True Blood: Season One
Created by: Alan Ball
Cert: 15 • US: 691 min • Warner Home Video • DVD
In the title sequence of True Blood, set against the hip-grinding track ‘Bad Things’ by Jace Everett, there is a sign outside of a church that declares ‘God Hates Fangs’. The title sequence tells the viewer exactly what the show is about: sex, politics, religion and vampires. With True Blood, the association of HBO and Alan Ball has once again delivered. Six Feet Under was a groundbreaking series in its run from 2001-2005. It managed to enmesh homosexuality into its world in much the same way, and at about the same ratio, that it is part of the mainstream. True Blood does the same, although it is funnier and steamier than its predecessor.
The obsession with sex, death, and the inability to reproduce – subjects that seem to drive people into a frenzy when homosexuality is mentioned – take metaphorical form in the vampire story. Of course, a vampire cannot reproduce and so it must recruit, to paraphrase ‘70s crusader and all-round nit-wit Anita Bryant. A host of subconscious fears manifest in the vampire story. True Blood parallels this with its Westboro Baptist Church equivalent, The Fellowship of the Sun, and the slogan that appears in the title sequence: ‘God Hates Fangs’.
In True Blood the vampire has “come out of the coffin” following the Japanese invention of the substitute Tru Blood. It is a brilliant premise on which to found a tale of vampires. The main character is Sookie Stackhouse, played by Anna Paquin. Sookie has a unique ability of her own. She can hear other people’s thoughts. Yet when the first vampire to walk into the bar at which she works, the former Civil War soldier Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), she cannot hear what he is thinking and thus a romance begins. He is a mystery to her. Plus the fact that his sexuality almost boils over when she is near. He certainly makes heterosexuality an appealing alternative.
Unusually for a mainstream American television program, the eye-candy is dominated by the men. Anna Paquin is not the traditional sex symbol of television. She is quirky, and more real, which cannot be said of the man who plays her brother Jason, Ryan Kwanten. It is a little uncomfortable seeing Anna Paquin naked. And having sex. I keep thinking she is going to deliver a line about not being taken roughly over “mother’s piano”. It is however not at all uncomfortable to see Ryan naked, even though he used to be a teen star in Home & Away. And that’s probably because Home & Away doesn’t quite have the same cultural and artistic standing as The Piano. He is a magnet for girls, and for trouble. And he also seems to have trouble keeping his clothes on.
That Sookie can hear what people are thinking provides an insight into their minds when anything out of their sense of the ordinary comes along. She hears what they think about women who have sex with vampires, otherwise known as ‘fang-bangers’, as well Sookie’s association with vampire Bill. At times it is like an internet message board with its unbridled venom. The story arc, the murders of local fang-bangers, and the tension between the living and the undead, makes for a mesmerising series. The twelve-episode format also means that it is not necessary to dilute the tension.
This is far from the adolescent schlock of Twilight, with its pretended family relationships, and nonsensical situations and plotlines. If one is going to play with the traditions of vampires, at least do it so that it makes sense. In True Blood vampires can be seen in mirrors. Bill explains to Sookie that the stories in which vampires had no reflection were put about by vampires in order to protect themselves. In Twilight vampires walk around in daylight and don’t show themselves in direct sun because they are seen for what they truly are, which is all sparkly, as if Christina Aguilera had prepped them for a music video. Twilight truly is an anodyne take on the vampire mythology and washes it clean of its edginess. True Blood is immersed in its potential, and it is uncomfortable for it.
The cast of True Blood is across the board excellent. Rutina Wesley, who plays Sookie’s best friend Tara, is electrifying. She can make the transition from comedy to serious effortlessly in one line. The hat trick of male stars is provided by Sam Trammell, who plays Sookie’s boss, Sam Merlotte. He is very easy on the eye.
Southern Gothic is a tradition steeped in the conflicts that rage just beneath the surface. True Blood inherits that tradition, mixes it with vampires, and the result is spellbinding.