Why True Blood Is My Hate Fuck

When I first heard about True Blood, I was so excited. A new show from Alan Ball, the man behind Six Feet Under and American Beauty? Hell yeah! I was a little nervous about it being set in my home state of Louisiana, because they would be sure to get at least the accents wrong. There was time between hearing about the show and its debut, so I figured I’d read the books. “Read” would be an understatement- I tore through them, devoured them. They’re not high literature, far from it. But they’re fun, the stories are engaging, and Sookie Stackhouse is a tough little heroine. Charlaine Harris lives in Arkansas, so she knows the culture of small town north Louisiana and it comes across in the books. Yes, there’s some racism and homophobia in her characters. Folks, that’s the area David Duke came from, it’s a little backwards to say the least. She makes it clear Sookie thinks such things are wrong, and leaving it out would make the books less authentic to the area they’re set in. And there’s development in the attitudes of the people of Bon Temps over the course of the books. Oh, and there’s the character of Eric, the vampire Viking god, and the wonders of book four. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t read it, but it is my favorite of the series.

I was excited when I saw parts of the pilot were available online. I clicked on, started watching, and quickly made the noise cats make when hacking up a hairball. It was nothing like I had imagined it in my head, and they’d made Sookie’s friend Tara African American, and a bar maid at Merlottes. Now, in southern Louisiana, interracial friendships are somewhat common. Not so much in northern Louisiana. There’s a whole thread in the books about a white male cop and his black female partner and the tension it causes. (By the latest book they’re dating- see? Development.) It was so awful I just forgot about watching it, stuck to the books and the version of the show I’d imagined in my head, and canceled HBO.

I got HBO back for a new season of Big Love, and went ahead and killed time watching the first season of True Blood on demand, figuring it would be good for a laugh. The accents were all over the place, the recast Tara was just as awful as the first if not more so, and there were all kinds of things that annoyed me. I watched two or three a night, hating myself the whole time, but needing more. It made me feel cheap and dirty to be enjoying it at all. So I watched more.

The first season stuck to the plot of the first book pretty closely, changing things to make it more an ensemble than the first person narrative the book was. Jason’s a minor character in the books, as is Tara really. I liked how they expanded Jason’s role, and how they reduced his clothing. The actor playing him does a great job- I knew guys like him growing up. And his accent is amazing for an Aussie. Tara is just terrible in every way. I graduated from an inner city high school in southern Louisiana, and knew plenty of strong black women in my time living there. She is nothing like those wonderful women. No spark, no fire, and she wouldn’t scare a bug. Those women? Put the fear of god in you with one look. I love those women, there’s a style to them that isn’t a stereotype but that you would recognize a mile off. The show is poorer without them.

I knew the vampires would be used as a metaphor for homosexuals in this country, even though I always felt the books didn’t. If anything, there were more parallels between the development of rights for African Americans and the rights of vampires. There was a great show in the 80’s set in New Orleans called Frank’s Place, that got the culture of the city right, and tackled even the racial issues within the black community. I’d hoped True Blood would be like that, but I also hope I’ll find a pony in my yard and that hasn’t happened either.

Personally, I would have veered from the books, keeping the characters and coming up with new plot lines each season. But Ball again stuck to the major Dallas plot of the second book, pumping up a minor maenad plot to give the folks back in Bon Temps something to do. I doubt anyone would have missed the black eyed orgies that gave us. It is good to still have Lafayette around, as he was killed in the book and the solving of his murder was a “B” story. Quick aside, no one, but no one, says it like they do on the show. It’s LAF-ee-ette, not Laf-I-ette. They might as well have people say Pee-can. Anyway, Bill’s maker didn’t show up in book two, there’s no Jessica, the queen isn’t in it and she isn’t like that when she does show up. And Jason has nothing to do with the Fellowship of the Sun. They’re minor quibbles, but avoidable if Ball had veered from the books. They have fans, but not as many or as rabid as Twilight or even Watchmen. Taking the characters and the world and writing new stories would have been accepted, because the fans would still have the books. By sticking so close to the books, Ball is setting up the assumption that he will continue to do so, but then he’s turning around and saying things that lead us to think he’s planning a major, major change.

Stop reading here if you don’t want spoilers on either. See, in the books, Sookie ends up with Eric (at least as far as the series is now), and Bill slips into the background for several books after book three. He’s a bit insipid, and Eric is the more entertaining character, so I never minded. Bill always felt Sookie needed saving, Eric thought she sometimes would appreciate help. And they share a sense of humor. I kept watching the show, even when I wanted to throw things at the TV, because of the characters different from the books, Jason, Jessica and Hoyt. But in large part, I watched for Eric, even the small glimpses of him in the first season, and the even smaller glimpses of Pam (I love Pam, book and show, she’s a hoot). Yes, the sheer physical perfection of ASkars does help, and lesser casting would have made me give up sooner. In the books he’s described as, well, sheer physical perfection, so I didn’t think they’d be able to find someone for the role. As I doubt I was the only person in the country screaming “Pan left! Pan left!” during Sookie’s dream sex scene with him, I think the casting director of the show deserves an award. Eric’s not the typical “Bad Boy,” he doesn’t need the love of a good woman to save him. He appreciates Sookie for who she is, and likes that she stands up to him. He’s not perfect, but he’s not watching her secretly in her sleep, hiding his mad first wife in the attic, or marrying someone else just to spite her. As romantic heroes go he’s pretty progressive.

So it irks me no end that Alan Ball is reportedly Team Bill all the way, and has said things that can lead to thoughts that he’ll continue to stick to the books except where the story of Bill and Sookie is concerned. He’s already messed with the character of Eric, and given plot points that were supposed to show him in a favorable light to Bill, but if he changes the whole arc of the story to make his fantasy stay true, I won’t be able to get past the bad accents and cultural mistakes any longer. Probably. Maybe. I think. I know I’ll hate myself even more.

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January 11, 2010. Tags: , , . TV Shows.

2 Comments

  1. Tessa W. replied:

    Very funny and so true. True Blood on HBO is such a guilty pleasure, like a car accident or a Jerry Springer episode.

  2. Princess Adora replied:

    Thanks for the spoilers and review of the books. I think I’ve been inspired to read them.

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