I've said it many times before, but network television is, aside from a couple of bright spots ("Lost") continuing to decline. Each year gets a bit worse, with reality shows like "America's Got Talent" (which is 99.9% people willing to embarass themselves to get on TV and .1% people with actual talent), "Dancing With the Stars" (whose major success still puzzles me) and "I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here" (does the world really need more of Heidi and Spencer?) taking up more places on the schedule because they're cheaply made and can more easily turn a profit. Yet, while there's a few success stories, networks find that more and more people are tuning out.
On the other hand, Yet, all hope is not lost for those people actually seeking out quality scripted television, as cable TV still continues to take risks, with shows like "True Blood", "The Tudors", "Californication" and others. "True Blood" is the latest effort from "Six Degrees Under" creator Alan Ball. The series is based upon the "Sookie Stackhouse" novels by Charlaine Harris and stars Anna Paquin as Stackhouse, a sweet, innocent waitress working in a backwoods bar in Louisiana. Unfortunately and fortunately, Sookie can read people's minds, which often leads to her hearing the unpleasant thoughts of the patrons.
One evening, in walks William Compton (Stephen Moyer), a brooding vampire who surprises Sookie because she can't read his thoughts. In the world of the series, a form of synthetic blood has been created, and as a result, the vampire society has made themselves known to the world. Although some vampires continue to attack humans, most sustain themselves on the synthetic blood and try to push for further rights for their people. On the other side, some humans try to get vampire blood for the rush it gives them, or to sell it on the black market.
After saving William from a couple of humans, he and Sookie take a bit of a liking to one another. However, when a series of murders happen in the local area. Sookie's wild brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is the initial suspect, but did he do it? Sookie finds herself drawn into the investigation and tries to find the one behind the murders. Meanwhile, her boss, Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell), tries to both protect Sookie (as well as his own secret) and keep his feelings for her to himself (all of which don't prove to be easy.) Also looking out for Sookie is her best friend, Tara (Rutina Wesley) and, at least initially, her grandmother (Lois Smith).
The series is an interesting blend of gothic horror, occasional dark comedy, drama, mystery and other genres, but Ball manages to balance all the elements surprisingly well. Additionally, the show's slow-boil tension is maintained nicely, as the show has a moody, steamy atmosphere that's often engaging. The show does have quite a bit of sex and nudity, which some may find offensive. I didn't find it offensive, but I thought it did become a bit much/unnecessary at times.
The performances are mostly excellent, although Paquin's lead effort carries the show quite nicely, with the actress delivering a fascinating performance that mixes vulnerability and sass quite well. Moyer, Wesley and Tramell deliver enjoyable supporting performances, as well. The series isn't going to be everyone's cup-of-tea, but I found it a compelling, interesting drama and another solid effort from creator Alan Ball.
1. 1- 1 7 Sep 08 Strange Love
2. 1- 2 14 Sep 08 The First Taste
3. 1- 3 21 Sep 08 Mine
4. 1- 4 28 Sep 08 Escape From Dragon House
5. 1- 5 5 Oct 08 Sparks Fly Out
6. 1- 6 12 Oct 08 Cold Ground
7. 1- 7 19 Oct 08 Burning House of Love
8. 1- 8 26 Oct 08 The Fourth Man in the Fire
9. 1- 9 2 Nov 08 Plaisir D'Amour
10. 1-10 9 Nov 08 I Don't Wanna Know
11. 1-11 16 Nov 08 To Love is to Bury
12. 1-12 23 Nov 08 You'll Be the Death of Me
VIDEO: The first season episodes of "True Blood" are presented on DVD by HBO in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation isn't outstanding, but it's mildly above-average. Sharpness and detail are just fine, as while the show has a slightly soft look, definition was still satisfactory and the transfer handled dark scenes (which the series has plenty of, not surprisingly) well. Although a touch of grain is seen at times (likely an intentional element of the cinematography), the picture otherwise seemed clean and clear, with no edge enhancement or pixelation. Colors did seem subdued at times, but other scenes showed deep, bold hues.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation delivers a reasonably enjoyable experience. This isn't a particularly aggressive soundtrack, nor did I expect it to be, given the dialogue-driven material. Still, the rear speakers are brought into play at times, delivering a pleasing amount of ambience and the occasional sound effect. Audio quality was fine, with clear dialogue and a full, rich score.
EXTRAS: Six commentaries are included with the set, featuring members of the cast and crew (such as creator Alan Ball, actress Anna Paquin, actor Stephen Moyer and others, such as director Michael Lehmann.) Overall, the tracks are quite informative and entertaining - the participants seem to have a great time chatting about the series and share quite a bit of behind-the-scenes tidbits, including casting, story issues and more.
We also get "Vampires in America" (a "Dateline"-esque mock-umentary talking about vampires in America), "Tru Blood" French and American ads, vampire service ads and vampire-related PSA's.
Final Thoughts: An engaging series with rich atmosphere and strong performances, "True Blood" is another fine effort from creator Alan Ball. The DVD offers very good audio/video quality, as well as a nice set of extras. Recommended.