I went to a party last night for the premiere of “True Blood.” Although this was not my most hotly anticipated new show of the year (that prize would go to “Fringe”), I was obviously interested. Vampires! Anna Paquin! What’s not to love? Then I read some iffy reviews and was less sure — but I still checked it out.
The next day, I’m still not quite sure what to think.
First of all, I don’t recommend “True Blood” for YA audiences. The sex is graphic enough that, at several points, I questioned whether I was old enough to be watching this.
Second, I haven’t read the novels on which this is based — I’ve curtailed my vampire reading the past few years while writing the Evernight series — so I can’t speak to how this works as an adaptation.
There were plenty of elements that I loved: Anna Paquin’s performance as Sookie is definitely first on that list. She comes across as believably fresh-faced, something the average overprocessed starlet couldn’t do, and I completely bought every element of her character, from the cozy relationship with grandma to her wary attitude about her psychic abilities. I also love the basic setup, with vampires “coming out” now that synthetic blood substitute is available for their nutritional needs (and, cleverly, is sold to them with marketing campaigns just like soda). Even better is the twist with humans drinking vampire’s blood, “V-juice,” for a buzz that seems to be highly sexual. The grandmother played by Lois Smith only had a few scenes but was hilarious, and I already love the relationship between her and Sookie. Finally, and best of all, the chemistry between Sookie and vampire loner Bill is truly sizzling. Any show centering on these two definitely has a chance.
But there were elements I was a lot less certain of as well. First of all, as a Southerner, I must give my token protest against crappity accents. Several of them were fine, but several were strongly overdone and others were just completely awful. Very few of them sounded authentically Louisiana to me. Also, the portrayal of the small-town South is about four decades old and cliched as heck: Yep, as far as the title credits are concerned, it’s still all revival tents and KKK rallies below the Mason-Dixon line. (And no Wal-Mart in sight.) Finally, there’s a point in which a shocking arrest is made in a shocking murder, with both victim and killer positively identified as long-time locals. This arrest is made in the early morning. Supposedly, by that night, there are many people in the tiny town who still do not know. My experience of small-town Southern life suggests that this information would have zapped along phone lines to reach all people currently or formerly living within that town in no more than 90 minutes. Tops.
That particular grousing may not matter as much to people from other parts of the country, I admit. The problems don’t end there, though. The tone of this is very uneven — we’d go from down-home comedy to GRAPHIC SEX to character angst with very little transition. Some programs get the hang of combining these elements and making it feel smooth, but “True Blood” isn’t there yet. And several important scenes seem to get left out; Bill is overpowered by thugs at one point, but we have no idea how they did it, nor why Bill put himself in a position of risk to start with. This misses out on a chance to make Bill a more developed character rather than a cipher.
And speaking of the graphic sex, I should say that I’m not against that in principle. I knew that “True Blood” was supposed to be sexy, even raunchy, so I was prepared for that and even looking forward to it, given how hot Bill is. But in many places I felt like this was overdone, involving characters I did not care about, and in scenes that arrived so abruptly that the effect was more jarring than sensual. The characters talk about sex constantly, particularly in the diner kitchen, which I would have found more enjoyable if the talk were (a) witty, (b) original or (c) evocative of individual characters. It wasn’t. I felt like popups were appearing at the bottom of the screen going WE’RE ON CABLE! LOOK WHAT WE CAN DO!
I also did not find all of the casting very strong. Several important characters came across as far too bland, though they may have been struggling with the uneven script.
All this said, I’d like to tune in again. The basic premise is strong, as are the lead performers, and some of the unevenness in tone almost has to work itself out over time. Very few pilots live up to the full potential of a show’s premise, I think, and last night as I went to sleep, I found myself turning over possibilities for Sookie’s character in my head. I am intrigued enough to give it another chance, so I guess the pilot did its job.
What did you guys think?
ETA: I now know the time for the Huntington Beach event of the “Pitch Black” tour on Oct. 28 — be there at 7 p.m.!