Tuesday, October 14, 2008

TV Watch: True Blood

The newest product introduced for this season by the award-winning HBO television folks is one of the farthest-fetched ideas to date, and yet once again proves to be a winner for the cable network that has taken television series development to an art.

Cable series such as HBO's cultural icon 'The Sopranos', Showtime's controversial 'Dexter', and AMC's middle-age homage 'Mad Men' have used the loosened cable TV industry ratings restrictions to leave the old networks in their creative dust. They do this in large part by supplying more adult language, sex, violence, and other mature material that, while perhaps morally questionable, all absolutely add to increased realism.

The latest entry by HBO is the vampire-inspired "True Blood" starring Anna Paquin, famous from her excellent film roles in "The Piano", "Finding Forester", "X-Men", "Almost Famous" and more.

Paquin is all grown up here, and stars as quintessential small-town girl Sookie Stackhouse. Sookie is a waitress, and the story revolves around her life, family, friends, the bar/restaurant at which she waits tables, and the small town in which she resides.

The quirks in this particular drama? Sookie can read your mind. She is constantly bombarded by the thoughts emanating from the minds of everyone around her, often to her dismay. She is fairly up front about this ability, so most in her little town of Bon Temps, Louisiana either know of her 'gift' or suspect it, having heard rumors.

Perhaps enough of an interesting plot line on it's own, especially with the right actors involved. But that's not the real kicker. The real story behind "True Blood" is that it is set in today's modern world, with a twist: vampires are indeed real. After centuries in the shadows of myth, legend, and fantasy, vampires have finally 'come out of the closet' thanks to the Japanese invention of a synthetic blood product.


As a byproduct of the development and use of the synthetic blood, vampires have found that it enables them to feed their 'habit' without having to do so on human beings, and so they "come out of the coffin" if you will with this new product becoming marketed to them as a drink known as 'TruBlood'.

The resulting tensions, apprehensions, and outright fearsof undead vampires suddenly being thrust out into the open with the living hearken back to every previous human cultural experiment.

From the freedom of slaves, to massive waves of immigrants, to gays coming out of their own closets, Americans have repeatedly had to learn to live with new groups asserting some previously repressed rights as they attempted to blend into our great living experiment of a national melting pot. 'True Blood' hits on all these old chords as the undead attempt to blend with the living.

However, it turns out that there are a number in the vampire community who don't want to leave the old ways behind so easily, and enough of the living who don't want to embrace even those who do want to blend, to keep things tense on both sides.

Into Sookie's life walks one Bill Compton, played by Stephen Moyer as a sort of modern day Barnabas Collins from the 1960's legendary series 'Dark Shadows'.

Compton is a dark, dashing, handsome 173-year old former Confederate soldier and vampire who embarks on a true May-December romance with Sookie, and the story here in the beginning largely revolves around this relationship.

Other characters being played well in these early episodes include Ryan Swanten as Sookie's troubled, womanizing brother Jason. Sam Trammell is Sookie's bar owner-boss with a crush on her named Sam Merlotte. Nelsan Ellis plays a cook at the restaurant and a small-time local drug dealer. Best of all is the beautiful Rutina Wesley as Sookie's strong but sensitive best friend Tara Thornton.

There are a couple of graphic sex scenes, and some allusion to drug use and some violence, but it's nothing that we haven't seen before in movies and on cable television.

This is a well-made, well-acted offering with a truly fantastical premise, and we can only hope that the writing and production keep up the early pace. If so, then HBO has another hit on it's ever-growing list of them with 'True Blood'.

Now is the time to start watching, as the network just aired episode 6, with all available now through Comcast's OnDemand service.

(NOTE: You can find all of the previous 'TV Watch' reviews by clicking into that below Label)

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