Review Made By the La Times

12:00 AM CDT on Saturday, September 6, 2008

By MARY McNAMARA Los Angeles Times

The best thing about Alan Ball's new vampire series True Blood, which premieres on HBO on Sunday, is the opening credits: creepily tantalizing images of prayer meetings and road kill, ghostly children and swamp scenery. Unfortunately, the unnerving compilation betrays the show that follows.

Mr. Ball decided to turn Charlaine Harris' light, fun series of Southern Vampire Mysteries into a heavy-handed political fable. Vampires, recently rendered "safe" by the creation of the synthetic TruBlood, act as stand-ins for the disenfranchised.

Early in the first episode, Nan Flanagan, a pretty blond vampire spokeswoman, explains this to Bill Maher with verbiage reminiscent of past civil liberties conversations, most recently those about gay marriage.

Even in these post-Buffy days, it's dangerous to use natural blood- suckers as proxy figures for any group other than, say, serial killers.

But vampires are the least of True Blood's worries. Borrowing heavily from many genres, True Blood aspires to transcend them all only to deposit the viewer waist-deep in a literal and figurative swamp.

Vampire fantasy, murder mystery, star-crossed love story, political satire, True Blood is all and none of the above. Not quite funny, not quite scary, not quite thought-provoking, the show's attempt to question the roots of prejudice is continually undermined by its own stereotyping.

Seriously, isn't it time to stop portraying every small town below the Mason-Dixon line as populated by drunken, racist, testosterone-charged lunkheads?

Apparently not.

In Bon Temps, the tiny Louisiana town where True Blood opens, all the men seem obsessed with booze and sexual assault while their fried-food-devouring wives quietly despise them.

The main character is Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a telepathic waitress. When she walks through the dining room of her place of employment, she "hears" the mental equivalent of hell on earth.

This hateful babble is one reason Sookie finds herself drawn to the pale stranger who wanders in one night. The mind of Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), Bon Temps' first official vampire, is closed to hers. After years of serving beer to the likes of, say, the trashy couple who kill vampires to harvest their potent "v-blood," a nice, quiet vampire is a relief.

Blond and perky, with the signature mix of sass and insecurity of chick-lit heroines, Sookie comes fully equipped with her sidekick starter pack: Tara (Rutina Wesley), the tough-talkin' black best friend; Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), the wisecrackin' gay cook; and Sam (Sam Trammell), the sweet, torch-carrying friend, who is also her boss. They are there to protect her from herself.

Despite all she hears, and although her brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is the biggest redneck womanizer in town, Sookie still trusts that most people, including the undead, are good at heart.

Ms. Paquin strains every acting muscle in her body to make Sookie real, but bubbly Southern waif savant does not come naturally to her. Her infatuation with Bill is inexplicable. Mr. Moyer goes for a sadder, wiser Heathcliff vibe but winds up just plain mopey – not an attractive quality in a vampire.

By contrast, Ms. Wesley's Tara is a joy to watch, especially as she grapples with her alcoholic mother, and Mr. Ellis' Lafayette is a witty, gritty steel magnolia.

Ms. Harris' books are mysteries, and a mystery runs through True Blood. As the vampires are joining society, someone is murdering the young women of Bon Temps, or at least the young, sexually active women.

While the standard-issue-stupid Southern sheriff (named "Bud" and played as straight as humanly possible by William Sanderson) and a detective fumble their way through the investigation, Sookie must use her special powers to see who is really responsible, human or vampire.

True Blood
8 p.m. Sunday on HBONew series 'True Blood' sucks the fun out of vampires


dasmuggler dasmuggler
36-40, M
2 Responses Feb 20, 2009

Agree with Kewpiedoll. Great writeup, it's even better than the true blood boring script story writing.

I personally do not enjoy True Blood at all. An interesting and comprehensive write up, thanks for sharing.