Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Last Stop on the True Blood Train

I've tried reading Charlaine Harris - I have - but the Sookie Stackhouse books... they simply aren't for me. No surprises there, I suppose: the whole notion of paranormal romance rubs me the wrong way.

All the same, when HBO announced Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball would be showrunning an adaptation of the series, I was as excited as all get-out. For me, Six Feet Under represented a very personal watershed moment in television drama. I know a lot of people criticised the series in its later years, and yes, even my interest wavered amidst all the navel-gazing and tiresome relationship shuffling of seasons four and five, but looking back, three great years and a superlative finale is all the redemption Six Feet Under needed in my mind. Deep, dark and daring, it will always have a special place in my heart.

So when I heard Alan Ball would be directing his attention to an adult vampire drama loosely based on books whose speculative leanings had interested me but whose soap-opera execution I'd found wanting, I didn't let the sour taste half of the first Sookie Stackhouse book had left in my mouth spill over into my expectations for True Blood. 

 Perhaps, in this case, I should have been a little less objective. Because as of last night, when my lovely other half and I belatedly polished off the last episodes of the second season, I think I'm done with True Blood; unless something significant happens to change my mind, I'm washing my hands of it. I know it has a huge following. And in light of the way the likes of Twilight and The Vampire Diaries have seized the contemporary zeitgesit, that isn't surprising. Certainly True Blood is the best of that bunch. There are moments when I genuinely do enjoy it, and irrespective of my tastes, I admire its stylishness, its energy, its panache.

I'll even go so far as to say I've fallen for a few of its characters. Bear with me here, because I'm not great with names, but I enjoyed the Cajun from the first season; the lonely vampire Jason and his girlfriend preyed upon; and Godric, short-lived though he was despite his long life, was great. But there's no-one in Bon Temps that delights me more than Lafayette - though his role in season two sadly downplayed the very outrageousness that made his character so memorable.

And that, I think, is a stake straight to heart of my problem with True Blood. It has its strengths, and no shortage of them, but rather than play to them, time and again it digresses towards its less winning aspects. Characters tread water, promising narrative threads amount to nothing more than a return to the status quo. A warning: look away now if you haven't yet caught up with the show and don't want some pivotal plot points spoiled.

Now Buffy suffered through some pretty dire antagonists in its seven years, but truly, the Big Bad of season two of True Blood takes the cake. Maryanne could have been another great character. Instead, the writers spent perhaps half the season driving home the same point, again and again: Maryanne reduces people to their basest, most animal instincts. Her development happened too slowly; the big reveal, on the other hand, happened too fast. I understand the limitations of serial television, but a show with the pedigree of True Blood - not to mention a network noted for its support of television which breaks the mold - simply shouldn't fall victim to such problematic pacing. That's a problem of the creators' own making, rather than a by-product of its format.

Anyway, I could go on, but I'll save you the bellyaching. I really was ready to love True Blood; I just don't. Ill-content to let its best characters breathe and thrive and determined to repeat itself ad infinitum, pandering at the best of times and insulting at the worst, I honestly feel this show could have been so much more than a supernatural soap-opera with sex and death. I see the appeal, but I don't feel it. If you ask me - though nobody did - Alan Ball needs to move the True Blood train on rather than reveling in the world he's realised.

When and if he does, someone hit me up, alright? I'm ready to fall for this world, though as it stands it seems too busy falling for its own self.

1 comment:

  1. I quite enjoy it but I found the books very entertaining and am not happy with some of the casting.