Why ‘True Blood’ is All Bite and No Soul

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Ever since my cable company jacked up the price of HBO to an absurd $18 a month, I canceled it and decided it wasn’t worth $240 a year just to watch 20 minutes of Entourage a week. With The Sopranos, Deadwood and The Wire all dead and gone, what good was this channel to me anymore?

But then, I started hearing about True Blood. I thought nothing much of it at first, simply another show trying to capitalize on the Twilight-inspired vampire hysteria of our day, but replacing abstinence with graphic orgies and sparkling chests with decapitation.

I was determined to avoid such a show that I thought was merely a well timed gimmick, but as I heard praise for it build over the last year or so (including on my own site) I decided I had to see for myself, and over the holiday weekend, I devoured the first two seasons of the show (the grand finale airing Sept. 13th excluded). What did I find?

True Blood is indeed a vampire of a show, as it has tremendous bite to be sure, but is tragically lacking a soul.

I came out of 23 episodes of the show surprisingly ambivalent. I thought that I would either despise it completely, or fall in love with it like so many others have, yet instead I come out with mixed emotions, unsure of whether it’s worth it to keep watching.

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First, what I liked. The universe that True Blood has created is an intensely interesting one. It has crafted the most tolerable vampire society I’ve seen on film to date, where instead of living in gothic castles, they own kitchy nightclubs. Instead of wearing dark trenchcoats they can be fat middle aged accountants.

A vampire’s age is also something that’s inherently intriguing that most vampire related media fails to address. Flashbacks to the Great Depression, the Civil War and ancient Viking wars are fascinating, and the older the vampires are that you meet, the more interesting they get.

This world could have just been limited to vampires, but the writers have been smart to open it up to all of the supernatural, with shape-shifters and werewolves and ancient greek demon gods all fair game for the show. This provides an endless amount of plots and subplots that could make the show well, immortal, if need be.

But despite this fascinating world, the problem with True Blood is the characters in it. There’s no real driving emotional force behind the show, and in 23 episodes there has only been one really poignant moment, when a 2,000 year old vampire realized that he’d had enough of life (and death) and surrendered himself to the sun. Aside from that one instance however, amidst all the blood and carnage and sex, there are barely any tangible emotions found in the show outside of “fear” and “uncompromising love.”

The latter is best represented by the show’s two leads Sookie and Bill, whose relationship began early and has remained more or less rock solid through two seasons. There’s never any doubt that the two are madly in love with each other, there’s never been any real wedges between them that lasted longer than a single episode, and the two characters have not evolved hardly at all from the pilot.

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Sookie is still the same kindhearted telepath, always willing to help whoever needs it, Bill is still the same polite vampire who has a distinct hatred for his own kind. They’ve flirted with changes (Bill’s turning of Jessica was a great moment in the series), but overall they remain more or less the same, something you’d expect from background characters, not the stars.

I think one of my major problems with the show is that I don’t find any of the characters particularly likable, Bill and Sookie included. Sookie’s southern drawl and tantrums about nearly everything grow tiresome, and Bill is a good anchorpoint for the show, but he is without a doubt the creepiest looking mother****er on the planet, and even after all this time it’s hard to accept him as the “righteous” male lead.

The show doesn’t help itself with most of its supporting characters either. Tara is just flat out annoying, and it’s clear the show doesn’t know what to do with her, so they gave her an equally useless boyfriend (Ex? Becks?) in the second season just to occupy her screentime. The same goes for Sam, who could be interesting, but after his failed prospects with Sookie became nothing more than a lonely guy with what is quite honestly a pretty lame supernatural power (what exactly is better about being a dog?).

If I had to pick two characters I truly do enjoy, it’s Lafayette, whose humbling this season was a great transformation for his character. I only wish the writers had the balls to actually turn him into a vampire like they were promising to do. And the one who would have turned him is my other favorite character, Eric, who even after 1,000 years is starting to realize he has a lot to learn about life and the humans that occupy his world. I really hope they explore a potential relationship with Sookie (which they’re definitely hinting at), and throw a bagful of wrenches into the perfect machine that has been her love affair with Bill.

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Jason Stackhouse is supremely one-dimensional, but does serve as pretty decent comic relief. One of my biggest problems with the show has been his assimilation into the Fellowship of the Sun, which made zero sense considering his girlfriend and grandmother had just been killed by someone harboring deep anti-vampire beliefs, and he had previously bonded with the vampire he had chained up in his basement. It was necessary to move the show forward, but it was exceptionally poorly written and they really should have planned ahead a bit more.

Also poorly executed was the entire Godric plot of that season. A 2,000 year old vampire was really dumb enough to turn himself over to be captured and sacrificed, thinking it would END hostilities rather than start a war? Then after all that effort he just commits suicide anyways? Godric was an exceptionally interesting character, and even though I loved his death scene, I wish he’d stuck around a bit more to enlighten us with his ancient zen vampire wisdom.

