Sort Of Vampire Time
The popularity of vampires could be chalked up to the night creatures’ most immediate trait: sex appeal. Ever since Bela Lugosi’s Dracula donned a satin cape and oiled hair, well-dressed monsters have held an allure distinct from that of other creatures of the dark. While making whoopee with a werewolf does not seem especially appealing, doing it with a chiseled Civil War veteran-cum-modern-day vampire does. Couple this with some blood sucking and other sundry violence, and you’ve got both female and male audiences rapt.
HBO’s hit series True Blood is set in a world where vampires seek to integrate into regular society––a feat that seems possible thanks to Japanese-engineered synthetic blood that curbs their thirst for delicious humans, and vampire rights organizations to prove their good intentions and, in turn, help curb humans’ prejudices against them. Certainly there are societal morality tales at play here, but as even the show’s creator will attest, this is ultimately lo-cal stuff.
By most evaluations, from critics and many of HBO’s own executives, “True Blood” is a different kind of series. Whereas “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” were dramatically and ethically complex, the artistic aspirations of “True Blood” seem on the surface less ambitious, as the show’s creator, Alan Ball, conceded.
“When I first pitched it, I said it’s popcorn television,” Mr. Ball said. “It has a lot going on beneath the surface, and I love the layers because I love to write layered stories. But I love the popcorn part of ‘True Blood.’ It’s just really great fun.”
He also acknowledged the elemental reason the show works: “Women love the storytelling and the romance, and men love the sex and violence.”
Using the deep South as its steamy backdrop, sexual and violent interactions between humans and vampires positively glisten with beaded sweat. Add some unnatural lighting and you’ve got yourself a soap opera, complete with emotive acting. I wanted to like this show, because I, like so many, am partial to the vampire myth. But by the second episode problems immediately begin to crop up. The South is a cartoon version of itself, and the characters, like the milieu, are uniformly stereotypess––not uncommon for the horror genre but it feels distracting here. Comedy also plays a bizarre role, manifested in the form of a dim-witted country boy who will fuck anything that moves, and the two main African American characters––a tough-but-sexy female bartender, and a flamboyant man in a do-rag and a cropped shirt deployed primarily for stale punch lines.
Juicy stuff, eh? The problem is, on the evidence of Six Feet, his Oscar-winning script for American Beauty, and now Blood, Ball has never seen a comic-dramatic premise he can’t flatten with leaden metaphors. He pumps up a tedious subplot about vampires campaigning on TV for antidiscrimination laws. And he makes so many heavy-handed comparisons between vampires and homosexuals that you wonder if he’s really never seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The Lost Boys.
Unlike Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films, which used its comedy/horror tropes to hilarious, creative, and even smart effect, True Blood is a facile treatment of a story line with great potential, and little more.