Monday, May 25, 2009

True Blood – Season 1 – Review

season 1 box setDirected by: various

First aired: 2008

Contains spoilers

One of the really silly things about staggered international releases is that you can get to see things before their release in your own country. When it comes to bigger movies this is really silly – there should be one international cinema release date and one international DVD release date. Just my opinion.

Of course it gets a little more difficult with TV shows, if no station in one country has picked up the rights. However, with a show as classy as this – and now you know the direction the review is going to go in – you’d have thoughts the rights would have been picked up without waiting 12 or so months. So it is that I have the region 1 box set of this before it has even got onto UK TV.

True Blood is an Alan Ball creation based on the novels by Charlaine Harris. Now I have read as far as the novel Dead as a Doornail and fully intend to catch up with the rest of the series at some point. Before we go on, however, let us cover some of the online criticism I have read. I read it doesn’t follow the books exactly, changing events and characters – this is true and… so, what. The series treads a masterful line between taking what it needs and adapting aspects for a tele-visual medium. It is also pointed out that the TV series is more (blatantly) sexual than the books. No bad thing, it is an adult series and has sex, violence and gore… after all it is HBO. Finally I read a complaint about the accents, believe me… for someone not from the Southern States it sounded fine to me.

Tru:BloodSo the basic concept is that after the Japanese invented a synthetic blood there was an event called the revealing in which vampires, around the globe, revealed themselves to humanity and said that they were real but they were not a threat. This led to violence in some places, persecution in others and many sought asylum in America. This series is set two years after that when the American politicians debate the Vampire Rights Amendment and stores and bars stock the vampire nutrient drink Tru:Blood.

Sookie runs through the graveyardIn Bon Temps, Louisiana lives Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) she is a waitress in Marlotte’s Bar and she is also telepathic. She spends most of her energy trying to keep people’s thoughts out of her head and, as a result of her ability, she is often thought to be mentally challenged and a little strange. When a vampire, Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer who was also a vampire in Ultraviolet), comes into the bar Sookie is excited to meet her first vampire. Unfortunately he also meets the Rattrays.

removing the silverSookie overhears their thoughts and realises that they intend to drain Bill. In this world vampire blood is a potent drug and v-juice, as it is known, is both addictive and worth a lot of money. The vampires have tried to keep its nature off the radar as much as they can, so whilst it is known to be a high its medicinal properties are not common knowledge. The Rattrays overpower Bill with silver – which is one of the vampire myths that proves true – but Sookie saves him. It is the beginning of their relationship. Sookie and Bill develop an emotional relationship but it is true that he is fascinated by her telepathic abilities and she is attracted to the fact that she cannot read his thoughts, he being dead.

Sookie and BillThe reaction of the rest of the town is mixed. Sookie’s grandmother (Lois Smith) is supportive and, as a civil war enthusiast, fascinated to meet someone whose family helped found Bon Temps and fought in the war with the confederates. Her friend Tara (Rutina Wesley) is wary but has her own demons to contend with. Her boss Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) is pro-vampire rights but seems to have a view akin to equal but separate (he even states that they can be more equal so long as they remain separate) – equality is an underlying theme of the show.

a vampire in Bon TempsHer brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is, as Sookie describes, somewhat of a ‘horn dog’ and is more concerned about having sex. However he seems squeamish when he discovers that some girls he sleeps with have slept with vampires and when they start turning up dead, strangled, suspicion turns on him. It becomes clear that there is a serial killer living in Bon Temps, targeting fang bangers – as vampire lovers are known – and Sookie is on the killer's radar.

Alexander Skarsgård as EricWe do meet other vampires including a nest, associates of Bill who live together. Bill informs Sookie that vampires in nests tend to become more evil/sociopathic then those who mainstream – which is what Bill is doing. Through these we hear that Hepatitis D is the only blood born illness that will affect a vampire – causing approximately a month of weakness. We also meet Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård) – Sheriff of the area (in other words in charge by vampire custom) and owner of the bar Fangtasia, plus his staff. Our look into vampire culture shows us that many vampires do deem themselves a superior species to ‘blood sacks’.

in the sunLore wise we discover that vampires do cast reflections and that they are not affected by holy items – ironic given the discriminatory undertones. Garlic merely irritates them. Bill suggests that much of what people know was invented by the vampires in an act of smoke and mirrors. Bill suggests that some vampires can transform into animals – though he cannot and we never see the truth of this – though shapeshifters generally are a part of the True Blood universe. Sunlight is a killer, however, burning the vampire. Vampires must be invited into a home and must leave if the invitation is recinded.

stakedA vampire who dies, presumably through sunlight and definitely through fire or staking, turns into gunk. Indeed I was most impressed with the staking effects. The recent fashion has been to turn to ash. In True Blood the vampires vomit blood from their system and then melt into gunk. It is totally gory and leaves a nice obvious mess behind. On a positive side, for the vampires, they have the power of glamour – eye mojo to you and I – though Sookie is immune to this. Turning involves draining, feeding their blood, burying the new vampire with the maker (as the sire is known) so that he or she can share their lifeforce with the new vampire in a process the vampires themselves do not fully understand.

