TV Review: True Blood (Season 1) (2008)

I can blame one of my best friends for getting me hooked on True Blood.  I remember the day that it happened- I admitted my fan girlish love for Twilight to her and she looked at me with an incredulous expression.  “If you like Twilight, then you have got to watch True Blood.  It’s so much better.”

I had heard of True Blood, of course.  The one-hour drama aired on HBO, and several of my friends had tried to get me to watch it.  But you know, being a Twilight fan was enough in my book.  I’m not some crazy Vampire fanatic.  If I were to start watching True Blood, I’d certainly become one of those people that’s obsessed with Vampires.  One day it’s watching True Blood, and the next day I’m wearing fake fangs and having Vampire bites tattooed onto my neck.

But then, one weekend, it happened.  We were the aforementioned best friend’s parents’ house for the weekend, and True Blood was on.  She made me watch a random episode with her, and though I didn’t know what to think of it at first, after those first fifty minutes aired, I was hooked.

Luckily for me, and the rest of the True Blood fans, Season One of the series has been released on DVD.  I quickly snagged a copy and started watching True Blood from the very beginning, and became obsessed anyway.

The premise of True Blood is simple.  The show takes place in modern times in Bon Temps, Louisiana.  Vampires are no longer myths from story books and movies, but are instead very real creatures, whom have “come out of the coffin”- meaning, they’ve revealed themselves to the human race and are trying to integrate.  A Japanese company has developed a synthetic blood drink called “True Blood”, which will replace and satiate the Vampire’s thirst for blood so that they no longer have to feed on humans.

The story revolves around a telepathic waitress named Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin).  From the first episode, we are introduced to her and her job at Merlottes, a little bar in town.  Merlottes has never had a Vampire dine there, until one night, a mysterious Vampire by the name of Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) appears.  Sookie is immediately intrigued by Bill, not only because he’s the first vampire she’s ever met, but also because, for some odd reason, she can’t hear his thoughts.

Most of the show revolves around the romance between Sookie and Bill, but other characters, including Sookie’s brother, Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten), have major plotlines as well.  Jason is a ladies’ man among town and is often found sleeping with new women every night.  Jason unintentionally ends up going to bed with a series of Fangbangers (women and men whom sleep with Vampires and let them feed on them), all of whom end up being killed as the series goes on.  Soon, the town has a murderer on its hands, and everyone is quick to blame Vampire Bill, as each of the woman who have died have the tell tale sign of Vampire bites on their body.

The series then shifts from a story of romance to a mystery, as the citizens of Bon Temps, and the viewers search in vain for the serial killer.  Meanwhile, Sookie adjusts to the oddities of dating a Vampire.  And if you thought that was a meaty plot, each episode has several other side plots involving the people closest to Sookie (mostly her boss, Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) and her best friend, Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley)).

Some of the show also focuses on the Vampire’s struggles to integrate with the humans.  People called Drainers go after the Vampires and kill them and drain their blood, which they sell on the black market.  Vampire Blood, also known as V, when drank by humans is like a drug; it heightens the senses and improves the sex drive.  Vampires are finding it hard to be accepted by all humans, of course- even those who don’t want to drain them are against them- calling them evil and saying they’re going to hell.  Of course, there are a few groups of Vampires who don’t want to be “humanized”, and instead would rather continued to feast on humans, rather than drink synthetic blood.  A few episodes are centered around such groups of Vampires.

The True Blood series is based on the The Southern Vampire Mysteries, written by Charlaine Harris.   Season One is based on the first book of the series, Dead Until Dark¸ which I just finished reading myself.  For the most part, the series sticks incredibly close to the novel- the first episode and chapter are almost exactly the same.  Series creator, Alan Ball, takes a few liberties, of course- namely giving some of the characters in the book that have smaller roles, much larger ones in the series (for example, Jason is hardly mentioned in the book.  Merlottes cook, and Tara’s cousin, Lafayette, is only mentioned in passing, yet he has a few plot lines on the show.  Tara’s character doesn’t appear in the first book at all, and when she does, she’s not anything like the character on the show- but more on that in a bit).  However, for the most part, Ball handles the translation from book to TV nicely and the result is an awesome show.

