If it seems that you’ve been picking up or watching more HBO shows since The Sopranos, don’t be too surprised. While the network was once only known for airing movies, it has since evolved into one of the top networks for original programming. Best of all it’s not constrained by silly advertising or guidelines, so it can produce everything from ultra-violent horror to sex-fueled shows. Knowing this, the two were combined and True Blood was formed. An adaptation of the Sookie Stackhouse book series, the series created a new breed of viewer for the network and popularity of the show continued to grow over its first season, consisting of twelve action and sex packed episodes.
TRUE BLOOD chronicles the backwoods Louisiana town of Bon Temps… where vampires have emerged from the coffin, and no longer need humans for their fix. Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin, Academy Award®-winner for “The Piano”) works as a waitress at the rural bar Merlotte’s. Though outwardly a typical young woman, she keeps a dangerous secret: she has the ability to hear the thoughts of others. Her situation is further complicated when the bar gets its first vampire patron – 173-year old Bill Compton (Steven Moyer, “Quills”) – and the two outsiders are immediately drawn to each other. Delivering the best of what audiences have come to expect from Creator and Executive Producer Alan Ball (writer of Oscar®-winning Best Picture “American Beauty”, creator of the Emmy® Award-winning HBO® series “Six Feet Under”), TRUE BLOOD is a dark and sexy tale that boldly delves into the heart – and the neck – of the Deep South.
Based on the cover art alone, I know what you’re thinking: “All right, awesome! Vampire violence, sex…sign me up!” Hold on there, as despite how male centric and fueled that scenario sounds, the series is decidedly…not really constructed for the male audience. The best I can liken this series to (for those who didn’t read the original novels) is a harlequin romance novel mixed with a soap opera. This is obviously not a bad thing for the right audience, but any men going in expecting something akin to Blade (or even Angel) will be completely and utterly disappointed.
Of course once you adjust to the series it does get better, but it really is skewed towards the female side of the audience. I just didn’t have the patience for most of it to really get myself invested in the musings and escapades of a young woman and her relationship with a vampire who may or may not be killing off other women in the town. Hell, after narrowly avoiding the Twilight storm, I ended up smack dab inside of its big sister it seems, as the little I’ve gleaned from that series seems to match up loosely with the overall plot (young girl falls in love with a vampire that’s over a century old) of True Blood.
Having said all of that, there were some things that I did find mildly entertaining, if only for the vampire angle of it. Although the vampires themselves were an issue for me in the series, as they were a lot more hammy at times than I expected. In the opening they seemed like perfectly adapted individuals, what with the TV appearances and even the pissed off guy in the gas station at least appeared normal for the most part. But once you start getting into the series and finding the vampires who live in tests, they start breaking out some very obnoxious behavior that borders on pure corn. On top of that we have to live with most of the old vampire myths of sunlight aversion and other weaknesses—not entirely unexpected of course, but after so much vampire lore you think they’d mix it up a bit between series.
As for the season itself, the plot moved along slowly enough, but once Sookie involved herself in the situation a bit more things picked up. More people started to drop dead and the mystery came to a startling conclusion that ended in more death but…hey—it turns out the vampires were all innocent! For the most part, anyway. The majority of the vampires here are all evil to some extent, even Bill, but for a series based on the vampires coming out and all the allegories that go along with that, it sure focuses on Sookie an awful lot.
The series didn’t limit itself to vampires being the only supernatural element either. Sookie herself sports telepathic abilities, which can lead to some uncomfortable but interesting moments in the series. Sookie’s boss…well, I’ll leave that one for you to “discover,” although they threw it in your face during the first couple episodes you’d have to be blind not to figure it out. On top of the supernatural, the series manages to pack in its fair share of drama and humor, so all in all it’s a pretty well-balanced show in terms of construction and characters.
Which…really just brings me to this final paragraph where I still express disappointment with it. Sure, it’s not a horrible show by any means and is well-acted and directed in nearly every conceivable way. The vampire corniness is obviously intentional, so that’s not a downer either. It’s just…the show exists purely for the male audience for the nudity and sex that it shows off in copious amounts. For the female audience there are the romantic angles that, again, are garnered from avenues like harlequin novels and soap operas. If you’re a male who enjoys reading those then kudos—you’re the perfect viewer for this series. As for me I doubt I’ll be tuning into the second season right away; I did enjoy this first season for what it was, but only superficially. I never became too caught up in the murder “mystery” or any of the characters and felt like I’d seen it before in other shows and films…this was just a bit more extreme with the graphic sex. Recommended for the right audience, but know what you’re getting into before you just pick this one up simply because your buddy told you Anna Paquin got naked in it.
