True Blood: Strange Love

Bill: "What are you?"
Sookie: "I told you. I'm a waitress."

Surprisingly, True Blood doesn't suck. I don't know why I thought it would.

I had two reasons for avoiding this first season when it originally aired: (1) I'm way too familiar with, and fond of, the series of books that it is based on so I didn't think I'd like it, and (2) I'm too cheap to pay for HBO. I was fairly certain I wouldn't want to review it, and to be honest, I'm still not sure if I should. But I just saw the first episode and I seem to want to write about it, so here you go.

This first episode was fine, although for me, I had that weird "I know everything that's going to happen" feeling you get when you're watching a live action version of a book you know really well. If the entire first season is based on the first book, I already know who killed Maudette and why. Here's hoping that Alan Ball uses the characters and setting as a jumping off point, so that I won't know everything that is going to happen this season. Or maybe next season.

The differences from the book were what jumped out at me. Like the graphic sex. The books are sexy, but not like this. And I didn't feel that it worked; it was like they were going, hey, this is HBO, look at the sex. The other big difference was Rutina Wesley as Tara, Sookie's best friend. Tara here is a completely different character than the one in the books. Which is actually okay by me, because I immediately liked her and her mouth.

But everything else did feel like the books: the town of Bon Temps, Merlotte's Bar and Grill, and all of the townie characters were quite familiar to me. Most importantly, they were faithful to the character of Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), who is the core of the Southern Vampire books. Born a mind reader, Sookie has spent her life being treated like a freak by many because she can't help reacting to the din she is constantly hearing in her head. And yet, her friends, who see beneath the surface, love her dearly. There were several references to her not dating, not having a boyfriend; the constant din in her head, we assume, makes dating impossible. Bill the vampire gave her something a human man couldn't; he quieted the din in her head.

And yay for the casting of Stephen Moyer as Bill. I always felt that Bill was something of a one-note character in the books, but Stephen Moyer has presence and makes Bill as sexy and mysterious as he could possibly be. I also liked Sam Trammell as Sookie's boss, Sam, another key character from the books.

I was less thrilled with Jason, Sookie's "selfish, egotistical, complete horndog" of a brother. Well, actually, I don't like him in the books, either. Jason Stackhouse is the most obvious suspect in Maudette's murder, so of course, it can't be him. (That's Billie's second rule of television, although it also applies to movies and books: the most obvious murder suspect in real life is usually the one whodunit, while in television, the opposite is true.)

These vampires look exactly like humans, except when their fangs come out. They are burned by silver. Their blood is addictive and intoxicating as well as sexually arousing (and clearly, drinking it doesn't make one a vampire). There are vampire drainers who prey on them. Vampires in this 'verse are a persecuted "minority group." In fact, one can assign a whole gay subtext, if you like. Or not, if you choose.

"Tru Blood," the title of the series as well as the synthetic blood that allowed vampires to "come out of the coffin," is a metaphor for the artificiality of vampire existence in the human world. Aptly compared at one point to Slim-Fast, synthetic blood isn't the real thing and doesn't satisfy. Vampires pretend it's enough for them, but it's not.

I enjoyed the quirky bits throughout, mostly pertaining to the vampires. My favorite was the billboard that read, "God hates fangs." (You can hear the intolerant "God hates gays" in your head as you're reading it.)

Bits and pieces:

-- I thought the opening scene was sort of stupid. The point was that the scary-looking clerk was the human, and the ordinary Billy Bob guy was the vamp. Meaning what? That vampires, at their core, are just people who happen to be undead? That we should expect the unexpected? Probably both.

-- The lights literally dimmed for her when Sookie first saw Bill.

-- Sam, Sookie's cute boss who is in love with her, started out of the bar to save Sookie, and a dog showed up. A dog that Sookie sees around the bar now and then.

-- Maudette was clearly death wish girl, and she got her wish. Bill was set up as a suspect because he told Sookie he prefers biting the artery in the groin. Sookie's brother Jason, of course, is also a suspect.

-- Gran was reading a book by Charlaine Harris, the author of the books this series is based upon. I couldn't quite make out the title.

-- I'm not southern, so I can't tell if the southern-ness was stereotypical or on target. In the books (I really should shut up about the books, but I love them and can't help myself) it feels genuine, probably because the author, Charlaine Harris, is a southerner.

-- Bill Maher did a cameo, interviewing "Nan Flanagan," who represents the American Vampire League.

-- New Orleans is apparently a mecca for vampires. They must all love Anne Rice.

-- I love that there are "fangbangers." I really, really do.

