My Babysitter’s a Vampire is a Disney Channel show that is comprised of two seasons and a TV-movie. But that film is nothing more than a 75-minute pilot episode: it introduces all the characters for the show and sets up their world and some of the lore. All-in-all this pilot episode is successful in doing what it is supposed to do, and it seems to have pretty much the ideal length for that.
The show itself – 26 episodes in total – is pretty much structured like the Buffy TV series was: stand-alone episodes with a “monster of the week”; and all loosely connected by some overarching themes or problems (but less so than Buffy). And speaking of Buffy: roughly half the episodes have plots that are more or less heavily inspired by episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – which is actually not a bad thing.
Unfortunately, the show ended on a cliff-hanger after season 2 that will never be resolved as the Disney Channel never ordered a third season of this externally produced show.
The main character, Ethan, is an average teenager, whose interests are more geared towards computer games than sports. His interests are shared by his best friend and neighbour, Benny, who is far less responsible than Ethan, and a bit more goofy.
The school year has only just started, and Ethan and Benny are now freshmen at Whitechapel High School. Ethan’s parents like going out on Friday nights, and as they are not convinced that Ethan is mature enough to babysit his 8-year-old sister, they employ a babysitter – a job that by accident ends up in the hands of Sarah, one of Ethan’s and Benny’s school mates. As they will soon find out, there is more to Sarah than meets the eye….
Vanessa Morgan is struggling a bit with her character, Sarah. The writing often reduces Sarah to a side-kick that has no real character development of her own; and when Sarah actually is involved in some plot-line that would require some real acting, Morgan is “visibly” acting, rather than “becoming“ the character.
The plots centre around Ethan and the supernatural occurrences he stumbles into. Matthew Knight does an outstanding job in the role, often playing the part of the calm eye at the centre of the storm, who has to keep all his less grounded friends and school mates safe (and under control). He has the most screen-time, directly followed by Atticus Mitchell who does an equally good job as Benny. Benny, however, is a character that is slightly too “wacky” at times (at least for a character with that much screen time), and that can affect the performance.
Apart from Ethan, Benny, and Sarah, there are two more prominent characters at school: Rory, an old (and extremely dorky) friend of Ethan and Benny, and Erica, Sarah’s former bestie. Cameron Kennedy and Kate Todd deliver good performances in these (admittedly limited) roles.
Ethan’s sister Jane (portrayed very well by Ella Jonas Farlinger) is also a bit annoying, but mostly because she is not used by the writers in a more useful and competent way.
The production has also chosen very good actors for Ethan’s parents (Ari Cohen and Laura de Carteret), and the characters are written in a warm and loving manner while giving them just enough screen-time to establish the characters without allowing them to rob time or focus from the plot.
The high quality of the cast is not limited to the main characters and the main supporting roles, but extends down to even the smallest roles.
The teachers are all cast very well, including Hrant Alianak as principal and Richard Waugh as vice-principal. Especially enjoyable is the recurring character of Mr G, a sort-of new-agey, neo-hippie type of teacher. Ryan Blakely’s performance in that role is outstanding. Enjoyable guest-appearances of the highest quality (for one episode only) include Teresa Pavlinek as drama-teacher; Scott Yaphe as ice-hockey coach; Bindi Irwin as a very friendly and bubbly Australian exchange pupil; and Georgina Reilly as a living doll.
The chemistry between the various characters also mostly works on the show. But there is a problem with the relationship between Sarah and Ethan – the quality of that relationship sometimes seems to change from one episode to the next, without explanation. I know that the Disney Channel aired the episodes of season 1 out of order, but the problem is far greater in season 2 where such a disorder in the broadcasting apparently did not occur. So I guess the blame has to go to the show-runners who were unable to “synchronise” the 8 directors and 16 writers that seem to have been involved during the show’s 26 episodes.
Another thing that bothers me a bit in this franchise is that there are slightly too many characters “in-the-know” about the supernatural world. Apart from the monsters, of course, these are Ethan, Benny, Sarah, Rory, Erica, Benny’s grandmother, and possibly Ethan’s sister Jane. That group size, and the badly-written character of Benny’s grandmother, threaten to tip the whole balance from a “believable fictional world” over to the silly side and makes the show more childish than it needs to be. The grandmother character also damages the core element of the show: teenagers having to deal with the supernatural without their parents knowing.
I believe that the main reason for the existence of this all-seeing, all-knowing character is the fact that the writers frequently need to employ her as a source of information (or solution) in order to move the narrative along. It is basically a way of cramming a plot into the show’s short 22 minutes. If the lead characters would have to slowly discover all sorts of things and connections by themselves you would need Buffy’s 44 minutes….
Through this usage, the grandmother character frequently turns into a Deus Ex Machina, which makes this character the most unbelievable in the whole show – which is saying a lot in a show with vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc. For me, the grandmother character is infinitely annoying – but none of this is the fault of Joan Gregson, the actress playing the grandmother.
I already mentioned the (generally) strong cast and strong characters. Another bit asset of My Babysitter’s a Vampire is its writing. While the 22-minute short plots do not amount to much, the humour and the dialogue do stand out. This is not only thanks to the writers, but also thanks to Atticus Mitchell, whose character carries most of the funny lines and who has a very good sensibility for timing and delivery.
As far as the contents are concerned, the show uses most of the known genre ingredients: zombies, werewolves, spirits, etc., and it repeatedly pokes fun at the Twilight franchise through a fictional franchise called “Dusk”. It is a comedic show with a high school setting, and there are a lot of similarities with the early seasons of Buffy. Not just because of the heavily borrowed plots (as mentioned above), but also because of the general environment and the social interactions at school.
Stylistically, there is very little to talk about. Most of the practical and special effects are good for TV, with the exception of a bunch of alligator in one episode, which looked decidedly rubbery and styro-foamy. Thematically, the franchise stays true to the old adage that teenage-centric monster films/shows work as a metaphore for puberty. So the old link between vampirism and sexuality is also there. This kids show is aimed a pre-teens and not necessarily suitable for younger children, especially since it can be surprisingly scary at times. But, as a general rule, I assume that anyone over the age of 9 should be absolutely fine with the contents of this show. Just think of it as a show that is suitable for all those kids that you deem two to three years too young to watch season 1 of Buffy.
I’d give the franchise as a whole roughly a 7.0 to 7.5 rating (out of 10). So I recommend this show if you have children at home who might enjoy it. But adults can also enjoy it, so why not check out some trailers or clips and see if you like them.
PS: The pilot TV-movie has been marketed separately on DVD. Depending on your Region, etc., a Season 1 DVD box set may or may not include the pilot. So in case you decide to buy DVDs, make sure to check so that you do not accidentally buy the pilot twice (or end up not having bought the pilot at all).