‘True Blood’ HBO’s next great tribe

Aug. 05, 2008 | 5:58 p.m.
HBO's 'True Blood' stars Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin

Snap Judgment: “True Blood” (HBO, airs Sept. 7)

As a genre, vampire tales are pretty long in the tooth — the “modern” idea of undead bloodsuckers dates back to the 1700s and before that practically every civilization under the sun had moonlight marauders who drank from the soft neck of humanity. But, hey, when you have a great premise, why not take one more bite?

I took a long plane flight east yesterday and made two important discoveries. One, is that US Airways now charges for coffee. (Dinging people for carry-on bags, maybe I can understand that, but for coffee?) The second revelation was “True Blood,” the new HBO series that premieres on Sept. 7.

I got an advance copy of the first two episodes from HBO and the show is simply fantastic. It’s the handiwork of Alan Ball, the Oscar-winning writer of “American Beauty” and the creator of “Six Feet Under,” and he will be asked a thousand times between now and the first episode whether he considers himself in competition with “Twilight,” the big vampire romance film on the dark horizon.

I have a suggested answer: “The Sopranos” came on the air a few months before “Analyze This” hit theaters in 1999 and a lot of people assumed that the little HBO show would suffer by going against a big film that, at first glance, seemed way too close for comfort, plot-wise. Hmmm. How’d that turn out?

This show, like every great HBO series, tracks a complicated tribe beset by the world around it, be it a Jersey mafia family, Utah polygamists, a quartet of single women in Manhattan or Depression-era carnies in a Dust Bowl war of good vs. evil.

This time the tribe members are vampires and the people who love them, all living in the not-too-distant future. Instead of villagers with torches, this time around the hordes at the castle gate are from Jerry Springer’s America where groupies (“fangbangers”) covet vampires for their sexual prowess and cruel-eyed poachers try to catch them, drain their blood and sell it as the ultimate vitality drink.

Anna Paquin stars in HBO's 'True Blood'Vampires have a fascinating jumble of roles here: They are pariahs, junkies and predators, but mostly they seem like disaffected rock stars, tired of the hunger they see in the eyes of “fans” and their own joyless need to feed their own appetites. What’s that line by U2? “You’re a vampire or a victim, it depends on who’s around…”

One of the main vampires seems so old when surrounded by the cloying, needy humans that I flashed on an image of Keith Richards stranded at a college keg party, too weary to talk but too thirsty to leave.

Ball, who was born in Georgia, goes back to the Deep South here by setting the show in Louisiana. The land with such a long history of mosquitoes and bigotry seems perfect for the morality play Ball has in mind.The gothic history of New Orleans is major color on his canvas, but “True Blood” is very much of the moment. Katrina and Blackwater are dropped into the dialogue, as is one especially delicious sight gag: A tabloid newspaper with the headline “Angelina adopts vampire baby.”

I don’t want to say too much more about the setup, but in essence the creation of an artificial blood-drink (“True Blood,” hence the title) has allowed vampires to go semi-public or, as one character puts it, “come out of the coffin.”

They hit the talk-show circuit and argue that they are the victims of bigotry. The star is Anna Paquin (right) (“The X-Men,” “The Piano”) who portrays a young woman who is not a vampire but is accustomed to feeling the hunger of others — she’s a telepath and hears every leering thought of every Bubba who walks into the Bayou bar where she works. The only “silent” person she meets is a vampire named…Bill. (One of her many great lines: “Bill? I thought it might be Antoine or Basil or, like, Langford maybe, but Bill? Vampire Bill?”)

I could go and on about the show but I don’t want to give away too much. The Times has me in Toronto today to interview Trent Reznor of the Nine Inch Nails, a fellow who knows quite a bit about the color black, vampire people and the city of New Orleans. I’m going to hand him my copy of “True Blood,” perhaps we can get a guest review from him as the show comes closer.

– Geoff Boucher

Photos: Top, “True Blood” stars Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer. Right, Paquin. John P. Johnson/HBO

More in: Uncategorized, Television, True Blood

Comments


29 Responses to ‘True Blood’ HBO’s next great tribe

  1. Tom The Patriot says:

    HBO gave up on the wonderful ROME, a drama with huge ambitions, eye-popping sets and action, history and content, for this cheap vampire knock off?

  2. mysrnt says:

    Sounds like this show is based on the Sookie Stackhouse (Southern Vampire) series by Charlaine Harris. The books are fun and it will be interesting to see how they are adapted for television.

  3. Tricknowledge says:

    I agree with Mr. Masterpuff and would also like to point out that Anna Pacquin's dialog sounds like Buffy the Vampire Slayer which, I dunno, maybe ran 'hilarious' vampire deconstruction into the ground over its 30 seasons and one movie.