-- The episode ended with a cliffhanger: the Rattrays (perfect name for them) were beating Sookie up behind Merlotte's as payback for rescuing Bill.

Quotes:

Jason: "You know, I read in Hustler that everybody should have sex with a vampire at least once before they die."

Sookie: "Oh, don't worry about Sam. He's cool. I know for a fact he supports the Vampire Rights Amendment."
Bill: "How progressive of him."

Bill: "What are you?"
Sookie: "Well, I'm Sookie Stackhouse. And I'm a waitress. What's your name?"
Bill: "Bill."
Sookie: "Bill? I thought it might be Antoine or Basil or, or, like, Langford, maybe, but Bill? Vampire Bill?"

Fairly effective pilot episode. It certainly made me want to see more,

Billie
---
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Like the graphic sex. The books are sexy, but not like this. And I didn't feel that it worked; it was like they were going, hey, this is HBO, look at the sex."

THANK YOU! This has been my main complaint all along! I have seen the pilot, and was immediately turned off by the graphic sex. It's like, that guy doesn't know what clothes are. People made me act like I was crazy for feeling that way, too lol. I'm gonna check out the second episode today, but I'm not sure if I can get into it. The only scene in the pilot that really made me go WOW was the store with the vampire in the store buying blood with the two teenagers. I loved that scene. Great start!

I wanna see how it continues, and if it will 1) just be a romance, cause, ya know, not my favs, and 2) if it will realize that just cause it's on HBO does not mean they should randomly forget about the costume designer.

Kelly said...

I too adore the books, so I approached the series from the same point of view as you did, Billie, as far as thinking, "Well I know everything that's going to happen." But I knew that as long as it was done well, I'd like it anyway. Alan Ball managed to pull off the same thing that the Dexter crew did with the first season of Dexter.

The first season does follow the first book. So there are a lot of things you will already know. But they did expand on characters and add things. I really like the Tara portrayed in the show a lot better than Tara in the books, who is really a minor character there. She gets plenty of screen time and a storyline of her own (as do a few other characters).

Overall I really enjoyed watching the show and I'm very much looking forward to seeing more. Knowing certain things didn't ruin my enjoyment of it.

Of course, I did wait anxiously for Eric's appearance, since he's my favorite character. ;-) And if you have concerns about level of detail in its faithfulness to certain aspects of the books... Pam wore pastels!!

Do I think it was perfect? Nothing is. Did I think they went a little overboard with the sex just because it was on HBO? Okay, yeah a little. But it didn't ruin the story or the characters. (Jason is supposed to be obnoxious, heh.)

Billie Doux said...

blasterboy606: I advise you to stick with it. I just watched episode six (my reviews are going to lag a bit behind my viewing), and it was just outstanding. In fact, it was why I decided to go ahead and start posting reviews.

Kelly, Eric and Pam are two of my favorite characters in the series. :) I just loved the way Harris described Pam as looking like Alice in Wonderland with fangs. And Eric is obviously the Spike character to Bill's Angel. Or the Lestat character to Bill's Louis. Love Eric to bits.

Mike said...

Billie, love you so much already, but am so happy you're reviewing True Blood. I adore the show, and it's the only one I'm watching this summer. Can't wait to follow it with you!

Danielle said...

I started reading the books specifically because of it being a vampire book written by a Southern. The best of both worlds since I was born and have lived most of my life in the South AND I enjoy reading/watching about vampires.

The Southern accent is horrid, but I can get past that since I thoroughly enjoyed the first season and am so excited about the second. The Southern characters are mostly stereotypical, but I recognize many of my relatives and friends! The South is full of truth is better than fiction characters.

I love your reviews, Billie. I found you about 5ish years ago when I watched the entire Buffy and Angel series in rerun form. Thanks!

HellBlazerRaiser said...

TRUE BLOOD!!! Another series I just love!!! Thank you for adding this!!!!

I had intended to watch the series as it aired, but the pilot turned me off initially. Something just didn't click.

Then I was flipping around one night and came across the scene where Sookie and Adele (I have loved Lois Smith since HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT) were discussing Bill and how he scares Sookie and I instantly fell in love with the series. I went back and pulled the episodes I had missed from On Demand (I recorded all of them on VHS [I am very old school!!!]) and I've watched each episode at least a dozen times.

My favorite moments are the first time Sookie sees Biil (the music in scene and the way it was shot is so fantastic) and the next time he comes into the bar.

Thanks again for adding this series to your review list!!! (Now if only you would watch HARPER'S ISLAND < wink > :) )

Dan

citten said...

Ah, finally getting my billie-fix on this series as well - thank you *bow*

And glad it's just not me who find all the sex a bit to grafic.

