TV Catch-Up: True Blood (Seasons 1 & 2)

I can’t believe I haven’t talked about True Blood on my blog before. It’s a dire omission that requires rectifying with me giving a brief taste of my impressions of one of my favourite programmes at the moment. As a fan of genre television, it warms the cockles of my heart that a show about vampires (and other supernatural phenomena) is not only very popular but also critically acclaimed; I also love the fact that the Oscar-winning scriptwriter Alan Ball used his cachet from Six Feet Under to work on a series so awash in such genre trappings, and to loosely adapt a series of books written by Charlaine Harris.

True Blood is set in a world where vampires have come out of the mythological closet to the world, although the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily welcome them. The story is ostensibly about Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a waitress in a bar in Bon Temps, who just happens to be telepathic, and Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), a vampire who was turned during the American Civil War, but it is very much an ensemble piece. There is also Sam Merlotte, owner of the local bar, who also happens to be a shapeshifter; there is Sookie’s slightly dim brother, Jason, who still manages to get all the local girls; Sookie’s best friend, Tara, whose mother is an alcoholic, yet ends up working at Merlotte’s; Tara’s cousin, Lafayette, an outrageously gay cook at Merlotte’s, but also a prostitute and who deals ‘V’, which is vampire blood; Eric, the vampire sheriff of Area 5 of Louisiana, which includes Bon Temps, who is a former Viking warrior, 1,000 years old, and who runs the vampire bar, Fangtasia; and this only scratches the surface.

The relationship between Sookie and Bill is the most important aspect of the series for me, something that Ball tried to emphasise in the first few episodes of the first series: there was a real feeling of ‘magic’ about the emotional connection that is portrayed between the two, to show that this is a relationship you can believe in and root for (something that has leaked out into real life, now that Paquin and Moyer have subsequently married). The two seasons has ups and downs in their courtship – this is a drama, after all – but they all seem like stumbling blocks in the way of a true love, in the best sense of that phrase (or am I just being a romantic?) The story line in the second series of Eric’s plans to get his hooks into Sookie seem to be a stretch to get in the way of an interesting relationship, and I found it slightly irritating and excessive.

The major story line in the first season, apart from the developing relationship and the discovery of the rules of the vampire society (an intriguing idea, having sheriffs to control areas and magistrates above them making judgements, is about a serial killer in the small town of Bon Temps, which is handled very well (although I felt slightly uncomfortable at all the murder of women in the season). The major story line in the second season concerns Maryann (Michelle Forbes), who turns out to be a maenad, a supernatural being who starts to control the inhabitants of Bon Temps in order to sacrifice Sam to Dionysus; the other aspect is about the Fellowship of the Sun, a religious anti-vampire group with a violent agenda. The first season had a straighter plot driving the action, with a wonderful return to cliffhanging endings leaving you wanting more; the second season was a bit more split between the two main plots, and didn’t resolve quite as strongly. The second season also seemed to lose some of its sense of control of the story when it rather clumsily removed the love interest for Tara at the end, as well as eliminating one of the most interesting characters to appear: Godric, a powerful 2,000-year-old vampire who sired Eric and was sheriff of Dallas who volunteered to be a hostage to the Fellowship of the Sun to try to calm the problems between human and vampires, and I would have liked to see more of him.

The most refreshing aspect of this show is the honesty of the sex/nudity and violence involved – vampires are both sexy and vicious, and this show doesn’t hesitate to show both of these with candour. There is a lot of sexy flesh on display, both male and female, and blood is spilt and splashed and drenched and splattered with abandon; it’s exactly what the show needs, and I’m glad HBO are making it so that it didn’t get watered down.

True Blood is a very entertaining series that is extremely well done, well written, well acted and it doesn’t rest on its laurels. As a series, it could just be about the relationship between a vampire and a telepathic Southern waitress, contrasting the modern aspects with the old-fashioned approach of a man nearly 200 years old. However, it includes other aspects – shapeshifting, another telepath, an immortal (?) being with ability to control minds – as well as exploring the world of vampires, such as hotels specifically tailored to vampires, or the fact that Louisiana has a Queen of Vampires. It has great characters (Tara and Lafayette are particularly enjoyable) and enjoys the thrills and spills of a serial entertainment. I look forward to seeing the next season as soon as Channel 4 are allowed to air it.

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