon' (with bad-ass effects for a modest CW budget). For more information on Katherine's backstory, check out 'Katerina,' and for the Salvatore backstory, check out 'Children of the Damned.'
What are your five essential episodes of 'The Vampire Diaries'? If you haven't watched yet (WHY?!), are you planning to check out 'TVD' before Season 3 premieres?
'The Vampire Diaries' Season 3 premieres Thu., Sept. 15 at 8PM ET on The CW.
Seasons 1 and 2 are available on Blu-ray and DVD now.