Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at the new fall season of television. You can find the archive of those reviews here.
I Got A Weakness
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!
Which is precisely why the Bill/Sookie partnering can exist and make sense. Bill is a bit of an outcast among his brethren and Sookie, being telepathic and all, has never quite fit in around normal folk. Their intense chemistry and the state of Sookie’s virginity are reason enough to watch.
Sarah C. Roberts is a contributor to This Recording. She tumbls here.
portrait of our author
“Butterfly’s Wing” – Mercury Rev (mp3)
“A Squirrel and I (Holding On…And Letting Go)” – Mercury Rev (mp3)
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