‘True Blood’ ReviewThursday, August 21st, 2008
A Pilot Review by Scott Carelli
I really like Vampires.
But as a fan I’m also a really picky one. Ever since Buffy, I’ve never seen or read anything vampire-related that’s really impressed me. Moonlight was a rip-off of two other vastly superior vampire series (Forever Knight and Angel) with a generic, bland plot filled with generic, bland characters I couldn’t care less about if I tried. Reading the novel Twilight, I was immediately turned off by the portrayal of vampires as nothing more than gothic runway models. I had all but given up (assuming that once you go Whedon, you never go back), when I started being accosted by viral marketing ads for a new HBO series called True Blood.
The first of which was for a new beverage called “TruBlood“, which I assumed was some new drink cleverly disguised as blood in a bottle for the hip gothic crowd (Available soon at a Hot Topic near you!). It even comes in different flavors: O Negative, A Negative, B Negative, and AB Positive. The site itself was complete with clever commercials, downloads, and even a short quiz to determine what blood type you would prefer. It was all odd for sure, but I didn’t give it too much thought and forgot about it for a few weeks.
Then I discovered another one, a human/vampire dating site called “LoveBitten“. At this point I began to suspect viral marketing and that’s when I noticed the copyright of the site was owned by HBO. So, in an attempt to find out more information, I registered with the dating site. Once finished with the questionnaire though, I was informed that due to the high volume of registration requests, I wouldn’t be able to join their service at this time. It also told me to browse their members area, but when I tried, it of course told me that I had to be registered. The site had successfully lead me in a circle, chasing for a wild goose. I still had little to no info about what exactly this was, but a third advertisement caught my eye.
This one was for a blog called “BloodCopy” which claims to be a site chronicling “the amazing days we live in as vampires attempt to integrate with humans.” There’s a lot of information to take in here, and the site does the best job setting up this world in which vampires have “come out of the coffin”, revealing themselves to the public. The most interesting part of the site, are a series of news reports focusing what the world has been like since “The Great Revelation”. Sites for “The American Vampire League” and “The Fellowship of the Sun” are mentioned here which focus on vampire rights. It all paints a very realistic picture of what the world would probably be like if these events were to transpire.
Finally, I discovered a much more straightforward advertisement for a webcomic prequel for a new HBO series called True Blood. Usually, comic tie-ins (especially of the web variety) are pretty low quality, with scripts that read as if they were written over a coffee break and the most generic, stiff artwork possible. I assumed that this would be no different, but was actually surprised at the level of quality. It’s no Watchmen by any means, but definitely better than any webcomic tie-in I was familiar with (*cough*Heroes*cough*). It follows the Vampire King of California (is that anything like the Sausage King of Chicago?) as he gets involved with the distribution of TruBlood, giving a lot of back-story along the way from the vampire perspective which wasn’t really explored on the BloodCopy blog. In any event, I was hooked and ready to see what this series was all about.
The other day, I had the chance to catch a screener copy of True Blood‘s pilot episode. I must say, there’s a lot to like about this new series. Turns out, it’s based on the Southern Vampire series of books by Charlaine Harris and was adapted for television by Six Feet Under mastermind Alan Ball (who also wrote and directed the pilot).
The main problem I’ve always had with vampires is how they’re depicted. My worry was still very much alive going into the pilot episode of this series, but fortunately, the opening scene put them to rest. It involves two teenagers stopping at a convenience store, which happens to carry TruBlood, to ask the attendant about the beverage and the customers who purchase it. There’s a twist at the end of the scene that you’ll probably see coming, but I don’t want to ruin just in case you don’t. Right away, I knew I was in for something a little different.
The series stars Anna Paquin (“Rogue” of X-Men fame) as Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress at a diner in a small Louisiana town. The pilot begins two years after the vampires “came out of the coffin” and the people of the town have seemingly recovered since then, going back to their regular lives. It reminds me a lot of the time right after 9-11, when most of America seemed restless, not really knowing what to do or where to go from here (okay, you can stop singing the Buffy musical now…). We’re introduced to a variety of characters including Sookie’s best friend, boss, and brother. All of the characters in the pilot were interesting to varying degrees, and I didn’t dislike any of them (other than the ones I was supposed to.)
The show finally starts moving when a vampire named Bill shows up at the diner, much to the dismay of the restaurant’s patrons. Sookie is the only person there who isn’t afraid to talk to him, and does so with all of the southern hospitality she can muster. Stephan Moyer plays Bill as overly mysterious and gothic, but I think that as the show goes on, it will be revealed as mostly an act on Bill’s part to portray a vampire the way the town would probably assume they would be. Even in the pilot, there were instances where Bill seemed to be lowering his defenses around Sookie and letting his real personality come through.
Another interesting part of the mythology of this show is that vampire blood can be used as a drug of sorts. Humans capture vampires and drain their blood to either use for themselves or sell for a nice chunk of change ($2500/ounce). It was unclear to me if they ingest the blood or inject it, but it apparently makes you feel strong and healthy. I’m assuming the experience is similar to MGH (Mutant Growth Hormone), the fictional drug from the Marvel universe that grants users temporary superpowers, or in this case, vampire powers.
The rest of the episode sets up a murder mystery involving a local “fangbanger”, a sort of groupie for vampires who allows them to drink their blood during a sexual encounter. When she winds up dead, the evidence points to Sookie’s brother, but the town is convinced that Bill had something to do with it. Nothing is resolved, so I’m assuming that it will be a multi-episode arc, possibly spanning the whole first season, but I’m not certain.
An aspect to the show that isn’t really gone into is Sookie’s telepathy. She can read minds, and because of this she is the town outsider. How do they know what she can do? For whatever reason, Sookie goes around answering people’s thoughts every chance she gets. Seems like something I would keep to myself, but I suppose everyone would react differently to a situation like that. I do, however, love that her friends and co-workers mistakenly refer to her as ‘psychic’, much to her dismay. It reminds me a lot of the public confusion between ‘anorexia’ and ‘bulimia’ or ‘schizophrenia’ and ‘DID’. But overall, Sookie’s mind reading seemed mostly like an easy way for her character and Bill to connect almost immediately because when Sookie tries to read Bill’s mind all she can hear is white noise. I hope more is explored with this aspect of her character, because so far it seems to serve little purpose beyond making her a bit eccentric.
Overall, I think the pilot does a great job of introducing us to the world of True Blood. My favorite part of any series, is discovering the mythology behind the show (Lost, Heroes, Buffy, etc.), and I’m happy to see that True Blood is no different. Having watched this, and enjoying it so much, I had to ask myself what was different about this series? What makes it better than any of the other recent vampire outings? All I could come up with was one simple answer: this show has heart. And I’m not talking about romance or a family hug. No, it’s something bigger than that. Something that isn’t really seen on the surface. The series, like Buffy, cares about its characters almost more than you do, which I think is a huge strength that speaks volumes about the creators. Was it the best pilot I’ve ever seen? No, not remotely. But it was strong regardless, and I urge you all to give the series a shot. I’d almost given up on finding a new vampire series worth watching, but I’m glad I didn’t.
True Blood premieres Sunday, September 7th on HBO.
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