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TV on DVD: "True Blood: Season One"

Full disclosure: I wasn't crazy about Alan Ball's HBO vampire series, True Blood, based on a series of novels by Charlaine Harris, when I first saw the pilot early last year. After watching the first few episodes of True Blood, I gave up and moved on to other summer series and didn't really look back.

I had a second chance to fall under True Blood's seductive spell when HBO graciously sent me a copy of the True Blood Season One DVD a few weeks back. I put aside my prejudices against the series and watched it from the beginning... and ultimately ended up devouring the entire first season in about three days' time.

While I still think that it takes way too long for the series to find its feet, finally settling into its tone and breathing a little somewhere about the sixth episode or so. The early episodes, particularly the first three (all scripted by Ball himself) are jarring and the characters somewhat unsympathetic and unlikable. However, by the time the halfway point in the season arrives, the characters have softened somewhat and their dynamics shifted into compelling new directions.

The five-disc set, arriving in stores today, tells the story of telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) in the small Louisiana town of Bon Temps, a rural village where the arrival of an actual vampire--in this case the nearly 200-year-old Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer)--throws the town into chaos. Set in the near future, True Blood posits what would happen if vampires finally came out of the coffin and intermingled with the human populace. The Japanese creation of synthetic blood, bottled under the name Tru Blood, means that vamps don't have to kill to survive.

But not all vampires want to "mainstream" as the noble Bill Compton does. Some want to continue feeding on humans and treating them as little more than running, screaming blood bags. Meanwhile, an entire subset of human society nicknamed fangbangers discovers that they are drawn to these dark creatures, offering up their blood and bodies for sustenance and sex. Others become addicted to V, a drug derived from vampire blood that has hallucinatory and physical (not to mention sexual) effects. There are vampire bars, such as the one in Shreveport where several Bon Temps women frequent. Women who, over the course of the first season, keep winding up dead, the victims of an unknown murderer who is striking with impunity.

The identity of the killer becomes a taut throughline running underneath the surface of the first season. But it's not all slashings, hangings, and exsanguinations. There are a number of romantic triangles, including one between Sookie, Bill, and Sookie's boss Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell), the owner of Merlotte's Bar and Grill, who is concealing a dark secret of his own. And another between Sookie's best friend Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley), Sookie's brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten), and, well, just about every woman in Bon Temps. There's also a host of compelling supporting characters, including Sookie and Jason's adorable grandmother Adele (Lois Smith), gay short order cook Layfayette (Nelsan Ellis), sassy waitress Arlene Fowler (Carrie Preson), Cajun Rene Lenier (Michael Raymond-James), uppity detective Andy Bellefleur (Chris Bauer), naive manboy Hoyt Fortenberry (Jim Parrack), and steely-nerved sherrif Bud Dearborne (William Sanderson). Plus, Lizzy Caplan gives a star turn as a guest star in the later half of the season as V-obsessed Yankie Amy Burley.

Throw in some vampires, such as Alexander Skarsgard's noble Eric Northman, Kristin Bauer's icy Pam, Raoul Trujillo's frightening Longshadow, and Stephen Root's sadsack Eddie Gautier and you have the makings of a gripping ensemble drama. Yet still, the most terrifying character in all of True Blood's diverse populace as got to be Tara's alcoholic mother Lettie Mae Thornton (Adina Porter), whose cruelty and malice is a match for any of the series' vampiric denizens. An exorcism storyline involving Tara and Lettie Mae is one of the more intriguing storylines in the season and it puts Tara firmly in the crosshairs of the enigmatic Maryann (Michelle Forbes), a mysterious Samaritan who has designs on the wayward Tara and who shares a past with Sam Merlotte himself.

I don't want to give too much away about True Blood's plot but I will say that if you're able to stick through the first few relatively weak episodes (which, in my opinion, trade too heavily on metaphor and obvious subtext), you will be more than rewarded by what comes after. Halfway through its freshman season, True Blood becomes a taut supernatural drama blending together romantic intrigue, over-the-top gore, murder mystery, brusque sexuality, and more twists and turns that you can shake a stick at.

The five-disc set includes a slew of bonus material, including public service announcements for both pro- and anti-vampire rights, six audio commentaries with the cast and crew (including creator/executive producer Alan Ball, Anna Paquin, and Stephen Moyer), a mockumentary about vampires entitled "In Focus: Vampires in America," French and American Tru Blood beverage commercials, and vampire service ads for such services as vampire dating, vampire hotels, and lawyers serving the vampire community.

With the second season of True Blood just around the corner (June 8th, in fact), there's no better time to sink your teeth into this compelling and mesmerizing Southern Gothic series. Just don't forget to hide your fang marks.



True Blood: Season One is available today on DVD with a suggested retail price of $59.99. Or pick it up in the Televisionary store for just $32.99.

Comments

linda lou said…
The books are FAR superior to the television series. You should pick them up and give it a chance :)
The Law said…
The true blood beverage came out! Very cool! I found the first season (my friends love it) in-stock locally using Milo.com

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