A Sucker for Sookie? Nearly.

Having sat through six back-to-back episodes of HBO’s new Southern Vamp-Gothic series “True Blood”, I am reasonably pleased to report that there’s more to this Alan Ball infection confection (based on the Sookie Stackhouse book series by Charlaine Harris ) than I first believed. But we’re not home and safe yet, tenderloins, so don’t you put away that garlic just yet.

Let me first say that I’ve been guilty of bailing out on a number of TV shows before returning to them with my tail between my legs. Ball’s “Six Feet Under”, his first foray into the ultra-permissive theater of HBO, had me stifling a gag reflex at every melodramatic touch. There also seemed to be a statement being made about everything from gay sex to family dysfunction in every single narrative beat. It felt forced and self-righteous, and I began to wonder if Ball had any idea that other people besides himself lead real lives where some of these issues were serious, everyday matters and that he wasn’t being revolutionary and brave simply by dramatizing them in as graphic a manner as he could. At some point I was expecting one of his more depressed and neurotic puppets to start humping the scenery. To say the least, I switched off and waited for “The Sopranos”. Being from Jersey, that rung a little more true, even if it also tread a little heavily now and again.

Then, several years later, I returned. I’m not even sure why. Prompted by nothing whatsoever I switched it on and began to notice the color schemes of the various scenes. Then for some reason, the dialog began to hum and refresh like a finely tuned water pick. Maybe my life had gotten more interesting over the gap years, or maybe the show had loosened up a tad. Whatever it was, I started tuning in from the first minute it kicked off, and once I saw what was probably one of the most hilarious opening death scenes wherein a family man accidentally runs over his own head while trying to retrieve the paper without leaving his SUV, I got it. The uncomfortable high humor, the tragic and twisted honesty, the unbridled passion and love – I got it all. It became my favorite hour of TV, and yes, I had all the air crushed from my lungs when the last episode showed me it had been holding my heart in the mortuary refrigerator the whole time and then proceeded to bury it in an avalanche of blessed and perfectly pitched melancholy. Damn you, Alan Ball. I’ve not been as tough in any way, since.

So after loving American Beauty, and now Six Feet Under, you could imagine my delight when learning that Ball was at it again, and this time with a series about vampires. I could scarcely believe my good fortune. It had taken me at least a year to properly mourn the Fisher family, and even though a part of me still wanted them all to come back to life (except for maybe Billy, who nearly drove me and Brenda to will ourselves to death), serving up a tasty portion of the undead was the next best thing. Anna Paquin only sweetened the pot. Sure, vampires had been done to death by then, but I knew that Alan would find a way to steal my soul again. And there I was, leaving the doors and windows unlocked, waiting as one does for it to happen.

The opening, as are most of HBO series’ openings, was as appropriately interesting and mouth-watering as the food photos on a Friday’s menu. But once I took my first taste, I spit it right back out. I was horrified, alright, but not from the danger of a vampire’s hunger, but instead from the thick “I do declare” southern dialog that rolled off the character’s tongues – not like freshly withdrawn blood – but more like warm chocolate milk. It was Tennessee Williams as envisioned by the Podunk Senior Center doing a play written by third graders from Podunk Elementary. And then came the nudity and sex, slathered over top like extra butterscotch on a butterscotch sundae with butterscotch morsels. In short, I thought it was a gratuitous mess that seemed to have no point but to present yet another allegory for fringe societies done with a paint-by-numbers grid. I’m mean it: I was confused, and more than a little pissed-off.

Shaking off my initial reaction and recalling how I’d made the mistake of bailing too early before, I got stuck in and waited for the second episode. Then the third. By the middle of that one, I’d switched over to something else and to be quite honest, forgot the damn thing was even on. I didn’t want to admit to myself – someone who had taken a year to catch on to the wondrousness that is “Battlestar Galactica” – that this time I’d gotten it right. True Blood was just bad. Ball had failed me. Finally. Badly.

