Fangs down, ‘True Blood’ is the trashiest show on TV - Macleans.ca
 

Fangs down, ‘True Blood’ is the trashiest show on TV

Remember when HBO prided itself on doing high-class programming? That’s changed.


 

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY BRADLEY REINHARDT

A decade ago, HBO was touting its willingness to make something different from the escapist soapy programming on the broadcast networks. Now its biggest hit is True Blood, an escapist, soapy, and sometimes campy show about vampires in the U.S. South, full of bad accents, severed limbs, and lines like “you were fighting the Nazi werewolves.”

The show’s third season, which premiered on HBO Canada last week, is as crazy as ever: one upcoming episode has a vampire taking a bullet in extreme slow motion and fighting a naked redneck werewolf—before the credits even start. Charlaine Harris, author of the Southern Vampire Mysteries books that the show is based on, told Maclean’s that “in times of economic downturn, people are more interested in escapism and fantasy.” That means even HBO, the place for high-class programming, can’t resist the temptation to feature a vampire queen threatening to rip off someone’s genitalia.

With the departure of its flagship series of the ’00s, such as The Sopranos, HBO was in danger of losing its relevance. True Blood, based on Harris’s novels about mind-reading waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), has restored its success. The show, full of old-fashioned twists, including a mysterious pregnancy and a brooding love triangle involving the heroine and two handsome vampires, even follows the Aaron Spelling tradition of dressing lead characters in titillating clothes as often as possible; during the first season, Paquin told Media Boulevard, she’s “practically naked the entire time.”

Had it not been for the involvement of writer-producer Alan Ball, who was responsible for the Sopranos-style hit Six Feet Under, the network might have considered this kind of material beneath it: “I don’t think HBO was that interested initially,” Harris recalls, “until Alan showed them what he had done, and then they got plenty excited.”

Not only did the show start from a more populist position than the usual HBO show, it’s gotten less classy and more over-the-top as it’s gone on. Just as The Wire and Deadwood were dark takes on cop shows and westerns, True Blood was supposed to be Twilight for grown-ups, with “vampire rights” standing in for serious modern issues of sexual identity. But this season, while there are bits of social commentary thrown in (Ball uses an allegorical scene to mock religious people who think that sex should “be used only for procreation”), relevance is harder to find in a lot of episodes—unless a flashback to vampires and werewolves in 1945 Germany is a serious comment on the horrors of war.

True Blood has also figured out how to use HBO’s famous freedom—the lack of restrictions on language and content—in a profitable way. The camera lingers on naked guest stars and horribly charred bodies, but unlike The Sopranos, which had an artistic veneer to its violence and nudity, True Blood uses it all for pure fun, giving a light touch to its bloodiest moments. When a character holds up a severed head, he proceeds to use it as a ventriloquist’s dummy; after sideburn-sporting Bill (Stephen Moyer) rips off someone’s ear, there’s a comedic moment where he makes fun of one of his opponents for being named “Cooter.” Harris says that while most vampire stories are “gloomy and angsty and dark,” her creation gives audiences “a look at the sunny side of monsters.”

That approach may make good business sense for HBO, which has seen AMC’s Mad Men and even some broadcast dramas steal its thunder when it comes to serious, socially conscious drama. By emphasizing sex and violence for their own sake, HBO can again do something the other networks aren’t doing, and draw in male viewers to what otherwise might be a female-skewing show.

That may be why HBO’s recent projects are heading in True Blood’s direction. Hung is theoretically a look at the recession, but is mainly an excuse for penis jokes. Even its darkest new show, Game of Thrones, is based on geek-friendly fantasy novels. In this atmosphere, a subtle show like Treme seems like an anomaly. The new HBO is a place where, as Harris puts it, “there is nothing wrong with fun.”


 

Fangs down, ‘True Blood’ is the trashiest show on TV

  1. I guess you forgot to put the Spoiler tag on top huh? Thanks a bunch. Geesh.

  2. "geek-friendly fantasy novels", eh? Try reading them before you bash them in an attempt to feign intellectualism. I don't personally care for True Blood, but Game of Thrones has the potential to blow your mind when it comes out.

  3. HBO is turning out trash by the bucket these days. I was surprised with its boringly conformist, yet subversive and deeply misogynist, Big Love. That is probably one of the shows produced in Bountiful by the tolerant B.C.ers who, like their Californian cousins, worship the "anything goes" cinema of white trash families wrapped in fancy, pseudo-artistic garments that are ragged and filthy when looked at with some thought. Big Love marked the turning point to the 'classy white trash' family entertainment for self-indulging idiots.

  4. anon. Concur. My thoughts exactly. What a stupid generalization. I hate the "geek" "fantasy" genre as he puts it, if that means Orks,Trolls Princesses, Goblins, and Heros etc….but I LOVE! A Song of Ice and Fire. If HBO can bring this series to life and stick to the books this series will top Deadwood, Sopranos, and every other HOB show yet to be produced.

  5. Well said anon.

    Jaime, thanks for white-washing an entire group of people. You're an idiot.

    • Perhaps, but "geek-friendly" isn't an insult. It's certainly going to be a dark and adult series — but HBO is seeking to combine the appeal of fantasy with the darkness and adultness of its past material. That's why they bought it. It's not a judgment against the show; Battlestar Galactica is "geek-friendly" but also dark and adult.

