Tue, 21 June 2022, 11:12 pm
Netflix’s latest includes First Kill, an eight-episode queer-ified Romeo & Juliette love story woven into a sci-fi world of monsters and monster hunters. The Juliette of the tale (literally) is the monster – that is, vampire (Sarah Catherine Hook) – who falls hard and fast for monster-hunter Calliope (Imani Lewis). About to fulfill life-long destinies, the high school students struggle to mesh their senses of self with intense family expectations. Their forbidden romance enhances their struggles and blurs battle lines as other forces push their families and community into deadly chaos.
After watching this new vampire romp (which is a hit so far), we thought we’d assess which of its blood-sucking predecessors had the sweetest bite.
But before we get to the ranking, a few parameters: we looked at vampire shows that have been released between 1990 and today, not including children’s programs and focusing only on shows that center specifically on vampires, not other sci-fi creatures as well (sorry, that means no Legacies or Supernatural on this list). We also only looked at shows that explicitly mention vampires (e.g., so no Midnight Mass).
To come up with my ranking, I considered each show’s Rotten Tomatoes’ critics score (the Tomatometer) and audience score, IMDB ratings, awards recognition, and what EW staffers have written about the shows through the years.
NETFLIX Imani Lewis as Calliope, Sarah Catherine Hook as Juliette
With that criterion, below are the top seven vampire shows since 1990. But first, a special shout-out to a web series that doesn’t quite fit with the rest, but certainly walked so First Kill could run.
Carmilla, Vervegirl 2014
The vampire show I did not rank but must mention is Carmilla. Launched in 2014 on the YouTube channel of Canadian culture publication Vervegirl (it’s now with KindaTV), Carmilla was a single-camera web show version of the 1872 Gothic novella of the same name (there are also several film versions, including a 2019 film starring Outlander’s Tobias Menzies). The web show featured three seasons of 36 episodes, each between three and 17 minutes. It told the story of Laura (Elise Bauman), a plucky college student who discovers her mysterious roommate Carmilla (Natasha Negovanlis) is a vampire. Things get progressively chaotic as the unlikely pair fall in love and fight evil together. Carmilla was cheesy and low-budget, but it was unabashedly fun and is beloved among a certain LGBTQ crowd. The cast and crew landed convention appearances, and the fanbase remains deeply devoted to the show and cast. Though its web series status kept me from ranking Carmilla with the other vampire shows, I would be remiss not to honor it. That’s especially considering it’s perhaps the most similar to First Kill; its premise is a woman-loving-woman romance that starts off explicitly forbidden. Anyone who loves First Kill must check out this goofy, gorgeous web series that came before it.
Now, before we finally sink our teeth into the top seven, we also have to give shoutouts to Netflix’s 2019 series V Wars, the Netflix/BBC One mini-series Dracula from 2020, NBC’s 2013 take on Dracula, and The WB’s 1999-2004 Angel series. In ascending order, here are our top seven shows to binge after your First Kill.
<em>Van Helsing</em>, SyFy 2016-2021
This show took the premise of the eponymous 2004 film and related video game (themselves a spinoff of the original Dracula novel), and revamped it by positioning the titular hero as a female descendant of the Van Helsing. Vanessa Van Helsing, played by Kelly Overton, serves as humanity’s last hope against ever-evolving vampires. Overton’s Vanessa wasn’t the boisterous wise-cracker that most action heroes are today, but she was as badass as a vampire slayer should be, and each of her various comrades-in-battle were uniquely appealing. Satisfying character arcs abounded, friendships and relationships were full of feeling, victories and deaths packed plenty punch. The villains were creepy, and there were multiple queer love stories and other delightfulness to devour. I’m not sure why Van Helsing doesn’t have more love online, but it did well enough to last five seasons, and I firmly believe it deserved all that and more (like better Rotten Tomatoes ratings and an Ivory-Jack spinoff!).
<em>Castlevania</em>, Netflix 2017-2021
This show encompasses not only the vampire genre, but also the adult-suited animated genre that’s booming in television today (I think of Arcane, Harley Quinn, What If…?, The Legend of Vox Machina, and, to an extent, She-Ra). An anime based on a video game series, it focuses on the struggle between a vampire hunter and a Dracula who’s terrorizing mankind in the wake of the murder of his love. Castlevania holds the second-highest Tomatometer score (94 percent) of all the shows on this list, was part of a three-way tie for second-highest IMDB rating (8.3/10), and had the fourth-highest Rotten Tomatoes audience score (89 percent). Its awards recognition is limited to niche organizations, but that’s no surprise given its anime format. It’s also among EW’s list of best of Netflix’s anime offerings, and EW’s Christian Holub declared an obsession for it last year.
<em>What We Do in the Shadows</em>, Hulu/FX 2019 – present
This horror-comedy debuted in 2019 as a successor to the 2015 film of the same name. Three seasons in, What We Do tops almost all the assessment metrics I used — first in Tomatometer score, tied for first in Rotten Tomatoes audience score, and first in IMDB rating. The only category it didn’t win was awards, but it was a very close second. In its first two seasons, it was nominated for several Emmy awards, including 2020 Outstanding Comedy Series. So why isn’t it higher? Well, partly because it’s just not my own cup of tea. It’s stylized as a mockumentary with awkward, dry, fourth wall-breaking humor. It’s The Office, but with a household of weird vampires. However, applying the clearly successful formula of The Office/Parks and Recreation to sci-fi is genius, particularly because it has the potential to bring different audiences together. Namely, folks who don’t usually like sci-fi might find something to love in What We Do. But vampires, in my opinion, are best taken a bit more seriously.