God hates FangsI mentioned that this is primarily a show about discrimination and some have suggested that the vampires are symbolic of either ethnic groups who are discriminated against or the gay community. I don’t believe this to be true, race issues and sexuality issues are tackled in their own right. If anything the vampires show us that anyone perceived different can face discrimination but overall this is about the discrimination meted out by fundamental religion – hence in the credits the “God Hates Fangs” sign that is based on “God Hates Fags” and the negative and wrong thinking messages of such groups as the Westboro Baptist Church. Indeed the Fellowship of the Sun, the anti-vampire group, is clearly an evangelical Christian group hence the irony of the fact that holy symbols do not harm or ward the vampires.

eye for an eye, tooth for a toothThe show does cover other issues, however, including corrupt politicians and drug abuse and addiction. Amy (Lizzy Caplan), a girl and V addict that Jason meets and falls for, at one point suggests that “Nothing is real... everything is permitted”, a slightly corrupted quote of the philosophy espoused by the Hassan-I Sabbah and the hashshashin in the novel Alamut. She uses this to rationalise a selfish and, suggested, psychopathic or perhaps sociopathic lifestyle. Incidentally the vampires, in their own closed society, tend to have an eye for eye, tooth for tooth mentality.

Angelina adopts vampire babyA cracking show with some of the best opening credits I have seen in a long time – the song Bad Things by Jace Everett is just wonderful. The acting is strong throughout and the show itself carries some wonderful referential moments, be it Sookie running through a graveyard in a nightdress that was a nod to all films Gothic in nature, to her grandmother reading a Charlaine Harris novel or even the National Inquiry front page that suggested that Angelina Jolie had adopted a vampire baby. There is a black humour permeating the show - a highlight was when Jason overdosed on V-juice, leading to... well I won't spoil the joke.

Worth going out of your way for. 8 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Gabriel said...

Hey Andy,

*Possible spoilers*

I am a big fan of the book series, just read the latest book this week #9 DEAD AND GONE and they just keep getting better and better. Think I had read Club Dead when the series started and even though the changed some characters slightly and introduced new ones I find that the series was quite spot on with the spirit of the books, and even though Anna Paquin doesn't sport the literary cleavage of her character's counterpart though she has the pizzaz, attitude and quirkiness of her character, afterall she won a Golden Globe for the role!

I am looking forward to season 2 on the 14th of June! (not long!) based on the 2nd book LIVING DEAD IN DALLAS. That book has some rather controversial topics esp with the vampire that the Fellowship of the Sun has captive in their compound if you remember?
Though from memory I can't remember Jason joining the FotS in the books?

After reading all nine books, I am quite Team Eric possibly because he can fly and was a viking, though Bill is still cool. I suggest you read the rest when you can, I find their upbeat and masochistic adventures to be quite enlightening!

The only draw back to the show is that I can't picture the characters in my head in my own way anymore, Sookie looks like Anna etc, though with the sex scenes her boobs are alot bigger like in the books haha.

One thing I AM looking forward to in this series, and I'm quite sure he debuts in book 2 in the introduction of BUBBA - that is going to be sooooo cool !

I think this series blows most other recent vampire series out of the water, incl Blood Ties and Moonlight, though we have a new vampire series coming to the CW replacing Smallville's timeslot in Sept called THE VAMPIRE DIARIES based on L.J Smith's teen series published back in '92. give True Blood 9/10 - it loses a mark cause Sookie isn't as voluptuous and some of the accents are a bit atrocious. I also look forward to the Hotshot pack and the other weres such as Alcide coming into the mix - though that's going to be season 3 onwards!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

HI Gabriel

the series does blow most of the modern vamp series away. I thought perhaps they might avoid Bubba, he works great in book but might not work as well on screen.

Sookie is more physically modest on screen than as described.

The series will likely diverge from the books more and more and Jason's flirtation with the fellowship of the sun is one of those diversions... it'll be interesting to see where Ball goes with it

As for Vampire Diaries, well we'll see... the reason this worked, for me, was that it kept an adult edge... will vampire diaries have that edge or will we decend into teensville? time will tell.

Gabriel said...

Well with Vampire Diaries it's obvious that the CW are trying to target the Twilight Crowd (well they have 'teen' shows like Gossip Girl etc as well as Smallville and Supernatural) but they've already made one possible fatal error casting a tanned Brunette (Nina Dobrev from Never Cry Werewolf - a Fright Night rip-off!) as Elena who is Blonde, pale and Blue Eyed in the books and the reason the two brothers fall for her is due to her resemblance of a past love centuries ago ala Barnabas and Bram Stoker's Dracula etc.

