Blood, Sex, and Vampires: Review of HBO’s True Blood Season One

Of all the fantasy monsters out there, to me, vampires are the most mundane. They’re just kind of boring. Okay, so not “kind of” boring. Really boring. With an extra dose of boring on top of that.

I don’t know if it’s the idea of the monster itself or the fact that our culture has defaulted to the vampire as the go-to creepy, crawly, night bumper or what, but I generally can’t get interested in any kind of story based around vampire mythos. Sorry, Twilight, but it’s not just ignorantly subversive, hack writing that put me off of you and the ridiculous phenomenon you helped spawn.

There are some stories like 30 Days of Night that take a unique angle on vampires (where better than Alaska with its months long nights for the creatures to stalk?) or Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files where succubi and incubi are considered “White Court” vampires who feed on psychic energy, making the blood sucking and grave dwelling only a part of the mythos. I can get into that because it’s not the done-to-death Boris Karloff/Bram Stoker/OMG GOTH kind of vampires.

True Blood It was shortly after I read Twilight that I heard about HBO’s series True Blood. I had heard of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse The Southern Vampire Mysteries books, but I had no idea they were anything other than generic teenie-bopper OMG GOTH vampire stories, and I didn’t expect the television series based on them to be anything but the same. So I avoided it.

But the strange thing was, True Blood was getting good reviews. I have a very close friend who, God love him, will read anything under the sun, even if he’s heard it’s crap. He enjoyed Twilight (the books and the movie!), so when he gave True Blood and its precursor novels a positive review, I scoffed. But he told me that it was completely different and to not let my bias against vampire fiction dissuade me from watching the series and eventually reading the novels. And then I started seeing people who were fans of Twilight or from the OMG GOTH crowd giving it positive marks; these were people who shy away from the ridiculously vampire saturated corner of pop culture.

I thought there might be something to it. And since I’ve been in the mood lately for new TV lately, I decided to splurge at Best Buy yesterday and buy the Season 1 DVD set. It’s been roughly a day since I bought it, and I’m already over halfway done with it. I love it. I’m working on this post late at night, and I am contemplating staying up all night to finish the season since I don’t have to be at work until early afternoon tomorrow.

True Blood reminds me of why I fell in love with Battlestar Galactica years ago. Even though I love sci-fi, BSG never concentrated on the SF elements; it was a military drama that just happened to take place in outer space. I feel that way about True Blood; it’s an ensemble drama that just happens to be set in a world with vampires.

The supernatural aspects of the show are obviously prevalent, but I never feel that they’re the most important part of the narrative. The show has the obvious metaphor of the “Vampire Rights Act” standing for racial/sexual equality, but beyond that, the arc really follows the individual characters and their interpersonal relationships. There are a lot of connections and subplots, and True Blood makes me care about each and every one. I feel bad for Sam and his unrequited love for Sookie. I feel bad for Sookie in that she is sympathetically telepathic. I honestly wonder if I would have done any differently to Sookie’s uncle who abused her than Bill did were I in his position. I empathize with Tara and her bad self-esteem that makes her constantly at odds with authority. I even feel bad for Rene for having to deal with the shrieking Arlene, even though he obviously loves her.

Going in, I forgot who Anna Paquin was. I knew she was someone I liked, but the connection with her name and Rogue from X-Men never happened. So I was pleasantly surprised when the pilot started, and I saw who was playing the wonderfully named Sookie Stackhouse. I am also amazed at how much she’s grown as an actress. I am consistently impressed with her performance in all the episodes I’ve seen so far. She’s never gone out of character for me, and even though I see Rogue when I look at her, I never think she’s not Sookie. Does that make sense?

But it wasn’t Anna Paquin who sold me on the show. No, it was Rutina Wesley whose portrayal of Tara Thornton (Sookie Stackhouse’s best friend) who stole the spotlight. I’m a sucker for a great supporting character (Paul Giametti is one of my favorite actors, after all, and his starring roles aren’t nearly as interesting as his side parts, but that’s another essay for another time). When she was first introduced, I thought she was a bad actress with an annoyingly put-on Southern accent, but the more I watched, the more I realized she was a fantastic actress and her accent was absolutely perfect for the character. Her voice is entirely unique, and she’s an absolutely beautiful woman. On top of all that, her character might be one of the deepest and most complex in the series, especially given her on-again/off-again relationship with her alcoholic mother. I haven’t read the books, but with the show’s penchant for killing off characters, I really, really, really hope Tara is around for the long haul.

Tara also delivers one of my favorite lines in the show when she’s talking about her fictitious mercenary husband to keep a guy away from her at a party: “He shot this one guy in the nuts just for buying me a CD.” If that doesn’t make you love her, nothing will.

Living in a rural Southern town my entire life has made me incredibly sensitive to the “just because you have a Southern accent, you have to be stupid” stereotype that most of the mainstream media latches onto. I have both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in English from Tennessee and Alabama respectively, and I can’t count time times I’ve been mocked by people who tell me they’re worthless because no one knows how to “talk English” in the South.