This season didn’t do a particularly smooth job of merging the two distinct plots into one final confrontation. They wrapped up the Fellowship/Godric angle, then had everyone head home and find the town a mess, not knowing what the hell happened the previous ten episodes. It feels a bit tacked on that Bill and Sookie are going to swoop in and save the day, even though this has been Bill and Tara’s story from the get-go. I’ve enjoyed Maryann’s character this season, but if you’ve seen one demonic sex party, you’ve seen them all, and it got a bit tiresome by about the fifth go-round.

So all in all I don’t regret taking the time to watch True Blood this weekend, though by the end I’ll admit I was getting a bit fatigued. It’s a show with a lot of potential, but I don’t think it’s capitalizing on that yet. Sure, it’s bloody and sexy and works in that regard, but compare it to a show like Friday Night Lights, where hardly anything ever happens, yet there’s an emotionally powerful knockout punch every other week. Even if it’s a show about the soulless, True Blood needs to find its emotional center if it wants to truly succeed, because as of now, I’m not going to be running to buy HBO again. Maybe once Curb comes back…


  • frank

    Tara’s boyfriend’s nickname is “Eggs”. His real name is Benedict.

  • diego

    Thanks for the writeup, I think what the problem is with the show is the lack of source material from the books. They are barely 300 page large print mystery novels aimed at preteen girls.
    And when i say mystery I mean every book opens with someone dead or missing and only at the end do we get to find out who done it. Pretty tired that’s why i don’t really recommend the books to people. I can imagine how hard it is to stretch maybe an a few hours of material into each season, and not get ahead of yourselves.
    Lucky there’s so many places to watch hbo free online so bad or good im still probably gonna watch this show till it goes all heros on us.

  • Madison

    Paul-

    I find it interesting that your major complaint with the show is the characters. I think that they are perhaps the show’s strongest draw. They almost always behave consistently with their personalities, and their personalities aren’t at all random – they are carefully constructed to reflect their backgrounds and what they’ve been through as people.

    Bill, I admit, is not terribly likeable, but I do like Sookie. It’s nice to see a damsel who fights for herself and doesn’t sit around waiting for her vampire boyfriend to save her.

  • Tino

    Oddly enough, Bill to me is the best comic relief on the show! I mean, he’s probably not supposed to be seen that way, but I just personally find it really funny how flustered he can get. His scenes with Jessica this season being a key example.

  • M-80

    Paul, as Lisa Simpson said many seasons ago when the ad monsters were attacking Springfield.

    “Just don’t look.”

    …or in this case…

    Just don’t watch.

  • Bobby

    Well, you watched all 23 episodes in one weekend.

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  • stella

    I agree that the main characters are the weakest on the show. Love Eric, Lafayette, Jason (ryan kwanten plays dimwitted superbly), the Queen, and especially Godric (let me remind you that he didn’t turn himself in, but was surprised by the Fellowship and went with them quietly, hoping to negotiate with them/understand them better. Anyhoo, he is super ultra foxy awesome).

    But Sookie is incredibly annoying, typical feisty lovelorn heroine, with no real dimensions, and Stephen Moyer is a pretty bad actor so there goes Bill.

    I’ve learned to enjoy True Blood for what it is, an over-the-top gory jump-the-shark vampire soap opera, but it’s disappointing that it has yet to live up to the amazing opening credits. The opening credits promised substance, ethical ambiguity, the stranger sides of human nature, like a vampire version of The Sopranos. Second season at least made a stab at substance, so I’m hoping Season 3 will continue the trend.

  • Thank you for your review of what I feel is an over rated wreck of a show. I currently have watched about a season and a half with my girlfriend and I have yet to discover what the mass appeal of the show is. That being said, like a train wreck, I some how can’t look away and plop down on the couch right next to my lady whenever she puts the next episode on. I will give some credit to the writers for coming up with some genuinely funny one liners, and perhaps that is where the attraction for me comes from.

    Your assessment of the weakness of the two main characters is spot on, and is one of the biggest reasons I find myself unable to be swept away by the show. Bill in particular is so bad, and the actor portraying him fails so hard at trying to put out his “I’m a spooky vampire” vibe that it is darn near comical. I don’t know how much of my dislike of the character is due to the actor’s ineptness, but every time he whispers “Sookie” I am in hysterics with laughter.

    SOOOOKIE!

  • tamara

    finally someone sees the Emperor’s new clothes for what they are…nothing. True Blood is disappointing because it’s ALMOST watchable. As someone said above, it never lives up to the opening credits. The acting is terrible. The writing is mixed…often lots of tell instead of show. Bad, nonsensical decisions about where the plots should go. But the potential is based on the books, which, though never to be mistaken for Shakespeare, had a simple charm that has been stripped away in favor of clumsy, heavy handed moralizing.