“True Blood”

Posted on September 8, 2008

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.!

26 Responses to ““True Blood””

  1. divajess

    I haven’t watched the aired pilot, only a leak that I got a month or two ago, but what I’ve seen so far matches up with the books very strongly in some points. Some of it just isn’t as fleshed out yet as it needs to be, but it’s just the first episode so I’m hoping that it’ll get better. It is a lot more graphic than the books, which are mostly from Sookie’s point of view, so I think the events are usually colored by her sweet, Southern properness.

    I think the viewer is supposed to understand that the silver chain was what allowed the thugs to overpower Bill, but that could be my brain filling in the blanks from the books, too.

    The books are a fun, fun read. I really enjoy them, and highly recommend them.

    That said, I can’t wait to read Evernight! I’m picking it up in my next bookstore run.

    • queenofthefae

      True Blood

      I mostly liked it, but yeah the sex was a bit much.

      I think it was close to the book(I’m pretty sure they’re going to strech out book 1 in the first season). Though I don’t remember Tara working at the bar. Arlene was a little more involved in the book.

  2. cosmic

    I’ve only watched the preair pilot of True Blood, so since it wasn’t a finished product, I wasn’t sure if I was entitled to judge it quite yet. However, it seems like the problems I found with the pilot are still there, so maybe I can wear my judgeypants. My biggest problems stemmed from my complete lack of interest and attraction to the main vampire guy, Bill, was he? And the whole chicklit feel of it with the fresh-faced innocent heroine, her horndog polar opposite brother, and the dark man of mystery.

    I’ll probably watch a few episodes in a few weeks, in case the show has a better flow if you watch a few episodes in row. And it’s very strange, in my opinion, that the pilot is so uneven and weak, because Alan Ball’s Six Feet Under pilot is by far one of the best tv show pilots I’ve ever seen.

  3. wiliqueen

    I have only the second book (Living Dead in Dallas), so I can’t speak to plot points and only glancingly to character development at this early stage, but to the extent of my knowledge it seems to be a pretty solid adaptation of Harris’ world.

    You’ve pinned down and articulated some issues I had with the pilot that I haven’t quite been able to. Being character-oriented to a fault, I’m less bothered by them than many of my friends are likely to be. Right now it’s riding for me entirely on Sookie being perkier and more adorable than is strictly legal, while still smart and responsive to circumstances.

    I’m on the fence about the redneck stereotypes — I’d like to believe they’re not as prevalent anymore, but I’ve been back to the town where I went to high school too recently. Which is Western rather than Southern rural, granted, but. Erm. If we get a few more nods to “civilization” like Tara working at the big-box store (which I parsed as Wal-Mart-but-we’re-not-calling-it-that), it’ll fly for me.

    The sex stuff is definitely tiresome, but I have the odd feeling it’s supposed to be. And it does tell us about Jason’s character — more than we’d really like.

  4. robinbridges

    Hubby recorded it for me last night since I had to work, and I got to watch it this morning. My first thought was, Oh Lord, I hope he didn’t let the 17 year old watch this.

    My second thought was, Anna Paquin looks and sounds like a young Holly Hunter! I think she makes a great Sookie. Some of the other accents were painful to listen to, (especially Tara’s).

    I guess that’s always a concern when converting a book series to a TV series. You have two sets of people watching in the audience: those who’ve read the books and those who haven’t, and you want to entertain everyone. Readers already know Sam’s secret, but I wonder how many non-readers figured it out after watching last night.

    I think they have some kinks (no pun intended!) to work out, but I’m looking forward to watching it again.

  5. christinaradish

    I have seen the first five episodes of the series, since I’ve been interviewing the cast members, and I have to say that the issues that I have with it are not resolved in the first five episodes. There are a lot of things I like about the show, but there are also things that I have problems with. However, I just can’t seem to stop myself from tuning in.

  6. tirednsnarky

    I’ve read two of the Sookie Stackhouse books so far in an effort to figure out why a lot of people like them but I haven’t been able to warm up to the characters at all.

    I read Evernight right after that and it was a Godsend! It was a relief to get away from the Sookie Stackhouse characters who come across to me as exaggerated sterotypes.

  7. jaewilliam

    Huntington Beach

    Could an old friend take one of the most original, interesting and incredible people he’s ever met to dinner in Huntington Beach?

  8. annamariie

    I made the mistake of picking up their promotion DVD at blockbuster (it was free!) and attempting to watch it with my parents. Needless to say it was out of the DVD player in less then 20 minutes, which is sad cause I really love Anna Paquin, and I completely agree about the accents, some of them were just horrible (remember that was just in the first 20 minutes!!) Makes me sad I won’t be able to watch this show 🙁

  9. crescentmuse

    I have read all 8 of the Sookie Stackhouse books and I feel like the show is staying pretty close to the storyline and feel of the book. There is more graphic sex in the show. I think it is more suggested in the book why happened to Maudette. (I would have to re-read it to be sure.) The sex in the book can get very descriptive and even a bit kinky IMO in a few places. T

    There are some changes and additions in the story and characters that I don’t mind. I’m not quite sure how they are going to weave into the fact that Katrina has already happened… hmmm.

    I’m from (and now living back) in the south and agree that the town is very cliche but I do think the show kept the feel of the town that Harris set.

    There were a lot of things that my partner didn’t get because he hadn’t read the books (like how they overpowered Vampire Bill). I think they could have shown that better.

    Bill isn’t a very developed character in the book IMO. I’m excited to watch the show so that I will hopefully get a stronger affinity for Bill. I think Harris’s books, while a fun read, don’t really delve into the characters and make them very 3 dimensional with the exception of Sookie, Eric and Sam and even those only happen over the span of reading all the books.

    I would suggest that you read the books because they are really fun fast reads.

    You are totally right that the show, and I will add the books, are not for a YA audience at all.

  10. briteeyez512

    true blood pilot

    i haven’t read the books. the closest i have come to that so far is reading a short story in an LKH anthology.

    granting this, i was incredibly surprised by Sookie’s naivete and idealist qualities. i didn’t think that existed anymore past the age of 5, and especially not in a vampire story. it was refreshing. Especially since she was still incredibly astute and ladylike.

    i am nowhere near from the south, so i cannot really comment on the feel of the town but even not living there some of the accents felt overdone. i actually like the actress who played Tara in the pre-air unfinished pilot a little better than the actress chosen for the show. ah well.

    also, i am not a prude in any way, shape, or form. but either the sex shown in the show was fairly out there and rough, or there is a huge difference between reading about or seeing sex, or both, because i was shocked by the images in the show, especially in the first few minutes.

    all things considered though, i liked the pilot and i am interested in seeing how the show progresses. especially since the scenes between bill and sookie are incredible.