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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Monday
Aug242009

In Which We Just Want Someone To Suck On

Back to the Blood

by SARAH C. ROBERTS

Sookie Stackhouse, True Blood's blonde-haired, wide-eyed heroine, is telepathic. And naturally, since she can hear their lovely thoughts, she's not a huge fan of (human) men. Sookie's gift is just one supernatural element we as viewers are asked to accept as almost normal in this intense and dark dramedy. Alan Ball's new show True Blood on HBO is decidedly different than his last foray into the premium channel playground where anything goes, Six Feet Under, but his mix of heavy and light, death and love, fantastical and gritty is still present in True Blood.

 

Ball has an ability to strike a balance of humorous dialogue and scenarios with serious situations and themes. True Blood is certainly no different, taking seriously the idea that vampires are now out in the open and will be treated like minorities are in this country, especially in the South - not too well

Here, vampires exist and are immortal. As one who has never been a Harry Potter or fantasy/supernatural genre fan, I found the whole concept hard to get past. When I watch movies/shows I want to feel as though the story playing before me could actually take place.

The Japanese have created synthetic blood that fulfills all vampires' nutritional needs. It's called Tru Blood and sold in 4-packs like gourmet beers. It looks disgusting. Now that vampires do not need to feed on humans, they have "come out of the coffin" and are living amongst us, the living, so we better get used to it. They have a Vampire Rights Act that will be voted on (I'm guessing in a future episode) and an American Vampire League to push their agenda.

That's fine and good but some Joe six-pack Americans aren't all that open to the vampire agenda and think they're evil, sick and a blatant affront to Our Lord Jesus Christ. Sound familiar? This is where the larger - albeit obvious - metaphor begins to take shape in my head and that wink, wink I get what you're putting down Ball feeling makes the supernatural element easier to swallow.

 

True Blood is set in Bon Temps, a fictional small town in northwest Louisiana. The swampland of Louisiana as a setting lends itself to the supernatural (and to the horrible accents that populate the show) but it also sets up a portrayal of the Deep South that is relatively accurate.

As a young girl I lived in Shreveport, which is in northwest Louisiana and is referenced on the show, and my family is from a small town very similar to Bon Temps, Logansport, La. and as I watched a familiarity washed over me reminding me of the times I spent in my grandmother's house on the Red River.

What True Blood does very well is show a fairly realistic small Southern town: race relations imperfect but far improved, the gossip news network, the slower pace of life in the stifling heat.

What should be expounded on as unrealistic is the worst element of the show for me: the accents. They are bad-bad, not so bad it pains to watch, but laughably bad at times. Non-Southerners waxing Southern is always especially amusing for me, and even though some of the hackneyed elements of the set design and clothing choices, among other things, are laid on a bit too thick for my taste, it could always be worse.

In small towns, evangelicals tend to set the standards of living and vampires are wholly unacceptable in a "family values rule!" society. The treatment of gays throughout the course of our collective history is probably the closest comparison to make to the way the vampires are portrayed. The vampire lifestyle is unnatural and a sin, they will convert your children, they are sexually perverse, and on and on.

 

Ball's portrayal of the majority of vampires as these poor, unfortunate souls who golly-gee just want rights like all the rest of us law-abiding, tax-paying Americans is a bit much at times, but fortunately that is not the only plot point of note.

As with real-life issues the level of acceptance for vampires and vampire culture is on a continuum for the non-blood drinking characters on the show and most are not quite as accepting as Sookie. The Sookie Stackhouse series of books by Charlaine Harris is centered on mystery. Are the vampires murdering the young, nubile women of Bon Temps or is it something more sinister?

The story is about the humans (perhaps more than human in Sookie's case) and how they react to and are affected by the vampire infestation. Bill Compton, Bon Temps first vampire and Sookie's love interest, is "mainstreaming." He lives among human and he doesn't bite people. He is generally a stand-up vampire as he courts Sookie Stackhouse, which does not please his fellow vampires. He's too normal! He's domesticated and boring!

 

The insanity has reached a breaking point. As the first season came to a close, I found myself more invested in and sympathetic to some of the main players, namely the male characters. The ladies are losing my affection. It is painful to say such things, but it is more unfortunate that the female characters are portrayed as self-centered brats, crazy hippies, unfortunante drunks, or "possessed" by demons.

Sam Merlotte, the creepy proprietor of Merlotte's Tavern, has come off as overprotective of his employees and judgmental of everyone. His love for Sookie is desperate and more than a little awkward. Now seemingly mild-mannered Sam is a shape-shifter (not a werewolf as I previously assumed) and Sookie just can't wait to learn more about her boss. It is hard to dislike someone whose parents just took off and left him to fend for himself when he was a young teen.

tara and sam making out

So sure, the shape-shifting is weird and a little off-putting but Sam and Tara as a couple? Weirder and majorly off-putting. I delicately hid my eyes every time they were shown in flagrante.

As Sam's plight is becoming more and more understandable, Tara pushes me further and further away. Their pairing just doesn't work and hopefully, that ship may have officially sailed. Worse was the blood-boiling pairing of Jason and former "free-spirit" Amy. Amy was... a naturalist? A slow food believer? Totally insane? All of the above?

Her legacy is Jason Stackhouse. Jason may be very pretty and a little dumb, but he means well. (In another case of major family issues as a source of bad behavior, Jason is convinced that his irresponsible behavior as a boy caused his parents' untimely death.) Tara's cousin Lafayette's schoolin' has impressed upon the chill young man that his recent actions have had and will continue to have some major consequences. His current imprisonment is upsetting, but his urge to take responsibility means he may have finally gotten it.

Amy was problematic. Yes, she's charming, smart, and hot, but she was also a vampire kidnapping (/draining/killing) psycho. I always hate when women are written as just inherently manipulative, with no background or explanation. It's certainly not better for Jason now that she's gone, and her character was most definitely entertaining. We'll probably never know exactly what she was doing down in Louisiana or who she really is.

sookie and sam

Bill made a mistake defending Sookie's honor, and now all he wants is to mainstream and be with Sookie and hang out in Bon Temps. He'd rather not take part in vampire politics, yet he has no choice. With creative punishment from the tribunal, Bill became a maker for the first time and he does not appear to be a fan of the process or the new, bratty young vamp. I mainly feel sympathy because even when he missteps with Sookie, it seems he's just trying to do right by her, as chauvinistic as what he thinks is best might be.

He doesn't fit in with her modern world and she'll never understand the complexities and requirements of the vampiric life. This conflict between the two will surely cause an even bigger rift between their two worlds as a battle for the moral majority looms on the horizon.

Sarah C. Roberts is the senior contributor to This Recording. She lives in Georgia, and her tumblr is here.

sarah