TV Review: True Blood pilot
To say I’ve been anticipating this show is something of an understatement. It’s about vampires, it’s on HBO, it’s by Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball and it features Anna Paquin in the lead role. They couldn’t have appealed more to the demographic of ‘me’ short of casting Alyson Hannigan as an evil vampire girl. Nevertheless I haven’t really been following the show, but caught this trailer which makes it look like Buffy with added-gore and more Rice-esque vampires. Thankfully having now seen the pilot that’s not the case, though it’s far from perfect.
The first thing that grabs you is the setting, or perhaps I should say backdrop. Two years ago the Chinese developed synthetic blood which provides all the nutrients a vampire needs to live. As such, they came out of the shadowy closet. In True Bloods world, not only are vampires real, everyone knows they’re real, even if only a small number of people have ever seen one. It’s a concept that grabs you immediately. What I’m not so sure about is the specific geographical setting. It all happens in a small village in Louisiana, Southern USA. It’s an understandable choice – the racial divide between vampires and humans appears to be a central theme of the show, so setting the show in a town where those attitudes will be at the fore seems a good idea. It’s just settings such as this are a little difficult to watch: it’s a community soaked in acts of casual sex and violence there’s something really nasty about it and it makes it hard to emphasise with any of the characters as you know they’ll either turn out to be horrible or have horrible things happen to them. But even elements of this setting don’t strike true: our heroine’s sensitivity to swear-words for one, or the “I’m better than all of you but still stuck here” friend. Maybe it’s a setting more common and clearly defined for US viewers but from a Brit perspective it seems that what should be a drama based around introducing an unfamiliar concept (vampires) to a familiar setting in fact plays more like an unfamiliar concept in an alien setting. It damages the show as it’s impossible to know what things are normal and what have been added as part of the show’s mythology.
There are other issues too. Our lead Vampire seems incredibly hokey and boring. The pre-titles teaser pulls a lovely bait and switch which seems to exist to point out that the vampires of this world are not what we’re used to in Rice-esque fiction. Then once the show proper gets underway it drops a hulking great stereotype in the middle. A few of the lines are truly cringe worthy.
I don’t want to be too harsh as it’s a decent show. Paquin’s Suki Stackhouse is an interesting character, with the ability to read minds which is played rather well but for a HBO show one expects something more. Perhaps the most damning criticism is that the whole thing was hugely predictable. The show didn’t surprise me once and it all seemed to be marching in a startlingly obvious direction. I should stress that this review is based on an unaired pilot and some of my smaller gripes may well be fixed. There is potential here and I enjoyed it, but I was hoping to be blown away and so am somewhat disappointed.