True Blood: initial thoughts

(No, it isn’t available streaming. kniedzw moved it up in his DVD queue, which I’d been too lazy to do.)

I’ve only seen two episodes so far. But I wanted to post about my initial reaction, because it’s so strong: I don’t remember the last time I saw a show create character and setting so vividly, so fast.

I don’t know what the deal is, either. Really good writing, acting, set dressing, etc? Do the writers try harder because the backwaters of Louisiana aren’t as familiar to viewers as Midwestern suburbia or New York City? Maybe it’s just that it isn’t familiar, so even mediocre writing and acting and so on will strike me more vividly, because I haven’t seen what they’re presenting a hundred times before.

But that’s really how it feels: like I’m seeing something new. These aren’t the same characters I’ve seen in a dozen other shows. It remains to be seen what I think of them; maybe they’ll annoy me or be badly written or develop in ways I think are ridiculous. Or maybe they’ll turn out to be awesome. The setting, socially and physically, is very different; I don’t know how accurate it is, but with more evidence I’ll be better able to guess. The show talks more bluntly about race than I’m accustomed to; I’m interested to see what it uses that bluntness to say. All of those judgments are in my future: I can’t make them based on only two episodes.

One judgment, though, I can make. From the first minutes of the first episode, True Blood had my attention. And that’s more than a lot of shows can say.

0 Responses to “True Blood: initial thoughts”

  1. ailaes

    One thing you have to understand about True Blood: It’s camp. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet in a lot of ways it does.

    I’ve not read the books, but in an interview with Charlene Harris, the author, she said she was intrigued by Anne Rice’s placing of New Orleans, and wanted to offer a setting that not many had touched upon.

    I won’t spoil anything for you, but suffice to say, it’s HBO, and there is sex. Quite a lot actually. Though the way they present it is quite often hilarious.

    I’m very opinionated when it comes to vampires [they’re my genre of choice], and the way TB presents them is wonderful. It’s a bloody train wreck; and I can’t stop watching it.

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, I’ve already seen just about every piece of skin Jason has. On the one hand, it’s nice to see a show with the freedom to depict people speaking and acting the way they do in reality — it always gets me when Supernatural has to avoid the profanity you KNOW the boys would be using — but really, they get more than a bit gratuitous with the sex.

      • ailaes

        No kidding. Especially Dean, you can imagine what he’s really saying. Sometimes I get frustrated with network tv’s censors.

        The Tudors did the same in the beginning. Though in historical context, that’s what it was like, even if no one talked about it.

  2. Anonymous

    OK, I’m going to go all theoretical here: True Blood’s initial presentation of the setting and characters works because “it just is.” There is neither a celebration of good ol’ boy Southern values (or, conversely, the hairshirts-r-us celebration of poverty), nor the supercilious we’re-from-the-big-city-and-look-down-on-these-yokels attitude that comes through in so much visual media about the South (compare, for example — if you dare, and if your stomach is strong enough — the presentational attitudes between the novel and the corresponding film of To Kill a Mockingbird, The Firm, The Pelican Brief, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, etc., etc., etc.).

    Sam Merlotte’s trailer isn’t a sign that he’s trailer trash, and therefore unsophisticated and/or stupid; nor that he’s a country boy, and therefore more likely to be able to adapt to reality than some city-slicker from Madison Avenue. It just is. It’s part of the setting… which makes his comment “Most of my customers are stupid people” that much more telling.

    The Stackhouse Residence (yes, it really does deserve capitalization… and I think I give little away by saying that it does so even more in the second season) is a weathered old house in the middle of a partially cleared area. No driveway. No separate box out front for delivery of the paper. Conversely, no pile of take-out menus taped to the refrigerator (which isn’t exactly last year’s model). But it just is.

    The same goes for the individual characters. And the writing is such — particularly in the middle four episodes of the first season — that smartass viewers who think they know where things are going will get surprised, but not insulted, by what actually happens.

    • Marie Brennan

      I think that’s a fair description of the vibe I get. The show isn’t out to valorize or criticize its setting, or the people who live in it, at least not wholesale; it just presents them, in what feels like an honest way, and lets me form my own opinions.

      Now, I’m hesitant to accept that at face value, simply because I’m not in a position to evaluate the actual honesty of what it presents; this could all be very inaccurate. But it echoes just enough of the stereotypes I’ve seen to make me feel like I can see where the stereotypes come from, without repeating them in facile totality — if that makes any sense. It’s that balance that makes me feel, at least as a first impression, that it might be doing something right.

