Tuesday, July 28, 2009
I swiped this little True Blood montage from the folks over at This Recording, where blogger Molly Lambert has provided some of her thoughts on the show's current trajectory. Where's it headed? Downhill. Fast.
I agree with Lambert when she writes that HBO's runaway success never had any qualms about being camp. It's about as over-the-top as they come. True Blood basically seeks out reasons to get its characters stripped down, having a roll in the hay, or covered in blood. They shoot for laughable dialogue and 'oh no they did not' scenes that remind you 'it's not TV, it's HBO'. Case in point? The second season is an orgy a week special hosted by Maryann (Michelle Forbes) and i'm quite sure there isn't a single character left alive whose nipples i haven't seen. I knew it was only a matter of time before the vamps and fangbangers broke out into song, and last week, it happened: Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), on the piano, belting out ragtime, speaking in a Frenchy-French accent. Cringe.
While the first season managed to effectively lure in its viewers with the promise of gothic camp, Southern swamp sass, murder and erotic tension, the second season so far has shifted its shape into something that looks great on paper, but bad on screen. Someone decided that things needed to be taken to extremes. -90% less full characterization of the troubled and judgmental Tara (Rutina Wesley) and the wonderful, t00 much fun Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis). 200% more for sex, gore, mythological creatures, zealots, Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), and the hairspray in Sookie's (Anna Paquin's) hair... which by the way, does not make her look glamorous, but instead magically transforms her into an irritating trailer trash pageant queen. The worst part? The wink and smile is gone, the age of the straight face has arrived.
I'm suggesting that there's a fine line between camp and cloying dreck, and that line is crossed when the smartly humorous undercurrent disappears and things get serious (and empty). True Blood is trying really hard to cross that line and get itself x-ed off my TV schedule. Lambert is correct when she says the show has become a high-budget version of supernatural soap opera Passions. While several plotlines are in motion (What in god's name is the deal with Maryann? When will the war begin? How's Lafayette going to bounce back? When will the Sookie-Bill-Eric love triangle begin?), the past five episodes have focused more upon finding ways for to couple the characters than answer any questions. An event will occur at the beginning, and a cliffhanger will happen at the end. In between is a solid 35+ minutes of increasingly obnoxious dialogue (must we pontificate on our relationships?) and boredom. I'm just sayin': if my vampire obsessed sister starts checking her iPhone fifteen minutes in, you're doing it wrong.
In the first season, we had characters who were pretty sure of themselves. Sookie was an undersexed but happily independent sweetheart, Tara was a smart-ass with anger management issues and a good head on her shoulders, Sam (Sam Trammell) was the nice guy loner who pined for something he couldn't have, and Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten) was an ignorant horndog who launched himself at anything that moved. The characters were believable (though at times frustrating), and their interactions unforced. They were simple folks from a small town who were both fascinated and repelled by a larger reality: vampires are real. They walk amongst us and have come out as wanting to function in a human world, now, we have to figure out how to deal with that day to day. That was what was interesting. Beneath the snarky dialogue and the absurdity of the situations was a fairly real political issue: rural Christian Americans dealing with an alternative way of life they couldn't relate to.
Of course, that theme is still there. Its just drifted to a place too obvious to be effective: the Light of Day Institute. We've lost the conflict between friends and family and scattered characters into their own separate spheres. They don't work that way. Sookie is in Dallas with Bill and Jessica, but never sees Tara, who rarely sees Lafayette, who sometimes has weird interactions with Sam, who is gaga over a shapeshifting hussy. No one ever sees Jason. He's out there playing Jesus and sneakily getting it on with the most stereotypical Texan bible thumper i've ever seen. It doesn't work. True Blood is like a meal. Like... a pizza, for example. Each character is an ingredient. When you separate the ingredients, they're all pretty bland on their own. Sookie is just bread. Jason is just cheese. Tara is a tomato, maybe. And Lafayette is maybe some basil or oregano or something hanging out on his own and exhibiting post traumatic stress symptoms. I mean, what the hell am i supposed to do, cook my own dinner?
That's not to say i won't keep watching. Let's face it. I probably will. There are unanswered questions... but that doesn't mean i have to like it. I'll just sit and cross my arms and complain as i eat my bread and cheese and pulpy tomatoes.