Who could have thought the one turkey of all turkeys would make me think about Alan Ball’s (Six Feet Under) new show for HBO, True Blood? Strange but true:
… a giant skeleton head animated with all the precision and detail you’d expect to find in a handheld video game from the eighties. As Rajesh recoils in horror, his bride morphs completely into a cartoon skeleton so lacking in any illusion of physical depth that it could have been lifted from an episode of South Park and proceeds to beat him up, all the while cackling crazily like a drunken old prospector. Interestingly, those in charge of rendering the skeleton appear to have felt that the idea of a skeleton that was actually, you know, skeletal beating up the beefy Rajat Bedi placed too much of a tax on credibility, and so made the ill-advised decision to provide that skeleton with something akin to muscle mass. The resulting creature is nothing if not otherworldly, boasting exaggerated, Popeye-like bulges in the bones of its legs and upper arms. Then again, it could just be that no one involved knew how to draw a skeleton.
— Todd Stadtman in his hysterical write up of the excruciating Jaani Dushman a.k.a. The Movie Sonu Nigam Thought Would Launch His Acting Career Before His Himeshness Put Him Right.
Now before the vampire-loving lynching party arrives, let me state first up that there is no comparison between the two as far as content or merit goes. True Blood may be made for TV, but even its opening credits are better than the entire sum of Jaani Dushman. (Indeed, some have said its opening credits are actually better than the show itself, but that’s another story.)
But as I was reading about Manisha Koirala’s faux-skeleton (oops, did I spoil Jaani Dushman for you? Boo hoo!), I began to think: well, what’s so scary about a skeleton anyway? It doesn’t look too pretty but apart from our having been conditioned to fear them, especially when bumped into in the dark, what is so inherently frightening about bones? After all, we all have a set, don’t we? Granted, it usually only moves about when it has things like flesh on top of it, but think of all those Tunnels of Fear or whatever they’re called at amusement parks where you’re supposed to be dead scared because somebody splashed neon green paint on some poor plastic skeleton and hung from a hanger in one corner.
I suppose you could interpret it as humanity’s terror of what lies beneath, of being faced by one’s mortality or the reality of what a living, breathing person can be reduced to which, to me, is a fascinating concept. But given the technical problems of making a skeleton emote, as evidenced by Jaani Dushman, I suppose we shouldn’t hold our collective breath for a show centred on skeletons. (The first person to yell “Skeletor” will either earn my undying love or will be marked for instant death – I haven’t made up my mind yet.)
So if the extremely dead are hard to write into life (how would you have a kissing scene with a skeleton, for instance? As it is, teeth are awkward when you’re kissing a real live person, imagine kissing someone who only has teeth to offer), then the undead are our only option. And in the undead world, nobody does it better than the vampires.
There is such drama about them! Immortality, sex, existential angst, art & literature, class struggle, supernatural powers, transmogrification, extreme physical beauty, lost souls, exoticism, accents, revenge, emotional retardation, religion, food… you can project pretty much every fear a human being has ever felt onto a vampire. Even when they’re unthinking monsters out to feed! feed! feed! they do it with so much more style than the other undeads. It’s no wonder they’re so popular.
In True Blood, however, the premise is that they’re no longer the monsters who live in the dark. They’re out in the open and living amongst us thanks to the Japanese (heh) who’ve hit upon the perfect blood substitute called TruBlood, now available in handy six packs at your local 7-Eleven. According to the vampires, this means humans can now rest easy because, as an impeccably coiffed representative of the “American Vampire League” (Jessica Tuck from Judging Amy – more please?) informs Bill Maher, the only really bad thing we know about vampires is that humans are their preferred food source and now that they have something just as good to drink, why keep harping on the negatives? Bygones! Let’s all live in peace and make love not war.
As you might imagine, this doesn’t go over very well with a lot of folks who can’t help but feel a teeny bit skeptical about the vampires’ willingness to switch to “Slim Fast for the rest of [their] life”, as one character succinctly puts it. In one stroke they’ve become the symbol of everything we fear in others as opposed to everything we fear in ourselves. Nevertheless, they’re here, they’re “out of the coffin”, they’re drinking TruBlood and they want to make friends with you.
One of the people who want to take them up on their offer (well, the only one, really, that we see in the pilot at least) is Sookie Stackhouse. Waitress, mind reader and a real Southern lady, if there was one thing that completely won me over in this pilot, it was Anna Paquin’s (The Piano, X-Men) performance.
Unlike (the often creepy) Bella from the Twilight series, Sookie can not only kick your ass if you forget to treat her like a lady deserves to be treated, she can also hold her own in the bitchstakes. She does have this weird thing for vampires but hey! It’s Stephen Moyer (The Starter Wife – I know! I know what you’re thinking but he’s so much better here. It’s worth watching this pilot just to hear him call her “Sookie” ) – anybody’d have a thing for him, fangs or no fangs. But she’s not exactly Buffy either. There’s something mighty strange about our Miss Stackhouse and it’s not that she’s humanity’s latest protector. Even the vampire can’t figure her out.
Based on The Southern Vampire Mystery series by Charlaine Harris, True Blood seems all set to follow in the footsteps of Dexter as far as adaptation is concerned, which is to say the first season is based on the first book of the series and from the second season on, they may well deviate from Harris’ vision.
Having never read the books (I’m not really that big of a vampire enthusiast although I’ll admit I have read the Twilight books. Sue me.), and loving spoilers the way I do, I went hunting for a little information on how the future episodes are likely to turn out… and lived to regret it. It’s one of the few times when I found myself wishing I didn’t know of at least one major twist in the tale that’s scheduled to take place later this season – if the producers decide to stick with Harris’ outline. Take my word for it and if you’re watching this series as a Stackhouse virgin, resist temptation and don’t read the books until the season comes to a close. It’s what I did with Dexter and the decision stood me well.
Stackhouse fans should be aware, however, that there are some significant departures from the books, as I understand it. These are chiefly centered around Sookie’s friends: Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley), Lafayette Reynolds (Nelson Ellis) and Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell). Again, ignorance is bliss and I thoroughly enjoyed watching these characters, especially Tara and Lafayette who’re absolutely insane and have the scenes to prove it. But then I like my characters a little screwed up.
And if Sam was a little meh, not to mention a little creepy, then Sookie’s dimbulb, womanizer brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) more than made up for it.
I don’t know if I love this show yet – so far I haven’t had that gotcha moment of connection with it – but given the dismal state of most of my formerly beloved shows (has anybody been watching the 4th season of Bones? Somebody call 911!), I’m more than willing to give True Blood a chance.