Shifters, Vamps & Wolves: Why You Should Be Watching “True Blood”

Ever since one Buffy Summers left our screens back in 2003, there has been a bit of a vampire-shaped void in my life, while the supernatural world in general has been revisited in the excellent show, err, “Supernatural“, in terms of a more vampire-centric show there hasn’t been anything of note. That is until 2008 when “True Blood” started, and no, that Twilight dreck doesn’t even come close.

“True Blood” is a superb show, perhaps, dare I say it, even superior to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, much as I loved that show (caveat: “True Blood” is only just starting its fourth season so may go tits-up as it goes on, but for now it’s amazing). I think one of the important distinctions to be made about “True Blood” versus the box-office behemoth “Twilight” is that it, quite rightly, is an adult show; none of this Emo-styled woe-is-me bullshit aimed at the tween market that Twilight does, and which has also attracted some older fans who should really know better. When I say “True Blood” is an adult show I’m not joking, in fact it probably has more tits & ass than a top shelf magazine, as well as salty language that would make a sailor blush.

In my opinion, the tone of the Twilight saga is its main problem. Aside from the dubious love triangle between a stroppy cow, a tramp and a male Butterface and the fact that the books and films (un)intentionally fund the homophobic Mormon church due to the author’s faith, the vampire world is an adult one and really should be portrayed that way. Its predominant themes are sex and death, to remove these elements when making a film or television show about vampires both literally and metaphorically removes their bite. Anyway, enough about Twilight…

The "True Blood" cast (l-r): Nelsan Ellis, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell, Anna Paquin, Deborah Ann Woll, Alexander Skarsgård, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley

I myself have only recently discovered “True Blood” thanks to a good friend suggesting I borrow her DVDs (thanks, Lizzie!) which I consumed at great speed and have almost reached the end of season three now. This is always the good and bad thing about discovering a current show through the DVDs: you can catch up quickly, however it creates a lust for the show which is often left wanting when you realise it’ll be many moons until the latest season airs, causing you to go in to withdrawal *rocks back and forth, chewing own hand for comfort*.

From a superficial perspective there is the draw of equal-opportunity nudity imposed on the very attractive cast whose aesthetic appeal I shall let speak for itself, though I must admit as a gay man, since watching this show I have seen more booby than I would have otherwise intended. Indeed as a general sci-fi fan, I wasn’t expecting to see Rogue‘s norks, let alone on more than one occasion. Then again this…

Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Sam (Sam Trammell) in a very hot homoerotic scene.

and this…

Alexander Skarsgård as Eric Northman...yeah, like you're reading this.

…happen on a regular basis too, so, erm…yes, well I, err, what point was I making again?

Anyway, I think one of the strengths of the show is how, even though it’s a sci-fi & fantasy show, it is rooted in a believable alternate reality. Shortly before the time the first season is set, Japanese scientists are meant to have developed a synthetic alternative to human blood called ‘Tru Blood’, which has allowed the door to mainstream society to be opened for vampire-kind. However, an ongoing theme of the show is how vampires are fighting for equal rights through their bureaucratic body entitled “The American Vampire League”, but being met with constant opposition from religious folk, which obviously draws parallels with the gay community’s fight for rights in the real world and how they are met with the same style opposition from the religious right. Indeed, there’s even a shot in the title sequence (see embedded video below) of a church sign saying “God Hates Fangs” much like the “God Hates Fags” ones we’ve sadly seen used in America by various Christian hate-groups.

The setting of the show is a fictional town in the southern US state of Louisiana, called Bon Temps, with many scenes taking place in the local bar, “Merlotte’s”, owned by the character Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) and is where most of the characters either frequent or work. Without going into detail, in case you’ve yet to watch this show, each season tends to have an over-arching plot line that is dealt with by the finale, as well as ongoing sub-plots.

The cast, aside from their visual appeal, is a collection of interesting, fully drawn characters that, thanks to excellent scripts, speak in a very believable fashion (read: swear profusely, which is wholly understandable in a world full of vampires and death!), further aided by dialogue rife with zingy one-liners and hilarious put-downs. Much of the humour comes from the characters Tara (Rutina Wesley) and, my personal favourite, Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), who are cousins and affectionately refer to each other as “hooker” and “bitch”. I feel these two often outshine the lead characters of Sookie (Anna Paquin) and her vampire beau, Bill (Stephen Moyer), who can at times come across as overly earnest and a little bit dull. Having said this, I suppose you need both character types to have a balanced and fully fleshed-out world. On a side note, I’m pretty sure if you looked up the word “sass” in the dictionary you would find a picture of Lafayette, who is just a riot, gurrrl! *snaps fingers*

Mmmmhmmmmm!

The vampire side of the cast are equally excellent. Aside from the drool-worthy Alexander Skarsgård who plays vampire sheriff Eric Northman, other characters include (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) the character of Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), a young girl made in to a vampire by Bill towards the end of season one, who serves as a viewer-tool to the vampire world, since being a newly created vampire she needs things explaining to her (END OF SPOILER). There’s also the icy and sarcastic Pam (Kristin Bauer), who is Eric’s child and second in command, and incidentally another favourite of mine.

The dynamics between the undead characters are equally interesting too, because their culture is steeped in tradition and hierarchy, where age and respect go hand in hand generally speaking. There is also the internal feuding about whether vampire society should try and ingratiate itself with human society rather than just see them as a primitive food source.

Each season is only around 12 episodes long, rather than the usual 20+ that viewers have come to expect from a US TV show. However the episodes are slightly longer, being nearer the 50-55 minute mark, rather than the 40 minute standard of an “hour-long” episode elongated by multiple advertising breaks. Any high quality show will naturally leave you wanting more, but longer seasons often have sporadic drops in quality most likely down to the sheer volume of creativity required to fill a season of a show such as “True Blood”. In many ways, around a dozen episodes per season is probably the best compromise, as many more and the quality can dip, much less and there isn’t enough room to flesh out a decent story and the season-run can seem annoyingly short; examples of the latter to me would be “Being Human” & “The Walking Dead“. Ultimately, of course, quality is always more desirable than quantity for quantity’s sake.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, “True Blood” is about to enter its fourth season so is still a fairly young show and arguably just hitting its stride now, especially when you consider only 36 episodes have aired so far. “Supernatural” by comparison has just finished its sixth season (seventh starting in September in the States) with 126 episodes under its belt. If my waffle here hasn’t sent you into a coma (score!) but has gotten you intrigued, I would definitely recommend checking it out, especially if you would enjoy the pithy stylings of shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” mixed with a healthy dose of sex, gore and cursing; and really, who wouldn’t?

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