True Blood 1.01 "Strange Love"

Hi everybody and welcome to the BGH True Blood blog. You might have noticed we're beefing up our TV coverage here at BGH and I'll be with you for the next 12 weeks as we have a look at HBO's new vampire show. Before we take off, I should probably check my baggage to give you an idea of where I'm coming from.

First of all, I came into the show expecting the worst and hoping for the best. The advance word wasn't too kind and everything I had seen confirmed my worst fears. On the other hand, I would probably put Alan Ball's previous show “Six Feet Under” in my list of top television shows of all time so I know that he's capable of taking dark and difficult subject matter and making it human, touching and occasionally funny. On the other other hand, “True Blood” is based on a book series which I was aware of but had never read (Southern Vampire Tales by Charlaine Harris) because, on the surface at least, they looked to be only a step or two above Laurel K. Hamilton territory. The clincher for me was that the show is set in my native region, the American South. Films and TV have been getting better at portraying the South (like “Friday Night Lights”, easily one of the best shows on TV right now please watch it so it doesn't get canceled) but Hollywood tends to put Southerners into just a handful of roles. There's anal rapist, religious nut, fat politician, inbred cannibal, sassy waitress and Elvis. Not to say that those aren't somewhat accurate, but Southerners are usually played more as caricatures than characters.

Now that that's out of the way I'll hop down off my soapbox and get into the show. The opening was promising, showing a hint of what made the death-of-the-week beginnings on “Six Feet Under” so great. A popped-collared douche and a sorority girl are driving along a dark road and getting into some HBO-grade sexual hijinx (an HBO show without gratuitous boobs and sex- don't count on it) when they see a service station advertising TruBlood. In the world of the show, the Japanese have invented a synthetic blood that is now sold by the six-pack thus allowing vampires to come “out of the coffin”.

The douchy couple are intrigued to see if there are really vampires in the area and the clerk, a goth with an Eastern European accent, gives them the spooky vampire act while in the background a camouflage-clad good ol' boy looks increasingly, er, intolerant. By the time douche boy asks where he can score some “V-Juice” (evidently mortals can get high off of vampire blood ) we're expecting the redneck to engage in an anti-vampire hate crime, but instead we get a tweest- the clerk is putting on an act and Mr. Camouflage is pissed not because he hates vampires but because he is a vampire and he doesn't take kindly to people impersonating his kind. In one five minute scene we get all the background we need on the world of the show as well as an indication that the show is willing to subvert our expectations. Unfortunately, the remaining 50 minutes of the show make it clear that our expectations were just fine where they were.

The main setting for the show is Merlotte’s Bar and Grill in the sleepy burg of Bon Temps, Louisiana. Anna Paquin plays Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress whose psychic powers let her read her customers' minds whether she wants to or not. The cast is rounded out by her boss and would-be suitor Sam (Sam Trammell), her sassy best friend Tara (Rutina Wesley), swishy double entendre-spouting cook Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) and Sookie's brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) a vampire fetishist and sex addict. The bulk of the pilot involves Sookie meeting and crushing on Bill (Stephen Moyer), the first vampire to come to Bon Temps. Sookie is particularly fascinated by Bill because she can't read vampires' minds, which is a sweet relief for her.

This being the first episode, it's more about setting the scene and introducing the characters, so the leaden pace can somewhat be forgiven. The premise has a lot of potential and lots of great shows have had not-so-great pilots, but at this point “True Blood” could go either way. A lot of the accents are horrendously bad (I'm looking at you, Tara), the black characters are all a little too stereotypically sassy (I'm still looking at you, Tara), and the whole “vampires as a metaphor for minorities/gays/insert-oppressed-group-here” idea is not exactly groundbreaking (isn't there some series of movies starring Anna Paquin that has the exact same theme?) I'll reserve my judgment for a few more episodes but so far, not so good.

In honor of Kim Ji-Woon's awesome looking new movie “The Good The Bad The Weird” (but mostly because it serves my purposes well) I'll throw anything I didn't get to in the recap down here at the bottom in three categories.

The Good
-A few great character actors popped up and I've got my fingers crossed that they'll become a major part of the show, in particular William Sanderson (Blade Runner, Deadwood) as the sheriff and James Parks (Grindhouse, Kill Bill) as a violent V-Juice junkie.

The Bad
-Did I mention Tara wasn't very good? Please recast or kill her off, stat.

The Weird
-Wasn't there an episode of Buffy where she gained psychic powers and couldn't read the minds of vampires. Shenanigans?

John Shelton

Writer/Podcast Host/Professor

Born and raised in the back of a video store, Shelton went beyond the hills and crossed the seven seas as BGH's foreign correspondent before settling into a tenure hosting Sophisticult Cinema. He enjoys the finer things in life, including but not limited to breakfast tacos, vintage paperbacks and retired racing greyhounds.

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