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Pilot Inspektor: HBO's "True Blood"

It's funny how your expectations can completely derail your perceptions of a series' strengths or weaknesses. As longtime readers of this site know, I have been beyond excited to watch the pilot for HBO's upcoming series True Blood since I first read the pilot script during the winter/spring of 2007. (Yes, it's really been that long since I first started blathering on about it.)

So imagine my shock and chagrin when I sat down to watch the pilot for True Blood--written and directed by Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) and based on the novel series by Charlaine Harris--last week and was royally disappointed. Consider me a vampire faced with the prospect of feasting on an anorexic: all of the pieces were there but it was just flat, empty, and remarkably tasteless.

Sure, Anna Paquin (X-Men) is absolutely cute as a button as telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse; she's a blonde, perky barmaid at Merlotte's, a backwoods bar in post-Katrina Louisiana, and a social pariah, rejected by most of the townspeople for the unnerving way she is able to hear people's innermost thoughts in a constant cacophony of sordid audio details. But her luck takes a turn for the better when a vampire--named Bill, no less, and played by NY-LON's Stephen Moyer--comes into the bar one evening.

Sookie's amazed that she can't hear Bill Compton's thoughts and then is called upon to rescue him from some predatory lowlifes who want to drain him for his narcotic-like blood and sell the plasma to the highest bidder. (In this world, vampires have "come out of the coffin" and walk among humans, thanks to a Japanese-created synthetic blood called Tru Blood that's sold at most liquor stores.)

It's a convincing setup for a series that aims to be a mature, pay cable version of, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer-meets-Dark Shadows or similar, but the inclusion of graphic sex into the mix makes the entire thing play more like soft-core porn. A storyline involving Sookie's lothario brother Jason (Summerland's Ryan Kwanten) having sex with local bad girl Maudette Pickens (Dirt's Danielle Sapia)--a woman addicted to having sex with vampires and filming it--turns into a gruesome S&M-charged affair that doesn't jibe at all well with the innocence of Sookie or the off-kilter humor of the rest of the episode. Maudette is found strangled and a tape of her having rough sex with Jason is found at the scene and he becomes the chief suspect in her murder... even though we now know there are several vampires hanging around town, including Bill and a mysterious female vampire who comes to Sookie's aid after she tries to free Bill.

(Aside: It bothered me that Maudette and Sookie supposedly went to high school together; the woman playing Maudette looks like she has about twenty years on Paquin and that little revelation threw me for a loop and took me off page for a few minutes.)

What I loved about the script was the interplay between the characters and how well each of the supporting characters were developed: how Sookie's boss Sam (Sam Trammell) sublimates his obvious desire for Sookie even though he's shouting his love for her inside her head; how alternately attracted and repelled Jason is by the notion of vampire sex; or how Sookie's friend Tara (Passions' Brook Kerr, who was later replaced by Rutina Wesley) can't censor her thoughts at all, either inside her head or when they're spoken aloud. But intsead, in the filmed version of the pilot, I find that none of the supporting characters are particularly sympathetic. They're all loud, irritating, and shrill. It's like they're all shouting all the time inside Sookie's head. Only, like Sookie, we're doomed to hear them all the damn time. (Kerr is definitely hellishly annoying; her Tara won't shut up for a single second she's on-screen.)

Tonally, the pilot was all over the place: a sex-fueled drama, off-kilter comedy, and a serious exploration of class warfare in small-town Americana after the storm. Then you throw in telepathy, vampires, and murder--not to mention some seriously cheesy special effects (they make the vampire transformation in Buffy look like the work of CGI geniuses)--and what you're left with is a bit of a muddle.

It's a bit of a headscratcher whether this will be seriously reworked (or, hell, completely reshot) before True Blood launches... well, whenever it will inevitably launch after such a long delay. But given the recent regime change at HBO, I wonder whether Sue Naegle will step in to fix this bloody awful mess. Pun definitely intended.

Comments

Anonymous said…
That's a real shame, sounds like it has been kitchen-sinked which is something of a surprise coming from Alan Ball as restraint and good pacing were hallmarks of Six Feet Under.

Props for daring to try something radically different, though, even if the result is uneven.

Do we know when it is due to air?
ticknart said…
The books are are a fun mix of comedy, mystery, and horror with a healthy dose of sex tossed in to make it a little more interesting.

It sucks that the people in charge of this adaptation didn't have the ability to be as careful crafting the show as Charlaine Harris is when she writes the books.