The first time I watched True Blood, I thought it was a little corny.  And it is.  Some of the lines are laughable, and some of the scenes are a bit over the top.  However, I think this is intentional- the writers and directors of the series seem to realize they’re filming a show about Vampires and don’t take it too seriously.

True Blood is also known for its graphic sex scenes.  It is on HBO- a network that’s notorious for having racy series.  True Blood is no exception- the first episode alone, I believe, includes at least three sex scenes, two of which include a lot of female nudity.  This theme goes on as the show progresses, but the scenes are always done in accordance to the plot, and never offensive or gratuitous.

The actors on the show all do a fantastic job.  Bill Moyer is incredibly convincing as Vampire Bill; he has just the right amount of sex appeal and southern charm to make Sookie falling in love with him completely understandable.  Anna Paquin (who won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Sookie), takes a little bit longer to get used to- while I do enjoy watching her as Sookie, she does come off as a bit whiny and annoying at times, and at other times, too rough around the edges.   Luckily, a few episodes in, and you become more accustomed to Sookie’s character and Paquin’s portrayal of her.  Even better is Paquin and Moyer’s on-screen chemistry.  The two (who are actually engaged in real life- they began dating after the show’s pilot episode) seem to ignite when they’re on screen together, and it’s very easy to get caught up in their romance.

The supporting casts also shines.  Sam Trammell plays Sam, Sookie’s boss who is secretly in love with her, and is my favorite character on the series.  Trammell is affable and kind, and plays the underdog role perfect, especially once Sookie clearly chooses Bill over him.  Trammell brings the character to life in a very genuine way; you can’t help but feel sorry for Sam during most of the season and then root for him to find his own happiness as the show goes on.  Ryan Kwanten is Sookie’s older brother, Jason, and plays the stereotypical dumb pretty boy role to a t.  Even minor cast member, Lois Smith (who plays Sookie’s grandmother Adele Stackhouse) is sweet and likeable..

Meanwhile, the bulk of the comedic relief is provided by Rutina Wesley.  In the books, Tara Thornton is not described as being African-American (she’s described with “olive colored” skin), nor is she described to have the fiery personality that the Tara on the show has, but Wesley makes both work.  Originally, I wasn’t sold on Wesley’s portrayal of Tara; she’s loud, and in your face, curses with every sentence and wont’ take crap from anyone, which is pretty much the “black girl from the hood” stereotype.  However, the True Blood writers did think to flesh her character out much more; Tara is all of the above things, but she’s also well educated, has a heart of gold, and is a good friend to both Sookie and Sam.  Wesley has superb comedic timing and also delivers in the emotional department during a few serious episodes.

Likewise, Nelsan Ellis, brings the character of Lafayette to life in a very wonderful way.  His character doesn’t make any other appearances after the second book (I won’t give away what happens, but it’s very different than in the series); however Ellis appears all throughout the second season and is signed to appear in the third.  This is likely because his character is a fan favorite; Ellis plays the flamboyant role of Lafayette brilliantly.  Besides Wesley, Ellis brings most of the laughter in each episode, but is also a very three dimensional, loveable character.

As a whole, True Blood is a fantastic show.  Each episode is filled with romance, drama, and comedy.  The Vampire Rights struggle is also a nice, thinly veiled commentary on the current Gay Rights struggle; since coming “out the coffin”, the Vampires on the show are often mistreated and judged, even though most of them are trying to live peaceably among the humans.  Even if you put that aside, the show is highly entertaining, and has a little something for everybody.

Once I started watching the show, I urged all of my friends to start watching too, and they all have.  Along with our group of friends, my best friend’s parents also watch True Blood with us, and so do all of my co-workers.  This just goes to show how very far-reaching the show’s audience is…and how addicting the show is, in general.

I dare you to watch the first episode without getting hooked – it’s like a junkie turning down a fresh vial of V- nearly impossible.

Rating: 5 stars

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