Title: True Blood
Based on the Southern Vampire Mystery books by Charlaine Harris
TV Series created by Alan Ball; Starring Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell, Ryan Kwaten, and Rutina Wesley.
This Sunday, after the official return of football season, HBO aired it’s pilot episode of True Blood–Alan Ball (of Six Feet Under & American Beauty fame)’s take on the popular Sookie Stackhouse novels of Charlaine Harris. The pilot episode, entitled “Strange Love”, sticks pretty closely to the plot of Dead Until Dark (at least the beginning of it), with mixed results.
Thea: Where to begin. Now, I am a big fan of the series–mostly because I love the character of Sookie, and I love the subtle humor the Ms. Harris injects into her world and her characters–always nicely balanced by the more serious and violent plots. The Sookie books always feel REAL, despite the fantastic material–vampires, shifters, etc. Mostly, this is because of Ms. Harris’s wonderful characters, and the more pragmatic narration of Sookie.
True Blood, however, falls short. Like, falls significantly short of the mark. Anna Paquin’s Sookie is likable enough–once you get past the strange direction and, quite frankly, moments of terrible acting. True, I’ve never been a big Paquin fan (aka she-who-ruined-Rogue)–but she’s perky and pretty as Sookie (until she smiles because dear LORD does she have some weirdo front teeth going on–in HD no less), but the accent, the bubbliness, all of it comes off as slightly off-kilter and counterfeit.
My biggest qualm with the show so far? It’s just so…hokey. Over the top with stereotypes, abundantly drawing on political metaphor, but lacking the subtlety or satire that would make it work. And, perhaps worst of all, there is no humor in this episode–and while the character names and plot might be true to the book, the spirit of Dead Until Dark is sadly absent.
Ana:As a huge fan of the series I was really looking forward to watching it on TV. I mean, the combination of a great book AND HBO? What could possibly go wrong? A lot, it seems.
First of all, there is Anna Paquin. As Thea, I am not a huge fan and I still carry a grudge after she RUINED Rogue in the X-Men movies. I don’t like her as Sookie at all , not in the pilot at least – I thought it was off-mark but I will be reasonable and say that there is room for improvement and she may still grown into Sookie’s shoes and get more comfortable on the role. I hope.
I agree with Thea that the pilot was over the top with stereotypes – but maybe this is what they are going for? Presenting the stereotypes and then destroy them? There is one particular scene that played perfectly with that idea: the one after Sookie saved Bill and he was all broody and seductive then she asks his name and he says Bill and she bursts out laughing , I mean what sort of vampire name is Bill? – that was a very good, humorous scene that sounded like the Sookie I know and the book I loved. If they could follow that path, remain a bit more faithful to the books, this could be a hit.
On the Plot:
Thea: In Alan Ball’s new series, Vampires have just come out of the coffin 2 years prior with the Japanese successful invention of synthetic blood. No longer needing to hide themselves from human society now that they can safely slake their blood thirst without harming humans, Vampires officially emerge as a new species, and lobby for the same civil rights as humans. There’s more of a focus on the politics of Vampires in the human world in True Blood than is seen in the books–which suits me just fine. I hope that the interesting plotline of Vamp discrimination–whether it be the ostracizing of vampires themselves or the views of humans that sleep with vampires comes to a sharper point. As it is right now, the plotseed is out there, but without any real application of the idea, and no significance behind it. Some reviewers have compared the dry political analogy to the issue of same-sex marriage, but to me the more apt comparison would be that of racism, and mixed-race relationships. I just hope that this can be handled by Alan Ball deftly, and without seeming too heavy handed or contrived.
So far as the plot of this initial episode goes, it follows the first book very closely. Maudette–local slut and one of Sookie’s brother’s recent lays–is found murdered, after some rough bed play looks like it got out of hand. Jason is brought in as a suspect for the crime, but there could be vampire involvement, as Maudette was a one-time “fangbanger”.
Meanwhile, Merlotte’s gets its first vampire visitor with Bill Compton, who Sookie is immediately drawn to. The Rattrays, a nasty couple, lure Bill outside and hold him down with silver chains to steal his blood with the intent of selling it on the black market for a tidy $10,000 sum–in a twist on the traditional lore, vampire blood is a hot commodity, making the drinker stronger, more beautiful, and apparently more virile.
Ana: The pilot followed book one pretty closely – although only a minor part of it. I wonder, if the show picks up, if they will do one book per season? That could work quite well.
As introductions go, I though the show conveyed quite well the vampires’ “coming out of the coffin” with a lot of potential for more serious plotlines with the discussion of vampires rights and racism. I just hope, as Thea does, that these will not be heavy handed. But yes, the potential is there. The premise is a cool one.