Here's to hoping that things'll get better, quickly. I mean they did cast Stephen Root to play a vampire for a couple of episodes, they can't be screwing everything up, can they?
Anonymous said…
I also had the misfortune of seeing this pilot and was completely disappointed. The biggest problem was, as you mentioned, the inconsistency in tone. I love shows that combine humor, drama, suspense, etc. but this show wasn't able to pull any of them off. The comedy was dull, the drama was laughable, and even the sex wasn't sexy.
Anonymous said…
Jace, I thought Tara (Brooke Kerr) was supposedly recast...Do you think the copy you watched is final or is there any hope that things are/can be retooled and reshot?
Anonymous said…
Rutina Wesley was Tara in the pilot I viewed; unfortunately the character was as annoying as described above.

I didn't find the other characters as grating. The pace was strange, but it was a lot of plot to establish [I may be more sympathetic since I am familiar with Charlaine Harris' books].
Anonymous said…
Thing is except for the opening scene at the mini mart, and Tara pretty much the rest of the episode does follow what happens in the first book of the series. Having just revisited Dead Until Dark the pilot is pretty much covering all the bases. Of course in the book we didn't get first hand pov of Jason & Maudette's sex like this, but as you've pointed out it is HBO and they re going to showcase the sex & violence as much as possible.

Tara needs to go however, not even remotely similar to the character in the books, she is just to obnoxious to be allowed to continue.
Anonymous said…
I loved all of the Sookie/Bill interaction, it was very restrained and sweet but I completely agree, the Jason storyline really kind of makes Sookie and Bill seem out of place. I thought they did a good job with Sam, he's pretty true to the books but when I found out the loud annoying girl was tara I was confused... I didn't remember her being that annoying in the book.
Anonymous said…
I'm not surprised.
All tv shows now are about a leading lady and a leading man having a romance.
It doesn't matter if the show is about vampires, aliens or doctors having sex, it's all about the romance.

And that's why all shows suck now and have such low ratings.
Shows like Star Trek, Buffy or Starky&Hutch didn't become legendary, and still have a lot of fans, with boring romance and crappy stories.
Anonymous said…
Actually that's false, All tv shows are not about a leading lady & man = Romance. Hit shows with fairly high ratings (not counting reality shows which doesn't count as "tv" IMO) are ensemble casts, NCIS, the CSI's and L&O are all highly rated, little to no on going romances.

Second... which Trek, or Buffy did you watch? Romances and sex abounded, Kirk nailed every female alien or human, romance and weddings in DS9 and TNG, and Voyager! Buffy, and Angel, and Parker, And Riley and Spike... not counting the scoobies or Giles lots of love and romance in that show.

Also the Sookie books are mysteries but there is romance in every book, so in order to be true to them romance will be included. That would be like doing a Ms. Marple movie and no mystery.

Lastly I am wondering if maybe there are more than one version of the pilot out there? Because while Brook Kerr is listed at IMDB as being Tara, in the pilot I watched Tara was played by Rutina Wesley?
Anonymous said…
I'm disppointed to hear that the pilot might possibly be not very good...True Blood is one of the shows i am looking forward to.

Hopefully they will re-film it. Still can't wait for this show...hope it doesn't disappoint.
Anonymous said…
its a site related to it its called: revenantone.com




check it out,it's deadly fun!
Unknown said…
This is not everyones opinion! I found the pilot riveting. It was entertaining and held my attention well. I can't wait for the finished product to air and Look forward to seeing where the show will be taken.

Everyone has their own opinion of any show and unfortunately there's been a lot of shows with this kind of negativity around them that have gone on to be cult classics. So take it all with a grain of salt and watch it for yourselves.

And if you do see the pilot that's floating around out there just remember it's an unfinished work, not the final production. Anything could happen between now and airing.
ProgGrrl said…
Well I was really looking forward to his (I hadn't read the script)...and I am not disappointed one bit. This show seems to follow the sexy, trashy fun of the novels to a T. It's an incredibly clever universe set up by novelist Harris, and Ball does a great job keeping it light and sexy.

A vampire series about adults with lots of sex on HBO where they can really SHOW SOME SKIN? Yes, please, I'll have some more.
Unknown said…
I kind of liked the show, the sex and violence doesn´t bother me at all.. I mean please grow up. Puritanians shouldn´t be watching TV anyway you know.. the devil..
I simply can´t understand what the fuzz is about with some of you people in the US about sex and showing some boobs. IT is not going to kill you und yes, if you don´t like it then don´t watch it.