  4. tom says:

    Awww, I thought it was going to be set in New York! Now I'm not gonna watch….

  5. masterpuff theater says:

    Vampires? Again? gee, how original. No one’s ever thought of a vampire show before, I can’t wait. Kudo’s to the brilliant executives who are so risky and daring.

  6. Helen says:

    How the heck can you compare a naff comedy (Analyse this) and Sopranos with True Blood and Twilight. A bit desperate there arent you. Twilight has a huge army of fans. True Blood will suffer.

  7. Peter N says:

    Ever since HBO canceled Deadwood while keeping Soparanos as the un-dead show performing to an audience of zombies, I've cut HBO. To put on Boring from Cincinnati and renege on their promise to produce 2 hour features to finish Deadwood makes me wonder if this new show has a low audience if they will follow through or allow Alan Ball to do his own version of Boring. Writers of entertainment, who believe they are artists should never be allowed to work again.
    The problem with this puff piece is that the ideas only sound good enough for a mini-series. And frankly it has come five years or more too late as network TV has done most of this. I don't blame the writer for this as I had heard this show was delayed for Boring from Cincinnati.

  8. ProgGrrl says:

    As a long time fan of Mr. Ball's works, I was very curious to hear he was taking on vampires. I read 4 of the novels and thought, this could be fun (and really sexy on HBO!)…I got my hands on the leaked pilot, and the show is smart, funny and just a bit trashy. In the best possible way. I'm loving all the advance online/viral stuff — cannot wait for this show!

  9. Kay in Ohio says:

    I loved Buffy, but this is no Buffy. Having read the books, and knowing Alan Ball's work, I can promise that this is unlike any vampire show you've ever seen. I can't wait. Give it more than a 30 second look before you judge.

  10. Chellie says:

    Ball didn't base the show in LA; Charlaine Harris based her books there.
    Katrina happens around book 6-7, so expect them to catch up with us later, I guess.
    Your Bubba comment is very funny, as there IS a character named Bubba, a vampire, in the books. And he IS indeed a disaffected rock star of sorts….

  11. alex says:

    this is based on the sookie stackhouse series and i think it is one of those that you have to go into with an open mind just like the stephaine Meyer project Midnight Sun

  12. Suzanne says:

    Oh my! Silly Helen! True Blood (aka the Southern Vampire Series by Charlaine Harris) also has a huge army of fans! I'm addicted and I can tell you, every person I've ever loaned the first book to, has immediately gone out to purchase the second.
    This television show is going to be AY-MAY-ZING!!! They did an excellent job casting and it looks to be like they are staying pretty true to the books. I'm going to be getting cable JUST for this show!
    This vampire series is entirely unlike any of the other mainstream vampire stories out now (Buffy, Twilight, etc.). While I love all of those others, Sookie Stackhouse and her Vampire Bill have a particularly special place in my heart. I can't wait for Book 9 and True Blood!!

  13. Lynn says:

    It's amazing that the fact that this show is based on a successful series of books manages to get entirely written out of this article. Ball didn't just choose to set his story in the south — it's where the books, from which the show is adapted, are set.
    Sheesh, give authors some credit.

  14. Geoff Boucher says:

    Lynn,
    You're absolutely right, I should have mentioned the books and author. I did cite the novels in a previous posting on "True Blood," but not in this one, it was an oversight. The good news I will be writing more on the series and on the novels specifically. Thanks for the constructive criticism.

  15. Angela says:

    To all the people saying – "another vampire show? Gee how original".
    I would like to say…..
    "Hospital show again. Gee, how original."
    "Another CSI show? Gee, how original."
    "Another reality show? Gee, how original."
    "Another Spaceship show? Gee, how orignal."
    I could go on and on, but you get my point.
    I've read the Sookie Stackhouse series which this show is based on and it's nothing like any of the other vampire shows you've seen. Not at all like Buffy. People need to do a little research before they start giving opinions.
    Also, to the writer of the article, the series is spelled "True Blood" the synthetic blood is spelled "Tru Blood".

  16. Bonnie Martiny says:

    Charlaine Harris' Sookie does indeed have a HUGE fan base and I love both the Twilight series and Sookie series. I am a fan of both and have never reread any book in a series before these. Vivid imagery and wonderful character development.
    I just reinstalled HBO in order to see Ball bring the Sookie series "to life". The fact that they are coming out at the same time only reflects reader intersts due to the great writing that both of these book series brought to us. Both of these authors are very imaginative and creative and have different takes on vampire lore and the character relationships. Both have strong female character leads and I think that is appealing to this generation of viewers. I just hope that Ball's series doesn't disappoint especially with it's take on the South Louisiana vs North Louisiana vs New Orleans accents and that they are more acurate than most have been in the past portaying the people and culture of South Louisiana. (Most of us do know how to read!) Ms Harris has done her homework here and remains very respectful, at the same time seeing the humor in small town life, very realitisticly depectied in the book series. I will be watching the HBO series AND going to see the Twilight film. Looking forward to comments again after the releases.