I have to say though, a few things really bugged the hell out of me plotwise. 1) the fact that Sookie walked around listening to other people’s thoughts 2) the fact that all of a sudden Tara is Sookie’s BFF since they were children. These two facts are so different from the book, I felt cheated. I wanted the Sookie that has a huge sense of isolation and finds solace in the emptiness of Bill’s head (hee). Am I whining? Possibly. Would I have liked it more had I not been a fan of the books? I think not – it wouldn’t have made a difference because some of the dialogues were so cheesy and all the scenes between Sookie and Bill so over the top, I am pretty sure I would have felt the same.
On the Characters:
Thea: I talked a bit about Anna Paquin’s Sookie above–perhaps overly-harsh in my judgement of her. Honestly, I think this version of Sookie could work–she certainly fills the perky blonde part out nicely in terms of looks–but Ms. Paquin’s invocation comes off as girlish, silly, and lacking the deep steel that Sookie’s character has in the books. In particular, her little innocent girl act while endearing in the books comes off as effing annoying on the show (i.e. the scene where Laffayette and the other waitresses are cracking jokes of a sexual nature and Sookie storms off in a fluster because ets jus’ not fit for a lady! Puh-lease). Perhaps this is something that will change as the series carries on…I certainly hope so.
On the other hand, I felt that Stephen Moyer’s Vampire Bill was spot on–broody, pale, kinda hot in a brooding pale vampire way, and he exudes that older, dangerous vampire feeling.
Although really–what the hell was up with all the slow mo-superupclose kissy face (while piano music plays in the background) sexually supercharged moments between Sookie in Bill?! I feared my eyes would get stuck in the back of my head from rolling them so much.
The other notable characters we get introduced to in this episode are much better. I loved Laffayette and his raunchy flamboyance, and Tara with her wise cracking badass front (although, she also veered on terrible stereotype–as Sookie’s black, wisecracking “Girrrrrlfrien'” sidekick); and even if they were caricatures, they brought a vivacity, a LIFE to their roles that was strangely flat everywhere else on the show. Sam Merlotte, while cute enough, also seems pretty lifeless and actor Sam Trammell’s portrayal gave me the distinct reminder of a wide-eyed deer in headlights.
Then, there’s Sookie’s family. Jason is played to perfection as a redneck manwhore hick (stereotyping again) who makes decisions with his pecker and not his brain. And he actually felt wholly believable in his role! Then, there’s Sookie’s grandma–cooly sitting at the dining room table reading a Charlaine Harris book when we are first introduced to her. While she seems sweet as pie, Sookie’s grams felt nothing like the sharp, groovy grandma of the book. Which is a shame, since I really loved the connection between Sookie and her grandma in Dead Until Dark.
Ana: I agree 100% with Thea in her assessment of Sookie and Bill’s portrayal. Bill was spot on – although I am not sure I am being positive here because I hate Bill in the books and I hated Bill on screen! And he does not look hot, sorry Thea, he looks dead!
The whole staring and the “I am going to eat you up, you look so good” faces were so ridiculously over the top, I was laughing so hard and somehow I don’t think that was what TPTB hoped to accomplish!
My favorites were the crew at Merlotte’s. I loved the camaraderie between the characters and I loved the small towness of the patrons. Now, I have to disagree with Thea when it comes to Tara. She annoyed me to no end. In fact , I may even add Kill Tara to my favorite mantra: Kill Bill.
My favorite characters? Sam and Jason. Both were perfect – fitting what I pictured in my mind fro the books but bringing something more to the screen.
No signs of Eric Northman yet. Given that I wasn’t particularly impressed with the pilot, I have the feeling that this is what is going to make or break the show for me. Let’s see.
Notable Parts/Additional Thoughts:
Thea: I looooove the intro credits for the series. Really freaking brilliant–HBO always does awesome intros (my favorite to date is probably Carnivale for its artistic value, but True Blood gives it a run for its money).
Ana: Favorite part? When Sam is telling Sookie off for setting up a date with Dastardly Bill. The combination of Sam’s thoughts and the usual need for Sookie to take care of her own life was exactly like in the book and then he sort of raises his voice and Sookie gets all teary eyed and that was the ONE moment that I was like: awwww Sookie, there you are!
Final Verdict and Rating:
Thea: I was disappointed with the pilot of this show. The characters felt off, the writing was pretty cheesy, the special effects weren’t great (in fact, they were plain horrible in that opening scene with the redneck vampire)…but I’ll continue to watch and hope for improvement. There certainly were some great moments–the camaraderie in Merlotte’s, some of the secondary characters–and since this is Alan Ball, I have to believe he has got more up his sleeve than what was shown in the pilot. I’ll be tuning in next Sunday.
Ana: nah. Not impressed to say the least. To be fair, there is great room for improvement, heck they even have done it already. I watched the infamous leaked pilot and then watched the official one and there were quite a few changes. So bring it on, Alan Ball, I will be watching some more. Just be really really careful on how you handle Eric Northman.. Please.
Thea: 5 Meh, So not digging on it yet
Ana: 5 Meh. Have seen better pilots.
Make sure to check out Kmont’s recap/review over at Lurv à la Mode for another opinion on True Blood!