by Brad Nelson 2/13/16
Here’s another HBO soap opera, spiced up by liberal amounts of T&A whose point, one might suppose, is to disguise the fact that you are indeed watching a glorified soap opera.
In reviewing this, I take the chance of furthering the goals of Sodom and Gomorrah, for this series will never be confused with Touched by an Angel. This series is the culmination of everything good, bad, and ugly about our entertainment culture. Religion is a mere caricature and mocked regularly. The liberal agenda is clear and ever-present. Homosexuals (particularly black ones) are wise, fun-loving, and just plain chic while white Christians and Southerners of nearly every kind are mocked as stereotypes of stupid.
At times the show is clever. Rather, I should say that at its best the show is clever with a light and pleasing campiness enlivening what otherwise would be a depressing show about lots of blood being let by vampires. Occassionally you are treated to some interesting sci-fi, the what-if scenario being “What if vampires were real and came out of the shadows to live openly with humans?”
Foremost in this scenario is the “vampires equal oppressed gays” shtick which is obvious and ever-present. But this series is either smart or dumb, for it’s difficult to gauge the multicultural intent. Is this indoctrination or a clever mocking of the “acceptance” shtick? In the end, this “vampires equal yet another oppressed minority” theme is undermined because the vampires are, at the end of the day (quite literally given their aversion to sunlight), monsters. Whether this all works out to be pro-homosexual propaganda might be up for grabs.
But this is first and foremost a plot-raging soap opera. So when watching this series, there is a whole bunch of spaghetti being thrown at the wall to see what sticks. You’ll need a neck brace for all the twists and turns. This series is based upon a book and I’ve read that the producers have stuck closely to the book, so perhaps the faults are inherently with the author.
But like many HBO series, it seems the boredom of the producers (or authors) have them pitching the characters in this fantastic direction or the next, just to move the plot along as if it was a boat that would grow debilitating barnacles without constant sloshing. The smart (and interesting) development of the vampire universe too often gives way to irrelevancies. It’s like shifting from the “The X-Files” to “I Love Lucy” at a moment’s notice.
If all this doesn’t sound like much praise for this series, you are right. It’s a diamond in the rough in many respects. Some entire story arcs (such at the really head-poundingly stupid one of the Maenad, played incompetently and blandly by the actress who played Ensign Ro in Star Trek: The Next Generation) are forgettable. Others, such as the interesting, if improbable, growing love affair between the series’ two main characters, dumb-blonde Sookie and suave Southern-gentleman Vampire Bill, make for good TV.
When the show is advancing this sci-fi “what-if” world of vampires becoming (apparently) mainstream, as well as the various side-effects of this (such as the drug, “V,” which is derived from Vampire blood), it’s interesting. Regress your mind to that of the typical unwashed masses who regard body tattoos as high art and you can enjoy some of the characters including everyone’s favorite flaming magic homosexual (as in “magic negro”), Lafayette, played with surprising skill and subtlety by Chris Bauer.
Sam Merlotte (played, again, with surprising subtlety for this kind of series) is a good character as the owner of the local bar which is the jumping-off point for much of the action. Sookies’ brother, Jason Stackhouse, plays a hilarious mimbo (male bimbo). At times (everything is “at times” in this series) he’s fed some hilarious lines. At other times they cram more camp into him than anyone can be asked to hold. He’s clearly comic relief as well as taking part in more than his share of T&A.
“My other brother Darryl” from the old Newhart show plays a small role as the sheriff. The designated “Character so annoying you hope she is killed off soon” is that of Tara Thornton, played well by Rutina Wesley. She is comic relief for the first season but then devolves into just being annoying. I’ve watched only the first two seasons, so part of my motivation for watching more is the hope she that is killed off. Death is a common occurrence in this series.
But center stages goes to the dumb blonde waitress employed by Sam Merlotte — Sookie Stackhouse — and Vampire Bill who has moved into the old Compton house not far from where Sookie lives. Bill is the last surviving (of sorts…for a dead guy) Compton. And when the show is good, it features scenes such as Bill volunteering to give a talk to a local Civil War group of his first-hand accounts in that war. (Bill was turned during the Civil War and hasn’t aged a day since then.) Compared to today’s men, Bill is suave, debonair, well-dressed, well-mannered, and decidedly a magnet to chicks as the bad-boy. How could love not blossom?
Bill is attempting to go “mainstream” and live openly, and peaceably, amongst humans. This is made possible, so the series states, because some clever Japanese company has invented “Tru:Blood” (All flavor, no bite), a dietary replacement for human blood. It doesn’t taste as good as human blood but has all the essentials for maintaining good vampire death.
Sookie has absolutely no fear of vampires and has some “special skills” of her own. Because she sees herself as yet another societal outcast (aren’t we all these days?), she has sympathy for BEE-oohl (that’s the Southern pronunciation of “Bill” which you’ll quickly become familiar with…all two syllables of it).
For his part, Bill does seem to be a sincere vampire just trying to “evolve” past the (apparently) unnecessarily stagnant, vulgar, and violent culture of the typical vampire (that is, BEE-oohl is a progressive). I understand that things become a bit more complicated in later seasons. But this is the Bill presented in the first two seasons or so.
So, if you don’t mind a little T&A (a lot, really…I find it a payoff for sitting through some of the stupid stuff), plenty of sexual situations, bad language, and the general mainstreaming of gutter culture, then you will like True Blood. There are many clever, even charming, aspects to it. But you have to pick your way around the moronic ones as well. And the entire series is fairly dark. Still, when watched from the standpoint of science fiction with a little (a lot, really) soap opera thrown in, it’s a nice diversion.
Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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