  17. cyn46 says:

    In regards to the comment about Zombies watching HBO series……please, the endless cop, and reality shows on regular T.V has me chanel flipping all night. I thinlk HBO has done a great job with providing a new twist for veiwing in their series. Deadwood, loved it! True Blood, can't wait for more! I like new new twist on an old tale of the vampires. The charaters are endearing, and the campy parts that give you a chuckle just add flavor to this already spicy show! Love the setting in Lousiaina…..HBO keep it coming!

  18. harrisfan says:

    and of course the old saying that rings true even now, two old sayings actually.
    1)if it doesn't sound like something you'd enjoy, then by all means, don't watch
    2)if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all

  19. Brandy Ramm says:

    This show is so amazing I can't even begin to put it into words ! Having this to look forward to on Sunday!!!!!!! Anyway, how can anyone look away when Bill looks at Sookie with that smoldering look that almost makes one want to offer their own neck to this "Vampire Bill"?? Way to go Alan Ball and HBO!!!! This show is definatley a home run! Also, how great that is was picked up for a second season!! Even more True Blood and that sexy vampire Bill……yum yum!!!! I'm thirsty for more!!!

  20. Marcia says:

    Great show. It gives me a reason to turn the TV on on Sunday.And stay home. Kudos to HBO, one more time you guys excell.
    Like someone said the looks gorgeous Bill gives Sookie makes one want to meet a vampire (but just like Bill..)
    But one thing: my friends and I want to see more kisses between Sookie and Bill.
    Even my friends in Brasil are waiting for this show to get there.

  21. Beth says:

    This show is great. I also am a little tired of crime shows, reality shows, ad infinitum, so this is a refreshingly original series of stories with interesting, well-drawn and wonderfully acted characters. What else is there to say? I have seen all five of the shows and plan to see all the rest. Thank God for On Demand.
    It's great to see a little camp on television.

  22. Emilayo says:

    Ah… this show is like chocolate covered strawberries– succulent and bloody sweet!!
    I can't live without it on Sunday nights and have begun scheduling my Sundays around it. Yes, I could watch it OnDemand, but who could wait? Not me! The last episode (10/12) dealt with so many emotionally complex issues that were deftly blended in with the extremely high level of sensual undercurrents. I went bonkers taking it all in :o)
    My only issue now is, do I begin reading the series penned by Charlaine Harris, which I'm assuming is wonderfully written, or do I allow True Blood to be my only source of Sookie and Vampire Bill?

  23. Marcia says:

    Sunday's episode was just what we wanted. Sookie and Bill together was a perfect scene. Just hope for more love between them. Great.

  24. jamie says:

    Im another big fan of trueblood I think Im in love with Bill LOL

  25. Marina G. says:

    I started watching "True Blood" from the middle of the season and have not stopped watching since then. I was not aware of the books, but plan to buy them very soon. I think that "True Blood" is and will progress to be a great show and that it complements current views with traditional views of vampires and their life.
    My husband is now addicted to the show.

  26. JAMIE says:

    I SO SUPER LOVE THIS SHOW! I SAW ALL THE SHOWS UP TILL 12 IN 1 WEEK. I HATE HAVING TO WAIT TO SEE WHATS NEXT. VAMPIRES ARE THE S#@T! YEA!, HBO SHOW WITH VAMPIRES. = )=

  27. stephanie ford says:

    this has got to be the BEST show ever… just having to wait to see it again drives me amung many other friends completely crazy, no other show can even come close to the level of suspense or intense scens this one has.. OH MY GOD>> love it.. cant wait til the new season starts

  28. Martine says:

    This show is amazing. And as for a vampire show being original tell me what show is original? Lets see we have like 8 shows about fat looser cartoon dads. A million shows about groups of teenagers and their trouble with parents and friends. About two million shows about detectives and even more about criminals. And as a matter of fact no there aren't many vampire shows I can think of. Buffy was really the first, if you don't count Dark Shadows that was a million years ago and mostly a Soap Opera. So yes, it is very original.
    But thats not the most important thing. It is well written, outrageous, and even philosophical. It really is like no other show on right now. I was prepared to be unimpressed, but the longer the show goes the more you laugh, cry and laugh again. watch it before you judge. the one thing you will never call it is unoriginal!

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