      • By placing adult themes in opposition to "geek-friendliness", you are saying that geeks can't handle adult themes. I don't know about you, but I certainly consider that an insult.

        • By placing adult themes in opposition to "geek-friendliness", you are saying that geeks can't handle adult themes.

          I don't consider them in opposition.

  6. When I read Song of Ice and Fire, I thought "This seems like an HBO series", but not in a good way.

    Gratuitous about sums it up.

  7. I've read Charlaine Harris' vampire series.
    The writing is pulp romance and I definitely feel I could do better.
    But the story idea is original and is served well by the show's writers.
    I look forward to each new episode.

    As for HBO , if you have taken the time to subject yourself to the back catalogue that airs continuously on HBO Canada you will see how far the world has come in the past fifteen years.
    Shows like the Special Relationship or that one about the Russian baseball team smack of treacly, end of history, Clintonian magnanimity and triumphalism.
    I am actually thankful that this crap is broadcast nowadays because it shows that bad Canadian productions were not that far behind their American counterparts back then.
    But they were still just as bad.

  8. I take offense at your denigrating of ‘Game of Thrones ‘ as geek friendly…maybe you should learn a little more about the ‘ A Song of Ice and Fire ‘ book series before you start trashing it…it’s a genre transcending series that I have no doubt will be HBO next huge show …read up a little on it , you may surprise yourself and actually like what you learn about it..

    • If Weinman finds True Blood trashy, I strongly doubt that GRRM's superior writing will impress him or her when Ice & Fire's incest/murder-driven plot kicks into full swing.

  9. I don't think True Blood is the trashiest thing HBO has put out. This is the same network that did an entire series on brothels, prostitutes and a number of other "trashy, red light" type things. So as far as true blood being on HBO the nudity shouldn't be a problem and the violence shouldn't either…sopranos anyone? If you don't like the story then just leave at that you don't like the story.

  10. It's entertainment, Macleans. That mean it's supposed to be fun. And nothing's more fun than a story about a telepathic waitress and her numerous supernatural love interests. Trashy? Perhaps. But I like my trash well done – and this certainly is.

  11. I loved Deadwood and really wish that series had continued into more seasons. For other Deadwood fans out there check out Justified I think it is on FX or AMC. There are many similarities to Deadwood; not least casting choices which include Timothy Oliphant as a US Marshall. Same blend of dark humour and complex characters. To date, I have also seen three other former Deadwood castmates in small roles.
    I watch TrueBlood for fun. You don't have to overthink what is going on- you can just sit back and be entertained. To see Bill laugh at Cooter's name was actually pretty funny since Bill is not known for being the laughing type.
    I have just started reading the series and they are very light reading. They are like a combination between a romance novel (not my usual fare) and sci-fi fantasy (really not my thing) but they are quick, fun books for a sunny afternoon.
    I have always had a bit of a thing for vampires though…

  12. Yeah, I'm really nostalgic for the intellectual subtlety of "Sex & The City," or the way "The Sopranos" and "Oz" never glorified violence for its own sake.

    Clearly the true intelligence and quality of "True Blood" and its writing has escaped you — perhaps the sexual frankness and moral ambiguity of the series are pushing personal buttons?

  13. I subscribed to HBO to see The Sopranos after my son raved about it for years. I thought it was interesting and well acted. However, while I was uneasy when Tony Soprano's cronies forced the dancers at Badda Bing to perform fellatio on them I stopped watching the series after the episode in which Ralphie bludgeoned his pregnant girlfriend to death in a parking lot. I didn't need that kind of in-your-face gratuitous misogyny and violence to knew that Ralphie was scum and out of control and it was way over the line of what I thought was necessary to illustrate that point. The gratuitous sex, blood and gore on True Blood doesn't affect me as much because at least in True blood it's fantasy, not all too real as it was in the Sopranoverse. Your milage may vary, of course.

  14. HBO the home of 'high class' programming? What a imagination U have. HBO is the company who rejected 'Mad Men'. Yep they did give the world 'The Sopranos'; that's show's existance also gave us 'Jersey Shore'.

    The beauty of HBO's programing is the contract within their shows. They made 'Sex' sensible, 'Sopranos' moral, and 'True' human.

  15. Not everything has to be Masterpiece Theater.

  16. Just another avenue for the female chauvinists and homosexuals to show male genitals. They will never show female genitals, that would be equality! Anatomically, the female genitalia does not include breasts. The anatomical equivalent to the penis is the clitoris. Pick up any Gray’s Anatomy book. When HBO shows breasts they generally equate that with showing male genitals. This is the typical female chauvinist approach. Sheila Nevins even took your money you paid for your HBO subscription and paid $300,000 to have Private Dicks made. Did she follow that up with a show on female genitals (“Private Pussies”)? Of course not! That would have been equality and would not have supported their female chauvinist agenda.

    Even in “Oz” they showed male genitals but not necessary shots. They had guys turning around in the shower for no other reason other than to show their genitals. They had guys coming back from the showers and dropping their towel in front of the camera for another genital shot.

    Are there any shows on HBO showing female genitals (i.e. equal time)? Of course not!

    I wonder how the female chauvinists at HBO would react if men started cancelling their subscription to HBO until they give us 20 years without male genitals but with female genitals to make up for the last 20 years? It is all about the money! Take away their money and they will listen!!