I do like how the town of Bon Temps, Louisiana is a rural Southern town that is not inundated with ignorant Southern stereotypes. Sure, there are a few bad accents thrown around, but overall, the town itself is not a symbol for ignorance. It’s refreshing to see a show as popular as True Blood not perpetuate anything absurd about the South. Sure, it shows there are ignorant bigots in the South, but they’re everywhere. Just because True Blood takes place in Louisiana instead of New York doesn’t mean people are automatically more ignorant, bigoted, or some cosmically absurd combination of both. I appreciate the show for actually approaching Bon Temps as a community rather than a caricature.

True Blood O Negative On the other side of things? Bill Compton, man, you’re a little too brooding and a little too OMG GOTH for me. I’m sure all the Twilight fangirls (and I do use the term to describe the male cross-section of Twilight fandom, too) think he’s dark and mysterious for all the same reasons that make Edward Cullen irresistible. Unfortunately, real human beings generally think that much melodrama can lead to poor relationships and mundane television. I can’t help but like the character when he’s “mainstreaming” (the in-world term for a vampire living among humans) or talking about his past, but he seems like he’s trying too hard when he’s all glowery and vampirific.

The effects are nothing special, and I’m okay with that. A few jerky camera shots here, some slo-mo there, and you have the vampires and their powers. It’s not an actions series, so the few action scenes in it are acceptable.

And if I were Charlaine Harris, I would sue the pants off Stephenie Meyer. Harris’ novels came out four years before Twilight, but the conventions are incredibly similar in that there’s a telepathic character (in True Blood, it’s the girl instead of the vampire, as in Twilight) who falls in love with someone he/she can’t mind read and considers it relief from the mental traffic he/she normally deals with. And as a side effect of the telepathic immunity, the girl’s blood tastes better than other humans to this particular vampire. Coincidence, plagiarism, or just another reason that vampire fiction all seems the same to me?

There’s a lot of sex in True Blood; however, I’ve come to expect that from an HBO show. After all, one has to do something to earn the right to be on a premium network. The overall story of the show could probably do for a little less explicit sexuality and nudity, but I’ve yet to be offended by it—even by the “fangbanging” scenes (humans getting bitten/eaten during sexy-time with vampires). Occasionally, the sexual content advances the story (such as when Sam and Tara begin a casual fling or when Jason Stackhouse gets high on vampire blood—also referred to as simply “V”—and brings home a girl that seems like she has the potential to tame the man-whore), but most often it’s just kind of there. It’s not overpowering, and it’s not really offensive. If it ever gets to the point where it detracts from the narrative, I’ll complain, but until then, it’s an element that, for once, I’m actually pretty apathetic toward.

Overall, I’m a huge fan of the series, and I look forward to seeing how it plays out over the next few seasons. I wish it were possible for me to already have Season 2, but unfortunately, S2 is just now airing on HBO, so that means I have a while to wait to get my fix. If only HBO would make friends with Hulu so I could get even more wonderful, free entertainment from the aliens in my computer box.

And given that I’ve heard the novels are even better than the show, I have a few credits that I’ve not used on Audible.com I’m thinking of using to pick up the first of The Southern Vampire Mysteries since I’m almost done with my current audiobook (Ringworld by Larry Niven, if anyone cares). I don’t know if I want to completely absorb myself in a single franchise right now, but with as much as I’ve enjoyed the short first season of the television series, I can only imagine how much I will enjoy the much lengthier series of novels.

Comments

  1. Tamara L. Waters

    Yes, the books are sooo much better than the series – but I love the series too. Apparently others agree because the stuff I write about True Blood and the books are huge page view earners!

  2. Ben Miller

    Good review. I was introduced to the books a long while back when a friend was getting me into the Hamilton/Butcher alternate world type stuff. I was impressed with Sookie as a character in the books then, and have enjoyed Anna paquin's performance in the show.

    I love the use of the term "mainstreaming" in the show. It seems to me that Vampires have become too Mainstream in Our world, and are losing the creepiness that makes them interesting as a device. *shrug*

  3. Beej

    There are some things I am curious about that I've not really been able to dig up.

    How closely does the series follow the novels? Are events often changed for adaptation, is it relatively faithful to the novels, is it faithful only in spirit rather than literal fidelity?

    And how is each novel/season split up? Like does the first season parallel the first novel, the second season paralleling the second novel, and so on and so forth.

  4. Ben Miller

    Having only read the first four books, I can say that the show is definately using the plot of the book as a season long plot. First Season ended in pretty much the same place as the same book, with the cliffhanger being the beginning to the second book.

    They are more faithful to the spirit of the novels than the literal events. Tara was not in the first book, she came in the second one if I recall correctly. And I'd answer more but it would spoil it for you.

  5. We Fly Spitfires - MMORPG Blog

    I think the series has just started airing on some minor channel in the UK. I saw the trailer for it and it looked quite appealing. I agree that Vampires and seem pretty mundane at the moment (Zombies are where it's at) but that doesn't mean they can't be great. Anyone remember the shows Forever Knight or Kindred: The Embraced? They were kinda bad in a good sort of way 🙂

  6. Beej

    You should definitely check it out, especially if it's just airing. It's one of the best shows I've seen in a long time. I am really hankering for season 2.

    I seem to recall Kindred, though I don't know why.

  7. Robert Kuang

    Tara is one of my favorite characters of all time. The first season really portrays her as a complicated…bitch? It's rare but it happens. Lafayette is also another unusual combination of strong versus feminine.

    I hope you enjoy the second season. I would ask you to talk about Jason Stackhouse, but you would have to watch it to figure out why…