Friday, October 23, 2009

True Blood

Despite my affection for all things creepy and spooky, I didn’t really expect much from the HBO series True Blood. It is based on the paranormal romance series by Charlaine Harris, and the romantic part of the paranormal just isn’t for me. A few years ago, someone I know who was into that sort of thing suggested I give them a try, since they weren’t like the rest of the genre. So I started Dead Before Dark, the first book I the series, but quit about 50 pages in. No reflection on the books or Ms. Harris’ ability, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Still, I decided to check out the show when the first season was released on DVD, in part because the producer was Alan Ball, who had written the script for American Beauty and produced the HBO series Six Feet Under.

The series is set in Bon Temps, Louisiana, in an alternate universe where vampires (and other manner of supernatural creatures) exist. Vampires have just come out into the open with the invention of Tru Blood, a synthetic blood substitute which allows them to forego the usual murder-for-survival. Some of the vampires are trying to assimilate into human life, which is met with resistance by many breathing humans. The obvious over-riding metaphor for the series is the gay rights movement, although no one has marketed a de-gaying soft drink yet.

The town of Bon Temps has a friendly neighborhood bar and grill called Merlotte’s, where a young waitress named Sookie Stackhouse works. Sookie is special in her own right, as she can read minds, something she finds to be more of a curse than an asset. Her life changes when a customer comes in whose mind is inaccessible to her – a vampire named Bill (Stephen Moyer). They embark on a romance that causes friction in both vampire and human communities, and get involved in the overarching story line for the season, uncovering a serial killer stalking Bon Temps. There is a major sub-plot involving the fact that a vampire’s blood acts as a drug on humans, leading to addiction problems and a reverse predator situation where some humans drain vampires for profit.

Other notable character include Merlotte’s owner Sam (Sam Trammell), who has secrets of his own, Tara (Rutina Wesley), Sookie’s best friend, Jason (Ryan Kwanten), Sookie’s moronic brother who careens from one catastrophe to another, and the charismatic Eric (Alexander Skarsgård, son of the great Skellan Skarsgård), who serves as the vampire “sheriff” for the region.

[Some Spoilers Follow]

The series didn’t start off well for me. The first episode or two seemed predictable and dull. Bill and Sookie fell for each other too fast, and since it was necessary for the plot for Sookie to save Bill, he is subdued far too easily by a human man and woman. The opening pre-credits sequence featured a brief scene in which the character you think is a vampire turns out not to be, while the character least likely is, which is trite and is pretty much the same as the opening of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer series.

But a few episodes in, things started to work. The characters acquired more than expected depth, with Sookie, rather than being a typical super-hero type, being very human, showing signs of jealousy, anger and petulance which made her seem much more real to me. Bill was not quite the typical mopey vampire sworn never to do harm to a human being, but rather a creature whose first thought when someone he cares about is threatened is to chow down. The series was also willing to have bad things happen to the characters, including killing some off when needed, injecting an element of danger. Pretty soon, I was hooked.

The story line for the season is brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and the whole thing is told with much humor. By the time we reached the end of the final episode of the first season, I was looking forward to the next one. So, if you have been thinking about giving True Blood a try but were afraid it would be too cute, go ahead. You might be surprised.

A trivial note: Stephen Moyer, who plays the main vampire in this series, was also a (rarely-seen) vampire on the great British TV series Ultraviolet.


John Hornor said...

I liked the series, though I still haven't seen the last two episodes of the first season.

You didn't mention the accents. The horrible, horrible accents.

KentAllard said...

I actually liked the accents. A lot of people ragged on Stephen Moyer (Bill) for his accent, but he sounded more in tune with what Southerners supposedly sounded like 150 years ago. And Louisiana has some strange accents anyway. People who grew up along the Irish Channel in New Orleans sound like they come from the Bronx.