The accents were bad though, I mean come on it cannot be that hard to find actors that actually come from that area? Or at least know how to do a real accent via speech training.

Anyway it was good and I really hope we´ll get to see more of this but please have them change Tarra, that woman was annoying.
i have just seen the pilot and loved it. the sex scene everybody's mentioning here was a bit ackward, but funny.not sexy, though. especially because the actress was everything but hot.

the only thing i didn't find particularly in place was the choice for bill the vampire. that guy looks twice the age of anna paquin and he is almost as short as she is. and not handsome.

the version i watched had brook kerr as tara and she was the coolest fast mouth i have ever seen. doesn anybody know why she was dropped?

I hope come september the series is as good as the pilot signals.

and i'll sure to start on those books too.
Anonymous said…
I completely disagree. I saw the pilot and I thought it was great for something that wasn't even to be released yet.

I have read all of Charlaine Harris' novels so I am extremely biased, but the whole point of this pilot, I think, was to show how entirely out of touch Sookie is. She has no idea what's really going on around her. She's naive.

This show is going to be VERY different from the books and I'm excited to see other character's stories develop over time. Seeing everything from Sookie's POV works in the book but not on TV, for obvious reasons.

I urge people to make up their own minds.

And BTW you said: "including Bill and a mysterious female vampire who comes to Sookie's aid after she tries to free Bill."

That was not a vampire helping Sookie. If you think this show is going to be serious boy you have another thing coming. Stay tuned for werewolves, fairies, demons, and goblins ohmai!
Anonymous said…
one word: BLOODYTERRIBLE
Anonymous said…
The worst friggin show I have ever seen on HBO. The people in it are fake southern, not real south. The acting sucks. The plot sucks. The writing sucks. It's just bad and not in a good way. Not in a Quentin Tarantino way. It's the kind of thing some nerdy intellectuals would like. They'd like it because no one else likes it and their lack of emotional intelligence fcks em so they miss what bullshit this show is.
Anonymous said…
I love this show so far and I can't wait till next sunday.
Anonymous said…
I'm truly addicted to this show. I've recorded all 4 episodes and cannot wait until Sunday!
Anonymous said…
I have to say over all I do like the show but here are the things I did not like about it:

The accents - incredibly fake and distracting. When "Sookie" talks fast it's hard to understand and a little over the top. (fyi I am fron the south)

Tara & her mother - I don't know who's idea it was for these two role types. Why do the most dysfunctional, over the top, bad acting roles have to be the only black characters. I'm sorry but Tara's mother is way over the top: breaking a bottle over her face, about to punch a young child? I hate to play the race card but I found that a bit stereo typical type cast. (To explain, many african americans are tired of seeing black actors play the part of junkies, drunks, abusers, thieves, or ignorants or in Tara's case The Angry Black Woman. BTW, Tara is not believable.

Over all the show seems to be moving kind of slow. They are playing up the same issues a little too much. There needs to be some more drama...real drama to keep me interested. Honestly I am losing interest.
Anonymous said…
True Blood is an absolute hit! And I couldn't believe the earlier comment about Stephen Moyer not being handsome. Is that supposed to be a joke? Moyer's looks and the chemistry he has with Paquin (off screen as well) make this one smoldering hot show. Congrats to Alan Ball.
Anonymous said…
This is one of the worst series I have ever seen. I have read all of the Sookie Stackhouse books and have been seriously disappointed in the HBO series. The characters have no depth whatsoever. Sookie spends 95 percent of her time being mad about one thing or another. The constant sex scenes are a definite turn off. Eric is nothing like the 'Viking' as portrayed in the books and his character is about as wooden as my dining room table. On the whole, the acting is terrible.

I feel sorry for the author! If I were her, I would demand additional monetary compensation for having this travesty of a series attached to my name.
Anonymous said…
Miamiviewer i cannot agree with you more on this.the tara is a very deplorable caracther and i feel embarassed to even watch her sometimes!the way brooke kerr portrayed he was a hell of a lot better than this new girl i would have to say but i am so sick of these roles.i mean i can't hardly find one eloquent black caracther on TV today and the only one is oprah and she dosn't count because 'SHE'S REAL!"i don't like playing the race card either but you know to many people are comfortable with it and it's sickining but other than that i liked the show a lot.
Anonymous said…
Ive come here because Im new to True Blood and was confused about the change in the actress playing Tara?

I much prefer Brook Kerr as the original. Im looking around for a solid answer but so far have only come across idle speculation and outright denials that there even was an original actress!

Other wise, its a good looking show and Im looging forward to seeing the rest.

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