Tuesday, June 17, 2014

TELEVISION: Saying goodbye to True Blood is a mixed blessing

I loved True Blood before it was even a television show. That is to say that I loved the books that the series was based on, so I was determined to love the series, too.

It’s always an iffy proposition when a beloved book series is turned into entertainment for the masses. Thankfully, for fans of Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries, HBO was the network that became home to Sookie Stackhouse and her merry band of cohorts.

Since the show was on HBO, that meant that there was rampant swearing, nudity and violence – all things I’m totally fine with. It’s not for everyone, but it upped the entertainment value for me.

When the show debuted, it was a cultural phenomenon out of the gate. The first season was well done, well
acted, well cast, and well paced. There really was very little to complain about.

Unfortunately, that can only be said about the first season.

Starting with season two, a disturbing trend started to surface: Hit-or-miss writing.

I think, when the writers focused on the big three – Sookie, Bill and Eric – the writing was usually solid. There were gaps in their stories, too – don’t get me wrong – but it was still fairly even.

It was the secondary characters that saw the brunt of the bad writing – especially Sam, Alcide and Lafayette.

Because True Blood drifted so far from the literary source material – the writers could essentially do what they wanted to do. That was both a good and a bad thing.

Take Game of Thrones, for example. I love the show, but it sticks to the books a lot more than True Blood does. Therefore, every big death that has happened, has come straight from the books – so it’s not that surprising.

True Blood, on the other hand, broke from its literary source.

Lafayette, for example, should have been dead after the first season. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that practically every storyline he’s had since that first season has been a righteous dud.

Then there’s Alcide, who – other than his introduction story – has been mired in pack politics that don’t
match the book and often find the character backsliding on a regular basis.

Sam has wandered from story to story – never quite fitting in – and suddenly professed his love to a young woman he’d known all of two weeks (right on the tail of Luna dying) and his characters seems to be lost at sea.

On the flip side, Jason Stackhouse continues to delight. I hate the character of Jason in the books and yet I can’t get enough of him in the series. Every dumb thing he does makes me laugh. Every heroic thing he does makes me laugh. Quite frankly, practically everything he does makes me laugh.

Unfortunately for Jason, his new vampire story seems to be a real dud. I have a feeling he’ll end up with Jessica when it’s all said and done – although I still hope she’ll end up with Hoyt.

Speaking of Jessica, she’s a character that doesn’t exist in the books and who – for the most part – has been an absolute diamond in the rough. I fell in love with Jessica when Hoyt did – and I still feel a little sad about their breakup. Still, she had a better story in season six than just about anyone else.

I think True Blood’s greatest mistake was delving into fairy stuff too often. Although, to be fair, I thought that was the books’ biggest mistakes, too.

And, when it comes down to it, I don’t know any book fans that truly ended up happy when Harris ended the series last year. I’m kind of curious what will happen when the television series ends this year?

Eric fans (both book and television) have made no bones about what they want. I think they’re going to be
disappointed, though. Eric’s storyline has deviated and, while he and Sookie occasionally cross paths, I don’t think they’ve built up any great love story between the two of them on screen.

Eric fans are vocal and often whiny (yeah, I said it), and they stomp their feet and throw a tantrum to get what they want – but I don’t see it happening here, just like it didn't happen in the books.

In the real world, I think Sookie and Alcide would make the most sense. She’s not immortal (neither is he) and that whole age thing would be a pesky barrier. She doesn’t want to be turned into a vampire, so what are her options if she’s with a vampire?

This isn’t the real world, though, and I honestly believe that Bill and Sookie are end game.


They’ve gotten the bulk of the romantic story. The first three seasons were completely about their relationship. And, after that, their relationship was still the underlying story.

Think about it, when Sookie and Eric got together – it was put in terms of how it affected Bill and Sookie.

When Bill became Billith, it was about how he was scaring everyone – and especially Sookie.

When it came time to take out Warlow, despite everything he said, it was Bill that was willing to die to save Sookie.

And, when you compound that with the fact that their portrayers ,Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin, are
married in real life? I just think the writers are going to make them end game. I don’t see another end there.

