True Blood is one of the most all-round entertaining shows I’ve seen in a while. It has everything – sex, death, humour, horror, the supernatural, a serial killer, prejudice, telepathy, violence, shocking moments and tension. It’s an impressive achievement, especially when you consider it’s about vampires; Alan Ball (the creator of Six Feet Under and writer of American Beauty, not the squeaky-voiced English footballer who became Manchester City manager, thus inspiring the greatest football chant in the world: ‘Maybe, we should have got Liam Brady, but after all, you’re my Alan Ball’, sung to the tune of Wonderwall) has done a wonderful job of adapting a book into an entertaining, (relatively) mainstream drama about a love story between a telepath and a vampire.
In the world of True Blood, vampires not only exist but have recently come out to the world, saying that they should have various rights, especially as they don’t need to drink human blood to survive (they can survive on the artificial version, Tru Blood, available to buy at the local convenience store). However, the prejudice between humans and vampires is still strong, especially as these vampires are mostly the vampires of the Dracula version – they are faster and stronger than humans, they burn in sunlight, they can ‘glamour’ humans, they can be controlled with silver, and they sprout fangs when they want to feed on humans for their blood. This is an interesting enough set-up for a show, but then we meet the star: Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a young woman working as a waitress at a bar in Bon Temps, Louisiana, who can hear people’s thoughts, meaning she’s not had a boyfriend for very long (hearing their horny thoughts is off-putting). She falls in love instantly with Bill Compton (Steve Moyer, who does a great job on the accent; I would never have guessed he was English), a vampire who was turned during the Civil War and who is ‘mainstreaming’ – mixing with humans and surviving on Tru Blood; he reciprocates the feeling. This moment is conveyed beautifully – it should be cheesy, but the acting and the production as their eyes meet and emotions run over their faces to swelling music is genuinely believable and magical. It should be noted that Paquin and Moyer are now engaged in real life.
If this wasn’t enough for a series, there is the additional element of a serial killer, who seemingly only kills women, and women who have been involved with Sookie’s dim but buff brother, Jason, who is a ladies’ man with a total lack of self-awareness. This is the storyline that covers this first season, although it becomes relegated to a lesser sub-plot at later stages of the season when there are other storylines to consider. And there is a lot happening in this series – there is ‘V’, the latest drug of choice, which happens to be vampire blood; there’s the background to the vampire hierarchy in the region, when we meet the vampire sheriff, who owns the local vampire bar where humans flock; there is the mystery of Sam, the owner of Merlotte’s bar where Sookie works (and for whom Sam holds a torch); there is the politics involved as vampires try to acquire their rights, and the religious groups who oppose them; not to mention the ‘exorcism’ of another character’s alcoholic mother. You keep coming back each episode because there is a great cliffhanger at the end of each of the episodes before the finale (and even the finale sets up things for the next series), something that very few programmes are able to do well any more.
The other aspect that is impressive is the characters – there are a lot of people in this show but each one is a fully rounded individual who plays an important part in the show. The best supporting character is Tara, Sookie’s best friend since they were children; she is a force of nature who also happens to get the majority of the best lines, doesn’t stand for any shit, speaks up for herself at every opportunity, and unfortunately still holds a torch for Jason even though he doesn’t see her that way, despite the fact that she is gorgeous (interestingly, the character in the book was white but Ball changed her to a black character, which incensed fans of the books, but they should get over themselves because Tara is fantastic). There is Tara’s cousin, Lafayette, a large gay black man who works as a chef in the bar, who is a hustler on the side and also deals in V to a small clientèle, and who also doesn’t take any shit – he shouts ‘Who ordered the Aids burger?’ in the bar when encountering some homophobic rednecks. There is bar owner Sam, with his mystery; Jason, who makes us almost care about an egotistic, racist, homophobic, prejudiced redneck idiot; there is a great turn from Stephen Root as a gay, introverted vampire who provides the vampire blood for Lafayette; and the wonderfully schizoid character of Amy (played by Lizzy Caplan, who I finally recognised as the ‘nerdy’ friend of Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls), a seemingly hippy girl who Jason falls for, before she shows her steelier side when they kidnap Root’s character for his blood. All of these are believable and three-dimensional, and they’re not event the two main characters, who are more than the description of ‘telepath’ or ‘vampire’.
Then there is the sex. Vampire stories are about sex, obviously, but True Blood admits it and includes lashings of nudity and sex, while still being sexy. This is a very adult drama – the language is full of expletives, there is a lot of blood and gore (sometimes very shocking), and there is death as well. An aside: the only troubling factor about the whole show is the murders of the women; I know that it probably was the storyline from the book, and there is a reason for it, but it felt slightly unpleasant that the deaths of women was the central plot device. However, True Blood is an excellent piece of quality drama, as you would expect from HBO, but what’s even better is that it is firmly in the supernatural section of the entertainment market. I can’t wait until Channel 4 starts showing the second series.