Ah, True Blood … who knew my next favourite US TV import would be about vampires? I have no interest in vampires as a rule, having allowed Buffy to pass me by, and correctly adjudged Twilight to be for people under half my age, but the magic words “Alan” and “Ball” drew me to True Blood, having thoroughly enjoyed American Beauty and Six Feet Under, and – although here he is adapting another writer’s work from source, that is the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris – you know you’re onto a winner with the master. (Also, he’s from Georgia, so clearly has an instinctive geographical “feel” for the Louisiana setting.)
Another winner from HBO, it’s showing here on the abidingly essential FX channel, which is one of the few reasons I hang on to my Sky subscription – as it’s not on Freeview or Freesat, for, one imagines, Murdoch-related reasons – True Blood hooked me in from the off, and now, having cheekily raced through the best part of season one due to press discs, I’m convinced it is inching its way towards being a modern classic. Usually referred to as Southern Gothic, which it undoubtedly is, this is more than just the story of virginal, extra-sensorily perceptive waitress Sookie (Ana Paquin in the role of her career) and her pan-ethnic relationship with vampire Bill (The Grand‘s Stephen Moyer, gone to America and everything) in a parallel present where blooduckers have been granted equal rights with complicated socio-sexual consequences and vampires desiring to “go mainstream” and integrate drink commercially available blood substitute called True Blood, while humans crave V Juice (vampire blood) for kicks. It’s really the story of a small town, Bon Temps, and its interweaving plotlines. It would be easy to sell on the frankness of its sex, or the gushingness of its gore, but it’s about far more than sucking and fucking in the Body Heat heat – it’s a soap opera, concerned equally with gossip and gravestones, family and fangs, humour and horror.
Certainly, the lead characters – and by extension the actors – are a statuesque lot, easy on the eye and often glimpsed in states of undress, or at least in vests for the humid weather: Moyer, Paquin, Ryan Kwanten (who plays the world’s most toned council employee, Jason, and used to be on Home & Away), Rutina Wesley (Tara), Lizzy Caplan (Amy), Nelson Ellis (Lafayette, pumped-up combination drug drealer/gay porn star/short-order cook) and Alexander Skarsgard (last seen as the hypnotic Iceman in Generation Kill, now the king of the vampires on account of his age and, presumably, height). But it’s more than just a beauty contest – dismiss it as The OC with added haemoglobin at your peril. The other townsfolk are just as interesting: Sheriff Dearborne, Detective Andy Bellefleur, Lettie Mae, Hoyt, Arlene, Adele, Rene … you’re getting the impression that I’m sucked into this, and I am. Unlike that other hit from HBO, The Wire, it seems to win awards over there. And whether it’s explicitly or implicitly post-Katrina is really up to you.
Like Six Feet Under, its use of existing music is smart and offbeat (in recent episodes of True Blood, we’ve heard The Eagles Of Death Metal, Allen Touissant, Cat Power, Heaven 17, Lynrd Skynrd, a cover of The Cure’s Just Like Heaven by The Watson Twins, and Sweet Jane by the Cowboy Junkies), and like Six Feet Under, its credit sequence is worthy of an award all by itself: a beguiling, swampy montage of Louisiana verite, deftly mixing up the show’s themes of death, religion and nature – a baptism here, a rattlesnake there, some flash frames of what can only be described as sexual congress, a Klan baby … It can, and should, be seen here (and the song, Bad Things, is by a country artist I’d never heard of called Jace Everett, before you ask).
Interested? If you don’t have FX, it’s being shown on C4 later this year, except with certain cuts made to the sex and violence so that it can be shown at 9pm. Drained of a certain amount of blood, then.