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Television Collision: Who Sucked the Fun Out of True Blood?

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Note: as of writing this, I have not yet seen the True Blood Season 4 premiere, which is kind of the point to this article. I thought it would be interesting to see if and how the premiere could get me actually excited for this show again, because right now I couldn’t be less enthused.

My level of enthusiasm for True Blood has actually been declining with each successive season, reaching its lowest point in the time that passed between Season 3 ending and the Season 4 premiere coming up this Sunday (June 26th). Because as much as Season 3 was a chaotic mess when it was still on the air, it has aged in my head even worse. Part of me just wanted to forget Season 3 ever happened, because it tarnished so much of what I used to love about the show. Pretty much all I remember of Season 3 are the scene with Russell Edginton going on national TV and ripping that newscaster to shreds (the single greatest moment of the entire show), Eric “sacrificing” himself to get Russell killed at the very end of the season (what a cop-out though, because we know at least Eric will survive, there is no Game of Thrones level of danger on True Blood) and some dude named Alcide showing up, which apparently got a lot of ladies’ panties in a bunch, but not mine.

Maybe I remember a bit more about Season 3 as I think harder about it now, but none of what comes back makes me look any more fondly upon the show and I don’t know where I want to place the blame. See, True Blood is yet another show that is based on hugely successful fantasy books, so maybe the problem simply is that the story in the books gets successively more incoherent, soap opera-esque and overloaded with creatures left and right. The last point is not even my biggest problem though, because you can have all the supernatural creatures you can think of in the same universe (i.e. story), but you have to handle them better than what True Blood is displaying. (Again, I am not sure if I am blaming “True Blood the TV Show” or “True Blood the Books”.)

The werewolves are a joke. Nothing more than a complete joke. They behave like a badly conceived 1980s motorcycle gang, but even the Sons of Anarchy are more believable bad-asses than these werewolves on True Blood in their S&M outfits, all hanging out at the same bar. It takes more than depicting a few gruesome acts they commit in order to paint a believable picture of a “species” and I don’t think True Blood is doing a good job with the werewolves. And that is leaving out the fact that I can’t even remember why in the world Alcide is helping Sookie anyway.

However, the job True Blood does with the werewolves is still better than the job the show is doing with either the shape shifters or the fairies and witches storyline. Besides, generally speaking, witches are just so lame. Magic of any kind is a very tricky thing to display in any franchise (TV, books, movies etc.), because so often it can come across as too much of a deus ex machina device, literally “magically” changing the outcome of a situation. So am I looking forward to Season 4 presenting us with even more witchcraft (as the previews are promising)? Absolutely not. You can bet that is about the worst thing I can imagine, since I already hated the shenanigans Maryann pulled in Season 2. I want True Blood to be more visceral than spells and magic. I want physical mayhem, vampires and humans and werewolves battling it out in a Battle of the Species. (Okay, I admit it, I have been watching too many episodes of the Real World/Road Rules Challenges. I would love to see the creatures of True Blood compete in that against each other.)

Some of the side characters have also been tragically handled thus far. Sam has been so disconnected from the rest of the characters that he might as well get his own spin-off show and Tara continues to make the worst decisions I have probably ever seen on television. I really hope she can stop being a glutton for punishment soon. And Jessica better kick her ass into gear too, because as much “fun” as it is watching her struggle with being a new vampire without an elder to show her the ropes (and it isn’t much fun at all), her actions have very little effect on the central conflicts of the show, which is one of the great shortcomings of True Blood. See, what makes a show like Game of Thrones so compelling is the fact that every action has a consequence somewhere else, so even if we are following these isolated cells of characters in different locales, what they do affects the other characters, miles and miles away. This doesn’t happen on True Blood enough, detracting from the sense that it might actually be going somewhere.

I have lost the sense of where True Blood is trying to take us. Is it trying to edge closer to a state of civil war between humanity and vampires or is it trying to descend into inner-supernatural-species politics? Instead of deepening any of the conflicts that already exist on the show, it just keeps piling on more supernatural species and I feel like it’s a cop-out. Never mind we have an awesome power struggle going on within the vampire camp, what with the Queen of Louisiana out in force and all that, let’s distract everyone from that by entering werewolves and witches into the ring, because we have no idea where we actually want to go with this vampire power struggle.