      • talkstowolves

        TB does often pander to stereotypes, but much less so than many other examples (as noted above). I imagine it helps that Alan Ball is Georgian himself, although from a big city and its environs. Also, some of the actors’ accents can be incredibly atrocious.

        Mostly, I’m just relieved to see someone trying to more fairly portray the South on television, even if there are still plenty of missteps.

        • Marie Brennan

          My ear for the region isn’t good enough to tell where they misstep on the accents, though a few sounded awkward enough that I suspected they were less than setllar.

  3. gryphynshadow

    I’m from near Louisiana, and grew up even closer to it… my people are East Texas rednecks, with a few forays across into the swamps in La. For a while, when I was real little, we lived in Plaquemine Parish in La.

    So, with that as my bona fide and caveat, let me say, no, really, that’s how most people are in the backwoods small towns of La (and East Texas, for that matter.) Race really is that openly discussed; I found Tara to be completely believable and true to life. I’ve known quiet a few people who could have said exactly the things she’s said in the show. People’s reactions to her, to what she says and how she acts are also spot on. She may be skating close to the ‘uppity black woman’ stereotype, but, it’s a stereotype because there really are people who act like that.

    Small town life is a lot like what they depict, with everyone knowing everyone else, and yet there being a layer of secrets and secret lives. In some ways, everyone knows everything about everyone else; in other ways, each house holds secrets and mysteries…

    I like the show because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it doesn’t look down on small town life, it doesn’t force the characters to be caricatures of the stereotypes… and it has vampires that don’t sparkle, so it’s just a win/win for me. 🙂

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, Tara’s at least bordering on “uppity black woman,” but so far I’ve liked her, because she has enough of her own thing going on (as opposed to being totally an adjunct to Sookie). Of all the characters, I’m most interested to see where they take her in the longer term.

      Good to hear an evaluation from somebody who grew up in that kind of environment. (I’m a Texas girl myself, but very much suburban Dallas, not the woodlands.)

      • kernezelda

        I grew up one generation removed from really small town Mississippi on both sides, and yeah, the dialogue and open discussion of race rings true. TB comes across as comparatively liberal – my elder relatives would look heavily askance at how close Sookie is to Tara and Lafayette.

        • Marie Brennan

          My instinct said the town was awfully accepting of Lafayette; then again, that could be the stereotypes talking. And it falls into a category where maybe it’s better to use fiction to present an alternative, rather than just to reproduce reality. Again, it will depend on where the story goes.

          • thespisgeoff

            They handle Lafayette pretty well, actually – he’s enough of a “clown” to fit into an acceptable role for both a gay man and a black man in the South. If you’re gonna be gay in a small town, you better be G-A-Y – far enough outside the norm to be nonthreatening.

          • Marie Brennan

            Okay, that makes sense. And it goes some way toward counteracting the feeling that he’s a stereotype: he isn’t flaming because that’s the image of gay men, he’s flaming because that’s how he achieves safety.

  4. shartyrant

    I just borrowed Season 1 from the college library (which totally rocks). I have read the books (which I admit, I have started losing interest in). I laughed so hard at one episode dealing with “complications”.

    Also trying Fringe Season 1. It looked relevant to my interests. 😉

    • Marie Brennan

      Vampires aren’t enough my genre for the books to make it to the top of my reading queue, but so far the show is entertaining.

  5. deadboxoffice

    It’s everything that I wanted “Kindred: The Embraced” to be back in the ’90’s. I think it’s a great show because, even if you removed every single supernatural element from the story, the characters would still be interesting. That’s a combination of good acting, direction, and writing, in my opinion.

    Enjoy the rest,


    • Marie Brennan

      I’d probably lose interest — but that’s because I’m such a genre addict. 🙂 I’d still think the show was good, but it wouldn’t hold me for very long, because all that would be left is interpersonal drama. And my patience for that is short.

      • Anonymous

        True Blood

        I am from Brazil and I´ve been following the show with great interest. I like the *bold* approach to the show.

        Now we have gay sex in this season with werewolves involved. Oh, and the bodies they chose for the show. How can anyone be afraid of vampires? I used to be.

        I just hope they stop when the well gets dry and don´t go and on for too long and lose their ways as often is the case with most shows.

        Thank you!

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