So after a few weeks of saying as much in as many online horror forums as I could find, I began to listen again to those who had agreed with my initial reservations but had stuck it out and had come to find that there was something here besides hokey blood-sucking humor and overwrought performances. There were “surprises” apparently, and things had taken a turn for the bizarre. Some had even mentioned that, despite the wicked humor, they’d felt “disturbed”. And as I took it to mean in a good way, I decided to take the weekend, retrace my steps and take the show into another few episodes. And that’s what I did. Having gone all the way to episode 6, I’m hear to tell those who may be curious about this series a secret…

…the magic number is 5. I’ve yet to go back to SFU and see if the same holds true there, but it would appear that by episode 5 I forgot I was watching a new show and started to feel something for some of the characters. A good sign is being a little annoyed with the cumbersome way one needs to download the next episode in order to keep the train rolling. And I can tell you now, I was annoyed – take that to mean in a good way.

So, I’ve three more episodes to go before I’m all caught up, and I reckon I’ll be watching at least one of ’em tonight. Possibly two if I get started early on my supper. I still don’t know if I’d pay two bits for a peek at the rest, but daggone-it, somethin’s tellin’ me I need to stick it out fer a coupla more.

*spits*

Hmm…maybe a bloody mary whilst viewin’ would spice things up a notch.

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About S. Norton

Writer, marketer, musician.
This entry was posted in Horror, reviews, television and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to A Sucker for Sookie? Nearly.

  1. Jeanne says:

    Okay, I don’t know where I’ve been because I’ve been totally unaware of the existance of “True Blood” till I read this post. I’ve found it, and am watching the first episode On Demand right now. I’ll give it 5 episodes and see if I like it. This is the kind of thing I can watch when the family is out- as they are now.

    Like you, I wasn’t a fan of Six Feet Under at first. I also gave up on it for a long while and watched all of the last Season. I also thought that the sex was a little too graphic. But, the only homosexually related movies I’d seen prior to “Six” was “Making Love” and “Personal Best in the ’80’s. But we never missed an episode of the Sopranos.

    I used to be so insulted by over the top Southern goop in movies and books. When I lived in Seattle everyone asked me if we had cows and if I lived on a farm back in Amarillo and it pissed me off. I wanted to tell them that only poor people have actual contact with livestock. And when I lived in Atlanta the people I knew were more East Coast/Chic than redneck.

    But, then we visited my husbands “people” in Oxford, Miss. and I about croaked. It was my first true interaction with Southern Simple. I had a hard time understanding what people were talking about! And my husbands Aunt is Paula Deene’s secret twin.

    I’ll be checking in on my favorite blogs more now that I’ve laid mine to rest once and for all. A lunatic Christian Fundamentalist from Texas went off on my blog today- and wrote like 8 weird comments about how I was going to hell. She’d make a good character for Switch.

  2. Ryan Field says:

    Agreed. It took me a while, and I almost didn’t go back. But I did and now I’m seeing more layers to characters that seemed one dimensional at first. I like the camp factor too. You don’t see much camp on TV these days (at least not intentionally, that is…I hate to mention Paul Deene in the same comment thread).

    I thought last night was particularly good. Just when I was ready to have my own “demon” extracted 🙂

  3. yoyolise says:

    Unrelated, but… “I wanted to tell them that only poor people have actual contact with livestock.”

    That’s kind of a shame, actually. We have cows in the middle of town here in England. Cows are great.

  4. scottyus says:

    I can attest to the cows in the middle of England, so close you can almost touch them. I wouldn’t though. They like to turn on you and try and cover you in a mountain of old grass, if you get my meaning. 🙂

    I was thinking about what you said, Jeanne, regarding the accent and as I watched eps. 7 and 8 last night, I decided that it wasn’t so much that the characters were coming off simple, but that the writer was milking the euphemisms and cadences so hard they almost had hay flying out of their mouths. Southern drawls are favorites of novice playwrights who can so easily infuse color into their dialog with them, and what you tend to get – or what I get, at least – is a lot of broad style and less depth. It’s kind of a shortcut to good writing.

    Having said that, let me also say that I think the actors have settled into their characters better and their speech seems more ingrained in the drama now. I still bristle at Bill’s occasional “Vam-pahhhr” and the demon twins’ shameless overacting, but I notice the pushing less now that my ears have adjusted.

