TV Review: True Blood

In this image released by HBO, Anna Paquin, left, and Stephen Moyer are shown in a scene from "True Blood," premiering Sept. 7, on HBO.

Thursday night, the House of Blues in Chicago hosted a ‘special premier’ of the new HBO drama True Blood in the exclusive (and very dark) Foundation Room.

True Blood, based on the Southern Vampire Mysteries book series by Charlaine Harris, deals with the consequences of a vampires “coming out of the coffin” en mass after the creation of a synthetic blood substitute eliminates the need for them to feed off of humans. The series takes place two years after “The Great Revelation” in fictional Bon Temps, Louisiana. The show sets up this small town as both isolated from the larger world but at the same time imbued with a dense, humid ‘Southern Gothic’ feel.

The series is focused around the character of Sookie Stackhouse, played by the Academy Award-winning Anna Paquin (X-Men), a twenty-something waitress born with the power to read minds, a power she considers a curse as it forces her to ‘hear’ the true feelings that her friends, coworkers and customers hide behind their smiles. Enter Stephen Moyer as Bill Compton, a one hundred and seventy three year old vampire that walks into the Sookie’s bar and into an immediate mutual attraction. She due to his undead and unreadable mind, and he by his fascination of her supernatural qualities.

The chemistry between the two leads is instantly powerful despite their opposite natures. Moyer has the dark, brooding and ‘out of his time’ vampire thing down pat from the start, and the beautiful blond-haired Anna Paquin radiates a sunny optimism. She also shows a kind heart when she rescues him from a pair of drug dealers looking to harvest Bill, as vampire blood has a euphoric effect on humans and become a hot commodity on the black market.

As a pilot, this episode does the yeoman’s work of both kicking off the drama and introducing the supporting characters. Most of the bar’s staff blend together and are unremarkable save for the new bartender (and Sookie best friend) Rutina Wesley as Tara Thornton whose sassiness gauge is pegged on level 9 (or “Grating”) from the start and doesn’t drop in any of the three scenes she devours.

Sookie’s home life has also become of source of new drama coincidently within the same couple of days as well. Her lothario brother Jason’s (Ryan Kwanten) latest conquest, a woman who’d been labeled a ‘fang-banger’ for her dalliances with vampires, was found dead herself after an R-rated night with him. He is soon led away by the police while his outer and inner, thanks to Sookie’s mind readings, protestations lodge only confusion as to the night in question.

Overall True Blood is a character drama dealing with a small town’s romantic and familial relationships brushed with a hint of the supernatural. It’s a standard science fiction “supernatural as metaphor” setup, as this story could have been set in the same place sixty years in the past with any minority group standing in for ‘vampire’ and there would be little change. This is especially true in the final scene as the two star-crossed characters stare at each other as a bar full of locals look on with fear and apprehension. Only the sex and violence that premium cable has become known for differentiates True Blood from the many attempts at making vampire dramas work on television.

Touched on during the pre-credits teaser, and more so outside of the series, True Blood’s meta-story involves how modern society deals with the emergence of a new minority group who now mostly just want to fit in. They are aided by slick PR vamps who spin centuries of horror stories as undocumented and inconsequential compared to both man’s past and current inhumanity to its fellow man, and while acknowledging their problem with sunlight, explain that a stake though the heart: “would, in fact, kill pretty much anyone.”

Given the counter-culture appeal of its subject matter, True Blood made many attempts at generating viral attention, such as the creation of websites for the two sides of the issue of vampire rights, such as the “anti” Fellowship of the Sun and the “pro” American Vampire League.

Attendees of the San Diego Comic Con could also find a preview of True Blood: The Great Revelation, a prequel comic written by David Wohl (Witchblade) and art by Jason Badower (NBC’s Heroes online comic).

The full comic, produced by Top Cow, is available on HBO’s True Blood official website and it hints at a more sinister origin for the fortuitous invention of the artificial blood that made the current world possible. Told from the perspective of a Crusades-era vampire coming to terms with integration into society while navigating the halls of a vampire power structure that has its fangs sunk into the social, economic and political world of humans for centuries.

The True Blood television series premiers September 7th at 9pm ET on HBO.

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