By Paula R. Stiles
Having sudden access to free HBO for three months this summer, I decided to find out what the brouhaha was all about and check out True Blood. Written by Alan Ball, creator of Six Feet Under, a series I could take or leave, it had been lauded up, down and sideways as smart and scary, groundbreaking and all that.
Well, it does pass the time for the most part; I’ll give it that. The title sequence has a great song (“I wanna do bad things with you,” indeed), and is totally OTT and overripe in a way that is in your face a little too much, but that promises juicy, ’70s-style exploitation. Which is okay. The setting is definitely intriguing – a small town called “Bon Temps” (Good Times) in Louisiana in a USA where vampires live openly with humans – though the idea of vampires as stand-ins for both gays and a racial minority is less so. Especially not when the African-Americans in the story are just window dressing or sidekicks and the only truly proactive characters seem to be both non-human (be they vampire, shapeshifter or maenad) and blindingly white. For example, the storyline where sassy-but-damaged Tara (Rutina Wesley) found herself with a new love and a real maternal role model (who gradually turned into a malignant pied piper) started out interesting and creepy. Too bad Tara ended up an extra in her own storyline.
There were other things that I found intriguing, but they either went as quickly as they came or they never happened. The romance between vampire Jessica and human Hoyt was sweet and romantic, so naturally, I knew they’d find a way to screw it up. The Vampire Queen of Louisiana, with her love of gay boys and Yahtzee, felt thrown in at the last minute. I got the feeling that the things I would have liked to have seen more of (like the ancient vampire Godric (Allan Hyde) or the whole thing about people dealing in vampire blood) were either throwaways, red herrings, or had already been explored in season one. But I didn’t care enough about the characters to want to hunt up season one.
The confusingly-large cast of characters and situations masked for a while that the season ultimately boiled down to just two important plots. One involved the mysterious woman, Maryanne (Michelle Forbes), who came to town and promptly and insidiously began to seduce all of the townspeople, first with her hippy ways and then with black magic employed during a series of orgies that seemed to involve the entire town. These orgies quickly got tedious as more and more blood and boobies got thrown at the screen to hide the fact that this plot came to a screeching halt early on. It could have been resolved within a few episodes instead of taking all season. It didn’t help that the only people who seemed to notice what was going on were either totally ineffectual (shapeshifting bartender Sam (Sam Trammell) and Tara’s cousin Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis)) or too dumb or indifferent to notice (the show’s dimbulb waitress heroine Sookie (Anna Paquin) and all of the vampires).
The second plotline involved Sookie, her brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten), her vampire lover Bill (Stephen Moyer) and his rival Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) ending up in Dallas in the middle of a plot by a right-wing religious cult to kill vampires. I suppose the only consolation about the really ham-handed portrayal of the cult was that they weren’t the inevitable Islamic terrorists you see all over television and movies these days. No, they were just Christian caricatures. And Dallas was so dully portrayed as a series of boring hotel rooms and basements that it could as easily have been Los Angeles or Vegas. For a show whose premise is so firmly set in the South, True Blood doesn’t do a very original job of portraying the geography or culture.
But no matter. This plotline wasn’t really as important as it looked on the surface, anyway. The intriguing and powerful Godric (who promptly committed suicide for no particularly-good reason almost as soon as we met him) and the potentially intriguing idea of anti-vampire terrorists who were bad guys instead of good guys were all a distraction for the tedious “love” triangle between Sookie, Bill and Eric. And the excuse for sending them all to Dallas? Really nothing more than getting the only people likely to be able to stop Maryanne out of Bon Temps so the season could last 13 episodes instead of six. Not helping is that the revelation about Maryanne’s true nature left me underwhelmed. Yes, let’s just take an Ancient Greek concept that was the epitome of deadly female power (separate from men) and make it an excuse for equal-opportunity orgies. Okay. Um, no.
There is a lot of fanwank about how “sexy” the love triangle is between Sookie, Bill and Eric, and how “hot” Eric is. I have to admit, it leaves me cold. It’s not just that Sookie is as dumb as a box of rocks, Bill is boring and Eric…well, I just don’t get the attraction, sorry. It’s also that the vampire love triangle romance is the least-original thing they could do with this premise. A love triangle between a girl and two vampire guys is not even remotely original at this point. The book version of The Vampire Diaries did it better (yes, Elena is a high-riding bitch, but she’s a smart and interesting bitch). I don’t care about seeing Anna Paquin’s boobies and I saw as much of Jensen Ackles in Supernatural‘s episode “Route 666” on regular network television as I saw of any of the guys on True Blood on HBO. If you’re going to try to persuade me to pay money for a premium network, you have to offer me something more than blood and boobs.
True Blood seems to suffer from the same problems as other HBO productions. It begins with an intriguing premise and quickly chickens out by giving the audience gore and nudity (usually female nudity) instead of pushing the storytelling envelope. I feel as though the title sequence promises me good, old-fashioned exploitation and the show delivers warmed-over paranormal romance, instead. False advertising, HBO. False advertising.
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