<em>True Blood</em>, HBO 2008 – 2014
In 2008, just as the then-new Twilight film franchise launched a pop culture vampire craze with vampires that sparkled, pined with angst, defied their parents, and went to prom, HBO introduced a very different vampire world — one of adults, with much more grit, gore, and maturity. Both worlds were based on books and both became hits. True Blood was must-see TV. Anna Paquin‘s main character Sookie Stackhouse was the perfect blend of sassy-sweet, and Stephen Moyer‘s Bill Compton was undeniably magnetic. The constant, yet evolving, Sookie-based love triangle was always fun, and the other characters were rich in diversity, representation, badassery, and humor. I would have rated True Blood higher here if the series finale hadn’t been horrendous. As former EW staffer Melissa Maerz wrote in 2014, the finale betrayed the show’s “transgressive fun” and didn’t emphasize the right characters or points. Additionally, to my surprise, True Blood didn’t come close to topping any of my metrics except for awards (e.g., it won a 2009 Emmy for Outstanding Casting in a Drama Series). Nevertheless, it set a high bar for the dark thrills, chills, and steaminess a vampire show should have.
<em>The Originals</em>, The CW 2013-2018
As True Blood ended, The Originals emerged. It was a spinoff of The Vampire Diaries, another series adapted from the page, which cleverly created a happy medium between Twilight’s sugar-coated vampires and True Blood’s gritty approach. But whereas TVD leaned slightly more Twilight with its focus on high school students, The Originals leaned toward True Blood. Featuring vampires who instead of attending school, were concerned with running a city and securing their family’s future, it was more sophisticated than TVD. As EW writer Samantha Highfill wrote after season 1, The Originals exceeded expectations as a spinoff. I even remember initially thinking that it was better than TVD. The characters were somewhat more self-assured, the cast was note-perfect, and something about the relationships felt deeper and less scattered. I rank it just under TVD overall, however, because TVD has superior Rotten Tomatoes scores and because, like True Blood, The Originals‘ final season and episode had some substantially bad plot points. Plus, you have to give credit to what birthed The Originals. Still, I dare any spinoff to be as good as Originals. It even got its own spinoff, Legacies, though that was just canceled after four seasons. RIP.
<em>The Vampire Diaries</em>, The CW 2009 – 2017
As noted, The Vampire Diaries was based off a book series of the same name, and offered a middle ground between Twilight and True Blood. Its early success proved pop culture’s vampire craze was sticking around. EW gave the premiere a B+, and viewers were easily hooked by a relatable heroine in Nina Dobrev‘s Elena Gilbert and the two uniquely magnetic vampire brothers (Ian Somerhalder‘s Damon Salvatore and Paul Wesley‘s Stefan Salvatore) who would vie for her heart. Their love triangle was dynamite, with fans passionately split. Meanwhile, family and friends in the trio’s orbit held their own in charm, romance, and strength. Another likely key to TVD‘s successful eight-season run: blending the vampire craze of the moment with nostalgia in deliciously recalling the essence of late ’90s/early aughts hit teen dramas, like One Tree Hill and executive producer Kevin Williamson’s own Dawson’s Creek. TVD had one of the best series finales of the shows on this list, with satisfying, logical conclusions for most, if not all, characters. For that, and for its ability to lead to two spinoffs, TVD takes the No. 2 spot.
<em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em>, the WB 1997 – 2003
Perhaps it’s cliché, but the vampire show that marks the genre’s best (at least since 1990) is the one that started it all: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Before TVD and now, First Kill, combined high school drama and vampire-hunting, Buffy built that kind of world with its seven seasons. Playing the titular character made Sarah Michelle Gellar a star, and as Buffy slayed monsters, the show dared to slay societal conventions by introducing a queer romance between witchy girl Tara (Amber Benson) and Buffy’s best friend Willow (Alyson Hannigan). Though the relationship had a controversial ending, the duo became permanent icons for the LGBTQ community, adding to Buffy’s lasting cultural legacy.
If I’m being honest, Buffy isn’t my personal favorite on this list – I have several complaints. But when the episodes were good, they were great, and its public reception is unchallengeable. Upon the show’s debut, EW gave it an A-. When EW’s Samantha Highfill did a pandemic first watch, though she, like me, wasn’t immediately hooked, she offered plenty of praise as she progressed through. Buffy tied What We Do in the Shadows for best Rotten Tomatoes audience score (93 percent), was part of the three-way tie for second in the IMDB rating (8.3/10), made the top five for Tomatometer score (84 percent), and received an Emmy win, among other awards recognition. Buffy proved vampires worked for television, and that the winning recipe included a teenage perspective, friendship, romance (including queer love!), humor, and of course, hunky vampires and butt-kicking (especially by a female hero).
First Kill has a different stylistic approach, but it includes all of that. Thus, if the success of Buffy — and the other shows on this list are any indication — there’s a bloody good future ahead for Netflix’s new offering (knock on wood). If you haven’t already watched First Kill or any of its predecessors, take a bite and see how you think they rank. Happy feasting!