Note: The following review first appeared as an article entitled “True Blood: HBO’s newest (and most misunderstood) hit” in The Climax, Hampshire College’s newspaper.
Enough vampires, you say. And you’re entitled: pop culture is oversaturated with blood-sucking stories these days. True Blood might have been white noise amongst other fang-bearing works. But Twilight it ain’t. Part pulpy horror flick, part gothic love story, and with pervasive social commentary, HBO’s first post-Sopranos hit series defies categorization. And—forgive me for this—it’s bloody good.
Based on the book series The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris, True Blood revolves around the character of Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress at a watering hole in the sleepy town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. In the first episode, she falls in love with Bill Compton, a 150-year-old vampire, whose blood heals her after she is viciously beaten. Even though Sookie and Bill are presumably the central characters of the show, any fan will tell you that the supporting characters are the fan favorites: Tara, Sookie’s quick-tempered but loyal best friend; Lafayette, Tara’s sassy cousin with swagger to spare; Sam, the bar owner with a murky past; Eric, an imposing, centuries-old Scandinavian vampire and Bill’s maker; Jason, Sookie’s promiscuous, simple-minded brother; and a whole bevy of other colorful characters.
When we first join the story, a synthetic blood beverage called “Tru Blood” is making it safe for vampires to come out of the coffin. Some humans welcome the vampires into mainstream society, most are leery, and some are downright hostile. The central conflict of the first season is a murder mystery: a serial killer is on the prowl in Bon Temps, and women—specifically women associated with Jason Stackhouse—are dying left and right. The slayings coupled with Bill’s arrival (as Bon Temp’s first resident vampire) have the whole town on edge. No sooner is the mystery is resolved at the end of the season than an alluring woman arrives with what seem like bizarre voodoo powers, causing the town to devolve into lawlessness and rampant orgies. To make matters worse, the vampires of the area have to fend off the attacks of an extremist Christian cult called The Fellowship of the Sun. Thus wars are waged on multiple fronts, and the body count soars. But even amidst this chaos, a solid dose of humor and romance gives us a chance to exhale.
True Blood has a rabid and vocal fan base, and everyone bows at the altar of Alan Ball, the creator of the show. With this series and his previous one, Six Feet Under, Alan Ball has vaulted into the pantheon of television masterminds—the likes of which include J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, and Bryan Fuller—whose visions are so unique (and so niche) that the creators receive almost as much fanfare as the on-screen talent. And that’s high praise, because Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Rutina Wesley, Nelsan Ellis, Sam Trammell, Alexander Skarsgård, Ryan Kwanten, and the rest of the cast act the hell out their roles (and look good doing it, to boot).
Despite the hype and the marketing surrounding the show, vampirism is only one facet of the story. Indeed, only three of the series regulars play vampires. The rest portray the humans (and other supernatural beings) of Bon Temps. More than the things that go bump—or, in some cases, hump—in the night, the show is about the townsfolk’s reaction to these “supers,” which is often horribly bigoted and ugly. To call True Blood a metaphor would be an understatement, and in fact, Charlaine Harris and Alan Ball seem to make the parallels between that world and ours all but explicit. True Blood is an entertaining show, but Ball also makes it a compelling allegory of intolerance. For in the town of Bon Temps, it’s often the humans who are the real monsters.
A year ago in this publication, I picked True Blood as one of six new shows to watch, but I never foresaw how fiendishly watchable it would be. It’s lurid, it’s graphic, the plot moves a mile a minute, and it’s compelling as hell. Plus it sports a rollicking honky-tonk soundtrack and a killer title sequence. With all these winning elements, it’s no wonder the Television Critics Association named it Outstanding New Program of the Year. Find it on DVD or on iTunes, pour yourself a tall glass of tomato juice, and find love at first bite.