    There are still some slightly forced and goofy moments that try and compensate for a lack of fresh ideas, and I’ve not yet found myself scared in the least yet – which is odd for 8 episodes about vampires. Obviously, Ball is more interested in the social implications of vampires integrating than giving us chills, but the fear rarely gets hot enough to steep tea.

    There’s also a casual and superficial address to some elements of the plot (such as most deaths and post attacks) that come off a little “young reader”. But as Ryan says, layers are showing now, and I’ll add that some of the shots are gorgeous. I think the first moment I was hooked was when Sookie ran from the house and across the cemetery in that classic Hammer nightie. It was elegant and seemed to capture the essence of innocence lost that I’ve come to associate with vamp camp.

    I have to say that the character that holds it all down the most while everyone else wants to jump out of the set pieces is Lafayette. He’s also the funniest by far and has excellent timing. Ball is certainly having one giving us “something for everyone” with him, but I find his character to be more of the heart of the series than Sookie. He’s wiser, perhaps. Other than his very high-school revenge on the “rednecks”, he’s showing us an evolved person of color that stretches away from stereotypes – drug dealing, notwithstanding.

    And I have to give it up to Ryan Kwanten, the Aussie who plays Jason. I didn’t even realize it was the same guy who was the lead in Dead Silence. Talk about “going for it”, he’s note perfect as a southern sex-addict and he’s probably never even been to the South.

    If Ball is still cutting his teeth in this genre, than I should give him time to get there. But he needs to keep the “corn” in the bread a bit more. If he can do that, I think he’s got the beginnings of something that can be very good.

  5. Jeanne says:

    I was able to watch all of the first episode On Demand before the brewed made it home from the football game, and I liked it. If someone built it up to me as the best show EVER I would have hated it. But, I had realistic expectations thanks to Scott’s post.

    About the livestock remark. Growing up in Amarillo (the Cow Town famous for sueing Oprah over the decline in cattle prices in 1998) was wonderful. But, people tend to give me a hard time and compare me to insulting stereo types and it gets old. I can’t speak for everyone in the world, but my experience is that when people ask if you have cows at your home, they are inferring you are a bumpkin. And it’s not true.

    Horses- however- are a different matter. We all had horses we boarded outside of town. And my father now has a ranch in Kansas and breeds Paints. But, horses are in a different category from cows and pigs to most people I’ve met in the U.S.

    I’ll try to watch another episode of True Blood while the gang’s at school and work today.

    j

    Oh yea- and if you heard me talk, you’d think I was related to “W” my Texas twang is so strong. When I was in Nice this summer an elderly British lady thought I was someone she knew- and then I opened my mouth and spoke. 🙂 She was sure she was mistaken then.

  6. scottyus says:

    Jeanne, your reaction to bumpkin-baiting reminds me of how people react when I tell them I’m from New Jersey. Inevitably, the first thing they do is shout “Joisey!”. Now, New Jersey is a loooong state, and those of us who grew up down near the southern tip actually sound more like y’all than we do those from the northern end. My assumption is they’re trying to mimic a New York style accent, which really has a much softer “oi” vowel sound in the middle.

    And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked “Do you know the Sopranos?” It hasn’t happened in some time, but when it does I just say “yes”, and stop smiling. Might as well have fun with it. 🙂

  7. Lisa says:

    Now, Scott – you know it wasn’t the cows you had to worry about turning on you. It was the ponies. 😉

  8. Jeanne says:

    I may regret this, but since the publishing industry outlook is so bleak right now, I’m going to take a stab at posting the start of my book on a new blogsite. ReclaimingAugusta.blogspot.com

    Like you’ve done with Switch.

    I’m not 100% certain I have the stamina to finally write this story once and for all but I’ll give it a go. And if it sucks royally, it will suck on a small time cyberworld level. 🙂

    j

  9. Jeanne says:

    Blasted blogger 🙂 Didn’t let me edit the title. So the address is ReconstructingAugusta.blogspot.com

  10. scottyus says:

    True. But the ponies were hitters. Cows were the shitters. 😳

    Good for you, J. I’m a strong believer that sucking on any level is important. Go for it!

