Wednesday, June 30, 2010

“True Blood” Isn’t For Sissies – But It Kind of Is

trueblood If you want to know what "True Blood" is all about, just watch the opening credits. Dead animals, crazy religions, old prejudices, commonplace brutality and sex, lots of sex, all coated in the filthy, sweaty patina of the Deep South. Sure, "True Blood" is also about vampires, steeped in the lore and whatnot, but who cares?

Despite some ostensibly thoughtful trappings - Vampires "come out of the coffin" in present-day America, exposing themselves to the fears and prejudices of their neighbors while quaffing a blood substitute called True Blood - the show isn't as smart as it might think it is. Season one is a standard murder mystery, offering no surprises as it saunters (confidently – to their credit, they know this ain't Agatha Christie) towards a bloody finale. Season two ditches the pretense altogether by opening with a corpse, hurtling into bacchanalia and ending with a vampire bursting into flame.

Vampires are hot shit right now, thanks to the effete, sulky bloodsuckers of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. Bandwagon-jumpers might be horrified by what they find in True Blood; conversely, snobs shunning the show on principle might be surprised by how much they like HBO's hottest show. Hit the jump to find out if "True Blood" is your, ah, cup of B-positive.

Humor me with a brief quiz.

You walk into a bar. The first person you notice is:

1. The willowy young man at the end of the bar. He sits alone, undoubtedly nursing some deep, spiritual wound.
2. The girl with a tattoo on her calf. She's bending over the pool table. If you were an inch shorter, you could probably see up her jean skirt. A half-smoked Newport twitches between her fingers in time with the Skynrd on the jukebox.
3. The couple fighting near the exit. They're unusually attractive, straight from a casting call for one of those Levi's commercials. Their strife is beautiful - fighting means you really love each other, right?

You're hungry. It's hot outside. What do you get?

1. A salad, dressing on the side. Your delicate constitution can’t stomach anything heavy in the summer months, and it’ll be easier to face yourself in the mirror tomorrow morning.
2. A nice, fat slice of pecan pie with a small hill of Vanilla ice cream. Heat is nothing that can't be fixed by a glass of sweet tea; pecan pie is a way of life.
3. Food? How can you eat when life's inescapable conflicts press down upon you?

While on an evening stroll, you witness a pickup truck hit a possum. You:

1. Throw up. That's what's inside of us?
2. Laugh. Holy shit, did you see that thing detonate?
3. Weep. Life is cruel and capricious. It could have been you. It might as well have.

While channel-surfing in the wee hours, you happen stumble upon a bit of fellatio. You:

1. Change the channel. Carnal pleasure is base and transient.
2. Get up to make some popcorn. Bodily fluids make you hungry, and this could take a while.
3. Linger a moment – it’s not gay if a girl’s involved, right?

You’re moving. Where to?

1. Neah Bay, Washington. Away from the world, you can spend days staring into the cold, dispassionate waters of the North Pacific.
2. Brinson, Georgia. You heard there are some decent faith healers around, and you have a demon that needs exorcisin’.
3. Close your eyes and point at the map. Is there a Starbucks and a Target nearby? You’re set.

If you answered 1 three or more times, you’re likely too fragile to see “True Blood” – watching vampires explode like gut-stuffed piñatas will send you crawling to sleep between mommy and daddy. If you answered 2, you’re the person the show’s creators had in mind. You should probably seek professional help.

If you answered 3, congratulations – you’re the coveted middle ground, and you’re why “True Blood” is such a success. Despite its over-the-top violence (tongue in cheek, even) and unapologetic nudity, the show isn’t a psychotic gore-fest. There’s enough romance and angst between Sookie and Bill, her vampire lover, to sate Twilight fans. Come daylight, Bill, a Civil War veteran turned vamp, retreats beneath the floorboards, leaving Sookie in bed alone. Can they move through a world of prejudice when they can’t even wake up together? Can they? asks the swelling soundtrack, Anna Paquin’s dimples and Stephen Moyer’s chiseled jaw?

But “True Blood” isn’t as baroque or dire as Meyer's series. It embraces light moments of comic relief or cartoonish violence to remind the viewer that this is, after all, television – if you aren’t having good, junky fun, you might as well be reading.