Tantalizing picture, much? HBO continues to use the shot of a vamp licking her lips to sell the series and…yes, it will work. Indubitably. The set comes wrapped with a Blu-ray ribbon denoting its awesomeness (1080p and DTS-HD Master Audio? Yes please!) and once you toss that away (which also features a description of the show and disc contents on the back) you’re left with an ultra-thick cardboard slipcase which houses the five Blu-ray discs inside. Yes…there are five discs for twelve episodes, but there is a lot of content on these discs, so the sometimes two-episodes per disc is required. The interior slip case sports a foldout of all of the actors on the show, while interior panels have episode descriptions on them. Disc art looks like the same across all discs at first glance, but they all have different shadows on them, some of trees, some of…amorphous blobs. There are also inserts for Blu-ray firmware upgrade notices as well as a contest to win a 42” Plasma (Get it? Plasma?) TV by filling out a True Blood survey online.
So how does the boasted 1080p video and DTS-HD Master Audio sound? Well…how do you think it sounds? This is HBO we’re talking about and for it to look anything less than brilliant would be a major disappointment. Thankfully the series is fantastic in appearance; it’s largely a dark show and even the daytime sequences are subdued in colors, so you’ll always get a dark and murky visual, but the series is remarkably clear. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s modern and although it gets mixed in with copious amounts of image grain at times, it’s a solid picture none the less. Accompanying the AVC encoded visuals is a DTS-HD Master Audio track that sounds…well, brilliant. From the very first episode where we hear the interior of Sookie’s head, the surrounds are tossed all about the room, spitting out of every one of the speakers with a ferocity that you rarely hear from a television show. Needless to say in terms of Blu-ray, this show certainly excels. The sometimes dark and murky visuals take their toll in not being the clearest thing to come off of the format, but overall it’s a fine looking and great sounding show.
Moving into the extras area, we first get six commentaries on episodes “Strange Love,” “The First Taste,” “Escape from Dragon House,” “Sparks Fly Out,” “Burning House of Love,” and “To Love is to Bury.” The individuals on the individual tracks vary, but include a mixture of Executive Producer and Creator Alan Ball as well as Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer. They’re solid tracks and offer some great insight into the series which you otherwise have to peck out of the Blu-ray bonuses…and I do stress “Blu-ray” as that’s the formats unique picture-in-picture construction is the only way to watch them.
All of the extras are embedded within the “Enhanced Viewing,” which ranges from pop-up trivia to a vampire “documentary,” to commercials for the actual Tru Blood drink (which, if you recall prior the series debut, was an actual drink in the US you could buy…not sure what it tasted like. Strawberries I bet…). It’s certainly an interesting way to view the extras, but it basically ensures that you watch an episode along with it, which is slightly annoying. But still, for those coming into the series for their second viewing, flicking this feature on is a great way to learn more about it. Newcomers…well, you’ll want to leave it off.
The set features standard other goodies like a French 5.1 DTS and Spanish 2.0 DTS tracks as well as English, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and English SDH subtitles, but lacks the basic necessity of bookmarks. I can’t use any of the colored buttons on the Blu-ray to tag a place to bookmark, nor does the PS3 remember where it was and instead forces you to sit through about 2 minutes of load time and warnings before you can even get to the main menu (especially annoying when, after pausing the episode, I came back and my finger brushed past the stop button [damn you Bluetooth remote!] and immediately went back to the PS3 XMB). Irksome, annoying and pretty backwards. This is a pattern I’ve noticed with HBO releases (it was the same with Band of Brothers at least) on Blu-ray and one I hope stops.
Other than that small qualm, this is a solid release all around. Fans will find this one Highly Recommended, but newcomers will definitely want to test the waters with a Rental first. By no means is this a bad show, but by no means is it for everyone either.
True Blood – The Complete First Season arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on May 19th.