  11. Ryan Field says:

    I grew up in both South and North Jersey. South during the school year, and north during the summers. And you’re right…New Jersey isn’t what most people think it is. In Salem County, NJ, you may as well be in New Orleans…even the accents are different. There’s a huge southern appeal that’s not forced. Now, when I go back every so often, I’m amazed at how nothing ever changes.

    And, in Northern Jersey, Lake Hopatcong to be exact, I actually did know “The Sopranos”. “The Lake” is a get-away for that sort of thing. 🙂

  12. scottyus says:

    I once attended a wedding shower (or whatever they’re called) in Teaneck, NJ, and two thoughts refused to leave my mind: one, some people who probably were invited didn’t make it cause they were dead, and two, I should have bought stock in shoe polish. I swear that “Uncle Lou” put that mustache on just for the event.

    Where I live on the Southern, New Jersey coast, we have what we like to call “Baybillies”, and they have a pretty fierce twang. In fact, I’ve gotten to identify the accent as “lazy rural” rather than “southern”. Some of them have a chopped “guido” twang which I must say is most offensive to the ears.

    To be truthful, there are a ton of Italian-Americans near and where I live, and they do have that “tough-guy” accent. Some of them affect it, but others – and I know this for a fact – got it legit. One of my best friends growing up watched his father get indicted for bailing out a top mob boss, and they’ve since left the state.

    Good ol’ Jersey. Keepin’ it colorful up and down the Parkway since fahevvah!

  13. Ryan Field says:

    Where I was from (home of Bruce Willis…he still goes back to visit his father), Penns Grove, in Salem County, we had a stronger Wilmington, DE, and Philadelphia influence. And to be honest, I appreciate the slower pace now that I’m all growed up and in my thirties. (My younger brother still lives there.) They even blocked Bruce when he tried to buy up all the riverfront property and invest a great deal of money in the town. They don’t like progress, and that’s why the slogan there says, “One hundred miles from New York, and a Million miles from Broadway.” Now I live in Bucks County, PA (New Hope), where it feels as if you can’t STOP the so-called progress. The same thing happened in Lake Hopatcong, NJ, where I spent every summer of my life…it’s all sub-divisions now, one piled on top of the other. So New Jersey, yes, is very unique…almost like two different states, north and south.

    I never heard the term “baybillies”…that’s a new one for me. Although many people I knew went to the Jersey Shore, I am almost ashamed to admit that after living a great deal of my life in New Jersey, I’ve never been there once…not even Atlantic City. We went north in the summer, and now I either go to Provincetown, MA or Fire Island for ocean.

  14. Ryan Field says:

    BTW…You have an exceptional blog and you write very well.

  15. scottyus says:

    Heh, I always drag out the Bruce Willis bit when I’m trying to “big up” where I come from. I grew up about 30 minutes from Penns Grove (Buena), and the only famous person we could use was he and Chubby Checker who had a girlfriend across town. 😀

    And I hear you about fighting progress. In a way, I like that my hometown is pretty much the way it was when I grew up. We’re lucky that a lot of the farmers were able to pass on their businesses to their kids, and so forth. The schools have gotten bigger, but there’s the same vibe. It may not be all that sophisticated, but the little stuff I remember and used to be proud of isn’t so far underneath the layers of new that you can’t find it when you want to.

    Been to New Hope, as well. Shot a model there back in the day when I used to do that kind of thing. Beautiful area, for sure.

    And thanks for the kind words about the blog. It keeps me writing, and writing better, hopefully, which is the important thing.

  16. Ryan Field says:

    I know Buena, and fairly well, too. My father was actually superintendent of schools in Buena for a long time. Back in the eighties. He used to commute every day from Penns Grove. He was superintendent in several school districts in other areas of NJ before that, but he LOVED Buena so much that once he got the job, he stayed there until he retired. From what I remember, there are a lot of good people there, which was the reason why he stayed so long.