I have no problem with a universe that has diverse supernatural species as protagonists, but I feel like True Blood has been dishonest about their reveal. If it had been clear that all of these creatures exist in its universe from the start, then it wouldn’t feel so lame when one by one they come out of the woodwork at the most (in-)convenient times, when otherwise the storyline would get stuck. I realize it is rather ironic that I am complaining about True Blood being dishonest about what it is, when just a week ago I was praising Game of Thrones for it, but my point is this: when Game of Thrones threw away its disguise of being “The Ned Stark Story”, it gave way to a much bigger, more compelling story that I am even more stoked to see play out.

When True Blood pulls another reveal and stops pretending to be “A Show About Vampires”, all it then proceeds to say is that it’s “A Show About Vampires and Shape Shifters” and then “A Show About Vampires and Shape Shifters and Witches” and then “A Show About Vampires and Shape Shifters and Witches and Werewolves” and then “A Show About Vampires and Shape Shifters and Witches and Werewolves and Fairies”… do you see where I am going with this? The stories pretend to become bigger and better, but really they never get told, because as soon as it is about to get interesting, we just get another “species reveal”. And then the species don’t even interact with each other all that much. It’s like adding factors to an equation you never actually plan to solve, so the other side of that equal sign will stay eternally vacant and that bugs me.

The only way to still care about True Blood is to care about at least one of the central characters and since Sookie makes no sense to me whatsoever as a human (maybe she’ll make more sense to me as a fairy?), the only character I care about is Eric, because he is fun and bad at the same time and doesn’t pretend to be something he is not. The Season 4 teasers also promise us more Eric, so maybe there is hope for me yet.

I might be holding True Blood to standards it isn’t even attempting to fulfill, given that it is Summer TV and revels in its own campiness from time to time. However, you can be campy and still tell compelling stories (do I even need to bring up Buffy?), but Season 3 of True Blood was a far cry from compelling television, with the characters being scattered in locations no one could keep track of (who was in Mississippi, who was in Louisiana and who was in transit between the two?) and adding yet another character to the Bill-Sookie-Eric triangle, making it a love square between Bill, Sookie, Eric and Alcide. I am already sick of that back and forth game. And I am also not willing to give Summer TV a pass for not bringing a higher quality, just because it’s summer. That would be season-ism on my part and I won’t be accused of any –ism!

By the way, if most of the plot twists I have been complaining about here are taken from the book, then I want True Blood creator Alan Ball to take a few more steps away from the source material and think harder how he can improve upon it, because it is clearly not serving him well to stick too closely to it.
I haven’t read the books – I am TV Editor for a reason! – so I can’t judge on this front, but the story of “True Blood the TV Show” clearly needs to be streamlined a lot more, even if that means dropping entire characters that might appear in the books or going vastly off the course of the page.

Finally, I may just be suffering from Vampire Fatigue, because Season 2 of The Vampire Diaries has put me through the ringer of what I can tolerate in the realm of “bad supernatural storytelling” and I recently discovered that even though I once claimed otherwise, the creatures that actually freak me out the most are not vampires but zombies, because there is no way to manipulate zombies or talk sense into them or negotiate with them or any of that. Way scarier than vampires in my book. But hey, with True Blood’s track record, you can’t count out the possibility of zombies showing up in that show, so maybe it can scare me again!

With all this said, let’s see if the Season 4 premiere can get me excited about True Blood again. I will let you know, so watch this space.

 

 

 

Need more TV coverage? Listen to a new “Television Collision: Podcast Extra”, Episode 10 below.

Topics include Falling Skies, passionate responses to The Challenge: Rivals and SYTYCD, the gender-specific humor (?) of Wilfred and much more!

{mp3}PodcastEpisode10{/mp3}

 

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Author: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

Born in Germany, lived in the US, now in the UK. Always taking my love for TV and writing with me. Life participator. Blogger. Gaming enthusiast.

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