I’m not a “vampire guy.” Find a new angle on it, and I might be interested, but it’s not an innate selling point. On the negative end of the spectrum, Anne Rice had made the subject silly in its pompous romanticism. On the positive end, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”/”Angel” had pretty much locked in what a TV show with bloodsuckers should be for me.
So I was curious what HBO’s new vampires-in-the-south show “True Blood” would try to do, to make the “monsters are people too” subject interesting.
This is an easier task than trying to make the Deep South interesting. Usually it comes off as mocking, or…no, it always feels like there’s some outdated idea of The South that creators are trying to winkingly play into or subvert.
By the end of the first episode, I found myself enjoying the southern aspect while still being frosty on the vampire side.
“True Blood” starts pretty shakily, pulling the “That goth guy isn’t a monster; the everyday-lookin’ fella behind you is!” trope that’s already pretty old-hat. Then, after a brief bit of exposition/Bill Maher product placement about The State of Vampirism, there’s the introduction to the rural Louisiana town. It’s the standard assortment of twangy, folksy southern types – the slutty townies, the wary bartender who just wants to keep things quiet, the sassy black gal, the waitress who wishes she’d gotten outta this dump.
But over the course of the hour, the show did a good enough job of making a few of them feel like actual characters, rather than an assortment of voice-coached accents. In particular, Anna Paquin, essentially playing a sunnier version of her Rogue character from the X-Men films. The fact that our viewpoint character is open-minded, likeable, and, well, adorable, helps us accept the rest of her people.
When an overarching murder plot was introduced midway through the episode, I thought, “I could actually watch a ‘murder in a small southern town’ kind of show like this.”
Which makes the supernatural aspect feel that much more unneeded and intrusive.
So no, I’m not at all sold on the vampire element yet. Vampire-as-vampire has been given up for the most part in pop culture, in favor of vampire-as-metaphor. In terms of the first episode at least, now that readily available synthetic blood has allowed vampires to publicly join society, the metaphor is homosexuality. Which lets the southerner-cliches react to a bloodsucker in town a lot like we’d assume they’d react to having their first Resident Gay. It feels a bit forced.
(FYI: They do, actually, have a Resident Gay, a mildly annoying motormouthed fry-cook.)
Not helping is the fact that the new vampire in town – despite the pedestrian name “Bill” – behaves with all the preening, posing, and glowering mannerisms that make Anne Rice’s material seem so ridiculous. REALLY not helping is that the actor playing him looks like Paul Rudd doing an amusing impression of “menacing.”
The show’s definitely worth watching a few more episodes – I’ve yet to watch an HBO show that didn’t need a few episodes to really make its intentions known – but so far, it’s Anna Paquin’s supreme lovable-ness that’s going to bring me back for the next episode.