My guess for that is they wanted a female lead to actually resemble Bella from Twilight hence the darker features (which is quite stupid) and perhaps they thought people might get confused because Sookie is blonde and blue eyed? who knows, though one of the brothers does have an 'Edward look' about him too, but still I'll give it a chance, a double 'horror' night for me now with Supernatural.

Smallville got the ass to Friday nights though that is on its last legs and doesn't really appeal anymore...

I think they'd do Bubba justice - I am actually looking forward to seeing Alan Ball also introduce Claudine and Claude. Have you met them yet? that's going to be fun too as well as when Bill, Alcide, Eric and Sam as well as others compete for poor Sookie's 'affections' at the same time...

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Now, I never really classed Supernatural as that teeny - it seemed a little hardercore than that (if very pretty).

Gossip Girl I have never, and if all stays right weth the world will never, see.

Smallville I only watched the vampire episode but superman was never my favourite superhero - give me a semi-psychotic like batman, rorschach or the crow each and every time!

But tying into the twilight gravy train isn't that surprising and, to be fair, it will also lead to a backlash, one hopes, with the darker more violent edge of vampires being shown to countr twilight's sparkly emo loving vampires

Everlost said...

I can only hope HBO stick with it and turn all 9 books into tv vamp series there has been, imho... even ahead of kindred, which i really liked.

Having seen the vampire diaries trailers, it doesnt look quite as inoffensive as twilight... these vamps actually have fangs, who would have thought vamps were allowed fangs any more? Still looks entirely pitched at twi-hards though.(still makes me laugh that term)

In regards of a backlash...i think Guillermo del Toro's "The Strain" is a good example, he has had several rants against twilight that i have seen, and his vamps are set to be as gruesome and nasty as possible.

Derek Tatum said...

This was an excellent review and spot-on with my opinion. I tagged you on the Note I wrote about this on Facebook. I found it funny that we have both only read as far as DEAD AS A DOORNAIL. I'll actually be working with Charlaine in a few months (she's one of my top guests at the convention I work for).

But your thoughts were very close to mine. Like me, the expanded/altered nature of some aspects were not arbitrary, and did not bother me. Even the accents did not bother me. I don't know if this is a bad representation of rural LA dialect or not, but I have definitely heard Southerners who talked like that. The most realistic of the bunch in this regard was Sam Merlotte.

Its success in the US gives me hope that not all is circling a sparkly drain.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Derek and Everlost.

Everlost, could anything be as inoffensive as Twilight... even Duckula waqs more hardcore and he truly was a vegetarian vampire!!! Seriously though, I hope Vampire Diaries proves worthwhile

Derek - no it isn't all sparkly... of course, whilst you are working with her, if you want to mention this little ol' blog to Charlaine, feel free!! :)

Sepulture said...

With their message of accepting diversity, Ms. Harris said she wrote the Sookie novels in part as “a metaphor for gays in America.”

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Sepulture, thanks for that - though I still think Alan Ball's primary aim was at the discriminatory nature of fundamentalist religion... though that often takes the form of discrimination against the gay community

Derek Tatum said...

I have noticed on the show that there is a thread of blind fundamentalism vs. people who might have actually read the teachings of Jesus.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

True Derek, the show has obliquely tackled general discrimination by fundamentalists using their religions teaching to further their own cause by misquoting Hassan-I Sabbah and using the quote as a rationalisation for kidnap and murder (and then arguing that it wasn’t murder as the vampire was already dead), a nod, perhaps, to the fact that it is fundamentalists of any religion that tend to be discriminatory (or worse) and use a twisted version of their religion/philosophy as an excuse.

Anonymous said...

Season 2 is an even greater departure from the book, the book in question this time being Living Dead in Dallas.

Personally I think this is great, as it means you don't quite know what to expect even if you've read the book.

As for Sookie's physical modesty, well let's just say you get to see a whole lot more of her in Season 2 :)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Simon - I don't have a huge problem with book depature so long as the spirit of the stories is there and so long as the departure makes sense (I am Legend departed from the spirit of the book and making Eben And Stella estranged in 30 Days of Night was pointless, for iunstance)...

looking forward to seeing it, eventually

S. Roit said...

I just want to make a comment on the accents.

I've followed (but not participated) some online discussions on this, and honestly found some rather amusing.

We have people FROM Louisiana arguing with each other as to whether the accents are good or not, some saying "We speak like that here" and some saying they've never heard anyone sound like that.

It all comes down to the fact that even across one state people do not sound the same...and even people in a state seem to forget this. ;-)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers for that - as I said, they sounded fine to me but I have seen some of the discussions you've mentioned and they did bemuse me somewhat

LoBo said...

I finished season 1 on Blu-ray a few days ago. I must say i enjoyed this show. Jason and Bill are my favourite characters. I will purchase the remaining seasons in January.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Lobo - good to hear from you. Season 1 is by far the strongest season but there is some worthwhile stuff as the show progresses.

Jason is a great character (and I personally really like Lafayette). Eric really builds as a great character too and I won't spoil things by mentioning what they do with Bill ;)