Saturday, September 13, 2008

I want to live forever....

After a summer of highly realistic ads seen on bus shelters and the sides of skyscrapers across the country, HBO finally premiered its provocative series, TrueBlood, last Sunday night.

This twist on the vampire story finds its place in the zeitgeist by setting an ironic tone within minutes. Waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) locks eyes with a distinctly pale but also smokin' hot Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) in the bar. After a long beat, she tells her co-workers, "He's a vampire," and they proceed to have a fairly normal debate about him. Or it would be normal, except for the fact that they're debating whether a guy is a vampire, not the expected bar debates like "Is he gay or straight? Single, or coupled?"

Vampires in pop culture have many lives indeed, and Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball has found a new way to make them rise from the dead. This time, being a vamp is no big thing, since everybody seems to know that they exist. Next thing you know, they'll be discriminated against and need protective legislation. It's all played with quiet understatement.

Bill Compton likes the little town of Bon Temps, and he seems to like Sookie a bit too, considering the rising temperatures when they lock eyes. Which they do a lot. Sookie isn't a vampire, but she's considering her options. It doesn't hurt that she can read people's minds. Meanwhile, these vampires seem to favor Louisiana, just as Anne Rice's Lestat and company did. But someone has finally created synthetic blood. No longer must sensitive, compassionate vampires kill. Synthetic blood allows them to become part of towns and communities, to "come out of the coffin," as HBO's website puts it. Some vampires are purists, though, and want the real thing. This is the crux of the problem in Episode 1, and presumably for the entire season.

Tensions are rising already, and one or two scenes have been truly disturbing. Sookie's brother is a serious sexual sicko, so far off the charts that Ball is risking alienating sensitive viewers. The plot easily spins from light to deeply disturbing, but releases viewers from the tensions just as deftly.

TrueBlood's sassy attitude is reminiscent of Six Feet Under's lighter moments, maybe even more so. It might even be Buffy, updated, sent back to the South, and about (mostly) grownups this time. This isn't to suggest that TrueBlood is derivative, because, frankly, everything is derivative, but in a time when nearly every cultural offering is ironic or showing its world-weariness in some way, TrueBlood pulls off a cool take on an old favorite.

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