Now, we know this final season is about the vampires gearing up for slaughter since the True Blood supply has been tainted. The last scene of the sixth season was a group of them getting ready to descend on Bon Temps and an outdoor barbecue.

The show runners have said that the season opens up with a bloodbath – and some longtime characters may die in that opening scene. In fact, one of the deaths is being called “shocking.”

My guess is that Arlene, Terry, Lafayette or Tara’s mom will be the shocking death. I’m sure some other people will die throughout the season (Pam better survive and inherit the Earth), but I can’t see them taking out a big dog too early.

In the end, I think True Blood was a beacon of entertainment hope in a usually stiff summer season. In recent years, some of the summer programming is actually better than fall and spring programming – and I think True Blood deserves some of the accolades for that.

Was True Blood perfect?

Absolutely not. True Blood idled at ridiculous and peaked at stupid on occasion. The writing was also all over the place – with stories being dropped out of the blue (Jason being a werepanther, Lafayette selling drugs, Tara being attracted to men, etc.) and some supernatural themes being shoved down our throat.

That being said, True Blood had moments of brilliance. And here are my top five:

5. Lafayette delivers an “AIDS” burger: True Blood never shied away from difficult topics. Lafayette
being a gay man of color (who also sold drugs) could have made him a stereotype. Instead, Lafayette managed to steal the show on many occasions – including the season one episode where a couple of red necks send Lafayette’s burger back because they don’t want to get AIDS. Lafayette’s response – licking the bun, especially – was spot on. Not only did he beat up all three of the “manly men” taunting him, but he also admonished them to tip their waitress before leaving. That scene is only one of a hundred that showcase why the first season was so great.

4. Terry’s Funeral: Season six was, without a doubt, True Blood’s weakest. Still, there were a few moments that tore at the viewer’s heart – none so much as Terry’s funeral, though. Poor Terry, he never got to truly be happy. He thought Arlene was pregnant with his child, but it turned out to be Rene’s. He sacrificed his military buddy to save Arlene but then couldn’t live with the guilt. Then, when he couldn’t take it anymore, he arranged his own death after setting Arlene up financially. The most crushing part of Terry’s death was that, right before the hit, Arlene arranged for him to be glamored to forget his guilt. Sadly, it was too late for Terry, though. The best moment of the funeral came when Sookie outed herself as a telepath (even though most of the town already knew) and told Arlene that she was reading Terry’s mind the first time he saw her and knew what he thought, and that he loved her from the first moment he saw her.

3. Jessica meets the sun (not quite): The witch storyline was one of my favorites in the books, but it kind
of fell flat on the small screen. While most of the witch storyline felt forced and contrived, Marnie/Antonia trying to force all the vampires to day walk was chilling. With Bill anchored down by silver next to her, Jessica managed to cast off her chains, trick her jailer, and make her way upstairs and was ready to fry. She didn’t know what was waiting for her on the other side of the double doors -- other than sunlight that would surely kill her. So, with Bill screaming in the basement and Jason fighting the security guards on the lawn, Jessica opened the doors and … yeah, Jason saved her. It was still a great moment.

2. Godric meets the sun: The Fellowship of the Sun was a lot scarier in the books than it ultimately ended up being on the small screen. And, while the overall story had highs (Jason’s takedown of Steve Newlin and rescue of Sookie) and lows (the scattered Texas vampires, the fumbled Barry subplot) the emotional heft of season two was reached in Dallas – not in Bon Temps. Between Eric’s breakdown at losing his maker (Alexander Skarsgaard’s finest work) to Sookie meeting the sun with them, Godric’s death proved that immortality isn’t everything.

1. Russell Edgington delivers the news: Denis O’Hare’s delightfully obnoxious portrayal of Russell Edginton is really one of True Blood’s greatest achievements. Between Russell carrying around the urn of goo that used to be Talbot to Edgington’s sad little façade with the street hustler, O’Hare managed to make Russell riveting. When Russell took it upon himself to start slaughtering people on live television, though, it was both horrific and hilarious. Russell was one of the greatest book deviations on the show – and he helped make the middle run of True Blood highly entertaining.

The final season of True Blood debuts on Sunday.

What do you think? What will you miss most about True Blood?


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