    And, I think you do have someone famous from Buena…besides Bruce Willis. I can’t remember her name, but she was the Miss America runner-up back in the eighties. After that scandel with the woman who won (can’t remember her name either, but she posed nude somewhere), the woman from Buena took the title. I think her mother was my father’s secretary, but I’m not sure about that. I was a kid.

    Ha! I even know how to pronounce Buena the correct way, which most people don’t get.

    Cool.

  17. scottyus says:

    Ha! Suzette Charles! I knew her mother, too. Or she knew my mother, who was a teacher at Cleary Middle School. Or something. Suzette DeGaetano, I think her name was…and Wiki says she was the music teacher at Buena High. Her same-named daughter now holds the distinction of having the shortest reign as Miss America (7 weeks, Wiki again) after Vanessa got the boot.

    To add more thickness to the plot, I’m very close friends with a woman who finished behind Suzette Charles for Miss New Jersey. I can’t remember her maiden name, but it’s Orazi now. So, yeah, Bruce and Suzette. Not bad, or very bad, depending on your perspective. 🙂

    Byoo-nuh is nice, with nice people. Actually, I still work out of there.

  18. Ryan Field says:

    Too funny. If your mother was a teacher at Cleary (I remember hearing the name “Cleary” a lot around the house…there was another one, too, “Laudenslager” I think…it was hard to pronounce and reminded me of beer) during the eighties, she must have known my father (Dr. Field).

    Suzette Charles (DeGaetano)…I remember that now, too. That was big doings back then. I actually remember how upset everyone was when Vanessa won. A big let down.

    But don’t leave out John Forsythe from the famous list. Remember him…Dynasty? He was also born in Penns Grove, on Line Street, near the old lumber yard. And there’s Galanos, too, who was also from Penns Grove.

    There used to be a park or something in “Byoo-nuh”, where you could play bacci ball and people would picnic. Good times. I haven’t been there in years, but I still go to Penns Grove a lot for family.

  19. Jeanne says:

    I justed checked in on Nathan’s blog and discovered I missed a big discussion yesterday. AND that he’s gone MIA for several weeks. I wonder if he just needs a break from the blog. There’s been some modest debate during the past week or so- I wonder if he gets tired of it.

    My big announcement is that I have a stalker. For REAL. Can you freaking believe that a nobody, boring, 40 year old wife and Mom from Tulsa would have a perverted stalker? But, I do. And I think I know who it is. Finally.

    During the past couple of months the only bad comments I’ve had on my blog are from a Christian Fundamentalist Mom from Austin, Texas. I visited her page once- it was so cool. She is very artistic and I paid her a compliment. After that she began visiting my page. But, she used my page to sermonize.

    When I wrote my kids have ADD she wrote that ADD is a “Spiritual problem.” When I wrote about Karma on Sunday, she freaked out and wrote 8 comments saying I was going to hell.

    Then, I took my blog down and put up the new one. And someone wrote something really vulgar in the wee hours of the night, Tues. My best friend called me early yesterday am and told me that I had a really gross comment about one of the pics I posted. It was similar to the lude comments I’ve had before!

    I took the page down and thought about it. And I think the only person it could be is Texas Mom. She can find me by my profile pic/link from my comment on her page. She can find my profile and any new page I create this way.

    So, to heck with it. I just recreated the old page, again. I don’t know what else to do? I don’t want to be run off Blogger for forever! And no matter what new page I create, my profile leads the stalker there.

    I think this person is harmless. Should I go to her page to confront her? That’s not my style!

    It’s so funny, sick, weird!! I feel it’s not worth my time. I can’t police the darn thing all the time!

    j

  20. scottyus says:

    Jebus, Jeanne. The closest I had to anything like that was some kid who practically demanded I tell him how to get more freckles. It’s a long-ish and kind of boring story, but he eventually let up. Now watch him read this and come back.

    I wonder if you can block the IP address, or something. Or maybe just keep deleting her comments until she gives up? Most people go away once they’re ignored – unless she’s actually crazy, in which case you may have little choice but to make deleting the comments a part of your routine. Maybe you could even pull a story from it.

    Have you tried a wordpress blog? I like it here. If you set one up you can maybe be more discreet. If this person still finds you, I’m sure the administration here can advise you on how to handle it.

