She’s the girl next door.
Originally made for Canada’s Teletoon and later airing on the Disney Channel, the made-for-TV movie My Babysitter’s A Vampire led to a 12-episode first season, and, as of this writing, it’s been renewed for a second. This three-disc set contains the movie and the complete first season. Is this show edgy and violent? Not really. Is it edgy and violent for the Disney Channel? That’s a yes.
Ethan (Matthew Knight) is about to start his first year of high school, but his parents believe he’s too irresponsible, so they do the unthinkable and hire a babysitter, Sarah (Vanessa Morgan).
It gets complicated: Sarah is a vampire. More accurately, she’s a fledgling—half vampire, half human until she drinks her first drop of human blood and becomes 100 percent vamp. She refuses to do so, and instead has made it her mission to hunt other vampires while seeking a cure for herself. Now, when mom and dad take off for date night every Friday, Sarah, Ethan and Ethan’s pal Benny (Atticus Dean Mitchell) head out into the night to fight evil vampires and other supernatural evils.
It gets more complicated: Turns out Ethan is a “seer,” and his psychic visions help in the fight. Benny assists as well, by casting spells from his grandmother’s spell book.
It gets even more complicated: Also along for the ride are Ethan and Benny’s mega-nerd friend Rory (Cameron Kennedy), who has become a full-on vampire and uses his newfound vamp powers to help out. Erica (Kate Todd), a former friend of Sarah’s, has become a vampire as well, but she’s more interested in bloodsucking than in being a good guy.
To begin, the made-for-TV movie that kicked off the series is a lot of fun. Borrowing heavily from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it has the supernaturally-powered girl and her high school outcast friends fighting evil. It doesn’t come close to the wit of Joss Whedon and the other Buffy writers, but it has its moments, such as the guys using the long cylindrical UV lamps from a tanning booth as lightsaber-like weapons against the vamps, which was pretty amusing. The movie also takes several satirical jabs at the Twilight franchise, courtesy of the movie-within-the-movie, Dusk, that the teens are all obsessed with.
The fun falters, though, when the action jumps from the TV movie to the series. The big problem is vampire babysitter Sarah is rarely given anything to do, even though she’s supposed to be the hero. Ethan has his visions, Benny has his magic spells, and Rory’s vampire powers are stronger than Sarah’s. The three guys are powered up enough to take on any given monster of the week without Sarah. She’s too often on the sidelines when the show is supposed to be about her. You might be thinking, “Yeah, but Willow had magic and Xander had his ill-defined military skills.” True, but those “powers” were developed over time, not right from the start, which allowed Buffy to remain established as the hero. It’s possible that the My Babysitter’s A Vampire writers are going for less of a Buffy vibe and more of an X-Men vibe, where the teen misfits all have different powers. If that’s the case, I still fail to see what Sarah can contribute to the team that Rory cannot.
Because it’s the Disney Channel, this is an idealized version of high school life, and in many ways exaggerated. Characters use the words “chillax” and “whatevs,” and they answer the phone doing the “Whazzup?” gag. The show’s comedy is played big and broad, especially by Atticus Dean Mitchell and Cameron Kennedy, who often veer into obnoxious nerd territory.
The mythology of the show is somewhat muddled. Vampires can go out in the day, but UV rays harm them. Holy water, stakes, and garlic harm them, but it’s ambiguous whether crosses work. However, a handful of references to a “vampire council” have me wondering if the writers have big things planned for future episodes. Notably, the violence and horror aspects are pretty extreme from the same channel that unleashed Hannah Montana on the world. Vampires get stakes, necks are bitten, and one vamp even gets stabbed in the forehead with a fork, for a pretty neat gore effect. OK, it’s a far cry from Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, but it’s exciting to see the normally sanitized Disney Channel step out of its comfort zone.
Production values are not exactly swanky, but they shine nicely on DVD. The standard definition 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer exhibits bright, vivid colors and natural flesh tones. The Dolby 5.1 Surround mix is good, with music, dialogue, and sound effects coming through loud and clear. Bonus features include a short featurette and a series of cast interviews, some of them with the actors in character. The series episodes are on discs one and two, but the movie, where the story begins, is on disc three. That might confuse some new viewers.
The series concludes not on a cliffhanger, exactly, but on an ambiguous note, with the characters finding themselves in new place in the lives (or afterlives, as the case might be). As this happened, I found myself concerned about Sarah and the guys, and, most importantly, I wanted to know what happened next. With this in mind, I’d say the show does its job, despite its flaws.