Directed by: various
First aired: 2008
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.
So 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.
In 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.
Sookie 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.
The 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.
Her 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.
We 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’.
Lore 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.
A 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.
I 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.
The 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.
A 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.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Directed by: various