Don't have any useful comments on the ep since i watched it back when it aired, and that's to long ago to remember all the details :)

Henrik Bennetter said...

Hi Billie!
I'm also very happy you've started reviewing Tru Blood - 'cause then I wont have to watch it.
It's this whole overly graphic sex-thing that honestly turns me off.
I watched three episodes and the whole time it felt like "Hey, where HBO, so we can show people doing it in sweatier ways each episode". I felt it dragged the focus away from what was actually going on and all this humping was totally irrelevant to moving the story forward.
But by all means, keep reviewing and I'll keep reading.

Troy said...

Hello Billie!

1st time poster, even though I've read your reviews (especially Buffy and Angel) for a couple of years now. Love 'em, keep it up!

Anyway, True Blood is a great show, however, the accents get on my nerves. It seems the actors are going for the "sterotypical accents" that make some of the characters seem like idiots. Being from the South myself, some of the stereotypes the show presents are true but they can also be found anywhere in America, not just the South. This show seems to follow the "Southerners are narrow-minded" idiocy and it's just not true.

...Rant over. Other than that I love the show!

maru said...

I am going to enjoy you reviewing this. I have also read the books, although not all of them yet. I have watched bits and pieces of the series. I am now going along with you, as usual I like your reviews a lot.

shawnlunn2002 said...

I loved this opening episode a lot. Maybe it's the lack of real good vamp competition or maybe it's down to Alan Ball as a writer but something clearly works here.

A town with the vampires out of the coffin is a good idea but it did seem that Sookie was a little too enamoured with Bill. Some caution would be advisable.

The Rattrays are scumbags so I rooted when Sookie rescued Bill from being drained by the bastards. I'm hoping there's major payback for their attack on Sookie at the end of the episode as well.

Sookie's telepathic abilities were interesting. The fact that she couldn't hear Bill's thoughts certainly must have factored into her feelings for him as well.

Sam is sweet but I hope he doesn't waste too much being in love with Sookie. Tara's a bloody riot. Far scarier than anything with fangs.

The sex actually doesn't bother me, even though Maudette videoing both her vamp encounter and Jason was skeevy. I don't have to be a genius to figure that Jason didn't kill her.

Loved Gran and Lafeyette/Arlene/Dawn had me in hysterics with their little 'cocoa/peaches and cream' stuff.

Overall I'm hooked on to this, 9/10.

Anonymous said...

This is really great! I was surfing the site and I am glad there are True Blood reviews because I am a total newbie in this. My brother got me a boxset with season one and two for Christmas and well, I am already hooked. And also, I have no idea what will happen next because I don´t want to read any synopsis, I want to be totally surprised.

Onto the episode, I really liked it. It´s a bit graphic but it just feels different from what I´ve been seeing so far from vampire series and movies. I like Bill and I like Sookie too.

Juliette said...

Just seeing season 1 for the first time on repeats, and feeling a bit jealous of those who saw it first and without reading the books - all I could think of in every Bill/Sookie meeting was about what Sookie finds out later (and it's a testament to how good the show is that is plays perfectly, even though the revelation doesn't come until the end of season 3).

I thought the sex-graphicness-level more or less matched the books, but this may just be an indication of just how little sex there is in the books I read (and how much there is in the shows I watch, which include Sex and the City and Spartacus Blood and Sand!)

Olga said...

Saw the first episode last night... Don't know why I never watched it before, but finally got to it... Mixed feelings, overall didn't exactly liked it, yet watched till the end, but at the end of the episode I decided to drop it. Main reason for me was Anna Paquin - her acting felt a bit abrupt and not quite there... and for me when I don't like the lead actress/actor it's a done deal. Yet strangely today at work I caught myself thinking that maybe I might wanna know what happens next :) very strange, vampire charm perhaps, well Stephen Moyer is really hot. Anyway will go watch next episode now, and for sure at least until the episode 6 like Billie suggested :)

ChrisB said...

I was talking to my sister-in-law yesterday and was telling her how much I love TVD. She told me to watch this show, but I was hesitant. Today, a get well package of season one arrived, so here we go.

I have never read the books, so am going into the story cold. It is intriguing, but I don't love it. I'm with those who think the sex is a bit OTT and none of the characters stood out for me yet. There are a lot of obvious hints as well that things are coming down the pike -- the dog following her around, Bill's asking her what she is.

I must say, however, that Alan Ball did a masterful job with his cast. Only a couple of familiar faces (which I prefer), but each seems to fit his or her role exceptionally well.

One thing about cliffhanger endings, I do tend to watch the next episode!