Thursday, September 04, 2008

True Blood: Southern Gothic Hospitality

Alan Ball's Six Feet Under used to start out every episode with a death, with the deceased often haunting the episode. With his latest HBO offering, True Blood, we can dispense with the dying part, as the haunters are already dead -- they're vampires. And with all the Twilight mania going on right now leading up to the film adaptation of that book series, there's never been a better time for TV to get it's vamp back on.

The premise of True Blood is intriguing enough. Vampires, with the help of a new Japanese engineered synthetic blood (Tru Blood) no longer need to feed on humans to survive, and thus are "coming out of the coffin." They're pushing for rights to vote, to own property, and other righting of injustices that are found in the Vampire Rights Amendment being debated on television news (and HBO's Real Time For Bill Maher, one of a few subtle HBO plugs in the episodes I've seen) and in the Senate. That the series takes place in the south (Louisiana) furthers the civil/equal rights angle, which serves as both a strength and a weakness in the two episodes I've seen so far. It's Southern Gothic taken to a more literal extreme, and while it can serve as a powerful metaphor, it can also feel a bit heavy-handed at times, especially when Ball utilizes television reports a bit too much to fill pieces of the back story.

The series is based on Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, and specifically follows the first book, Dead Until Dark for this first season, and is expected to branch off from there. It's similar, in this regard, to Showtime's Dexter, which also boasts a Six Feet Under pedigree (Michael C. Hall). They're both series that attempt to treat incredibly dark subjects with a light hand. In this case, the setting of Louisiana lends itself to some dark humor, with the juxtaposition of hospitality and horror. Inviting someone into your home is both a Southern tradition and a requirement for a vampire to call on a lady. And while the love story between the virginal Sookie (Anna Paquin) and genteel Bill (Stephen Moyer) may have parallels to the romance the teenage girls go gaga for in the Twilight series, this is definitely not for kids. There's a level of violence and gore that exceeds even Dexter, and even a darker sexual element ("fang bangers" are groupies that have sex with vampires).

The music choices, for the most part, are true to the setting of the Louisiana roadhouse that much of the scenes are shot. The Jace Everett song "Bad Things" provides the perfect backdrop for the amazing opening credits, which, much like Dexter, splice together evil and the mundane, displaying the duality of the series. At one point, during an intense scene in the first episode, the music slips into Joseph Arthur's dark "Stumble and Pain," who's lyrics work wonders: Sun down on shady grin, shaking hands on a sinking ship. And even as the opening episode ends on a very dark note, the closing credits brighten the mood a tad with the Fleetwood Mac-ish "Bones" from the country band Little Big Town, warning that your demons "are waiting for the sun to go down."

Ok, perhaps it doesn't brighten the mood that much, but I've invited True Blood into my home, and while my guest isn't as agreeable as I'd initially hoped he would be, he's telling a good yarn, so I'll let him stay for dinner.

True Blood premieres Sunday, September 7, at 9PM on HBO.


Arjan said...

it's on the too-watch list. Thanks for reviewing, now I at least have a good idea what's it about and that I have to watch it. I did see the viral site for it and it took a short while to figure out it was from this upcoming series.

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