    Good luck and keep me posted!

  21. Jeanne says:

    Okay- according to my blogpatrol, Texas Mom didn’t visit “the b hive” today. Whew!!

    I have a friend who is REALLY upset with me for taking the “b hive” off this week- again. She wrote me a pointed but encouraging email last night. She was glad it was back up- but also wanted me to know that she likes to read it daily- uses it as her “thought for the day” at times- and wanted me to realize that I’m letting my few faithful readers down when I let Texas Mom get to me- and take the blog down.

    It’s funny how we can do a small thing- like write about our thoughts and feelings – and make someone else feel better- or think.

    So, if for some reason a new problem arises, I WILL begin a WordPress blog. That is a very good suggestion.

    Also, about Sookie- I barely made it through the 4th episode. UGH! I really hope 5 is good because 4 was hard to watch. Haven’t been able to watch 5 because True Blood is NOT something Steve would like and definitly not a good program for the family.

    Maybe I’ll catch 5 on Monday. 🙂

    j

  22. scottyus says:

    I think you have to outlast in the blog business. What you’re doing is setting up on a street corner of sorts and inviting all sorts of people to react to you. So some of them are wacked – maybe most of them, at times – but I find it’s worth it for the several thoughtful comments I get.

    Not exactly sure what is turning you off about Sookie, but from the family comments I’m guessing it’s the fairly graphic treatment of the sexuality. Personally, I don’t mind an open-minded approach like what we occasionally were privy to with Six Feet Under, but there was more depth in character there, too. Maybe it’ll all catch up and even out.

    I have one more to go before I’m all caught up. I really liked episode 9, actually. Some of the scenes in the bar are still well silly, but I feeling the series digging in. There’s a creative and interesting plot with Jason coming up for you, so you may want to stick it out if you find ep. 5 worthwhile. Just a thought.

    Okay, back to revising sWitch. I’m about 5k away from the end. Man, I’ve learned a lot.

    Cheers and good luck with the stalkers. 😉

  23. Jeanne says:

    Kids just headed out to the movies and Steve is not home just yet so I’m watching 5. The turn off in 4 was the pryapism. (sp?) Yes, the sexuality is the issue with the kids. We only have DVR on the living room/main tv so I can’t watch this in my room. And Steve doesn’t like anything to do with anything fantastical. He isn’t against it, he is just uninterested. He won’t even see Harry Potter with us. 🙂

    I would not care about Texas Mom’s remarks so much if I weren’t so non-confrontational. You know us Southern Women. I need to learn to tell her or anyone else, to screw off.

    Good luck on Switch!

  24. Jeanne says:

    OMG!!!!!!! I’m so hooked now! It’s like 4 episodes of mediocre foreplay with someone you think might be hot- and then- yes- you were right- they are.

    Steve got home and hit didn’t even grumble about going to the kitchen to watch the OSU game. And even said he’ll watch this with me if we’re here alone sometime.

    Good call, Scott. But, who the heck killed Grandma!?!

  25. Jeanne says:

    I meant “HE didn’t even grumble..” I shouldn’t type and drink wine.

  26. scottyus says:

    Heh, amazing, isn’t it? Five finishes up and now you have to see six, then seven, then eight, etc. I don’t want to ruin anything for you, but I thought Ep.5 played to Ball’s strengths. He’s great at mourning and the strange ways we rally around each other at those times. Suddenly, for me, the series got accessible.

    And I totally agree about the silly priapism storyline. It was like watching Porky’s V or something. Not only was the joke old to start, but it was downright ancient by the time it was over. Okay, we get it: vampire blood is strong. Now put the pee-pee away and move on with the characters.

    There’s going to be more ideas that fall a little flat as you go, but for the most part the series is above water. And after 9, I’m really curious about 10. No idea how many seasons they have planned–I mean, how long can you deconstruct the tensions between vampires and rednecks–but if they keep pushing the envelope in smart ways, I’ll tune in.

    And no, you shouldn’t type and drink wine. Drink, put it down, type, pick it up, drink, repeat. 🙂

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