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July 8, 2013

Why I Can’t Quit Watching: True Blood

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/why_i_cant_quit_watching_true_blood/

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True Blood premiered in a different era. It was a pre-Twilight time, when vampires weren't considered standard young adult fare-- before The Vampire Diaries and The Mortal Instruments and all of their various imitators and competitors. The first season was a little uneven, especially tonally, veering between romance and horror, occasionally detouring into camp-- but it was unlike almost anything else on air, then, a sexy, serious show about a spunky southern woman named Sookie Stackhouse and the vampires who were (then) inexplicably obsessed with her.

It's hard to say when, exactly, it went off the rails. For me it was the werepanthers; some people were too weirded out by the maenad subplot from season two; others couldn't handle Sookie's discovery that she's an actual fairy. The consensus seems to be that there's way too much mythology and not nearly enough development of any of it. One of the reasons I like supernatural drama is the specific type of world-building that it requires: it's always interesting to see how writers deal with common myths, enlarging or subverting them, making rules and creating whole cultures, bringing tired tropes to life. If you asked me why I used to love True Blood I'm pretty sure the answer would be: this scene, in which two thousand year old vampires complain to one another about how hard it is to text. (Careful with that link-- it features non-graphic, mostly-implied male nudity.)

There are also a lot of broad political metaphors on True Blood-- vampires are opressed and they need civil rights, so parallels are often draw with the struggles of black American's in the 60's and the modern gay rights movement. It's strange and a little sloppy, always. This season has seen a vampire dragged through town behind a truck after a legal decree that vampires have no rights in the state of Louisanna; it's an uncomfortable callback to a lot of real-life trauma, and hard to take on a show that is so often so close to kitsch.

I keep thinking I'm going to stop watching True Blood. The accents are all over the place, the politics are distasteful, there are too many plots and none of them ever develop all that well. It's a beautiful cast, but what television cast isn't on the whole an attractive bunch?

And yet! And yet there's always something, some small, unexpected detail that reels me back in. Last night it was Andy Bellefleur's half-fairy daughters, a brood of four girls with no names who wear glittery fake fairy wings and read minds and age ten years every time they go to sleep for the night. They're currently caught up in a gross scheme of Vampire Bill's-- god, remember when he was supposed to be a romantic hero? I am also glad the show has acknowledged how gross and boring Vampire Bill is-- but they're what I want to see more of. The show began with Sookie, who's much less than half-fae, an isolated waitress in her late twenties terrified of human company because she, too, could read minds. Sookie's world then had fewer vampires (they had only just "come out of the coffin"-- see what I mean, about the metaphors?) and she was thrilled to meet one because he, at least, was mentally silent, immune to her psychic powers. Six years later (well, not quite so many for Sookie and Bon Temps) there are werewolves and werepanthers and plain old shifters, a bunch of young women who've recently become vampires and these half-fairy girls in the middle of it. They're an exciting, original piece of mythology, a fun take on the trappings of girlhood, Sookie Stackhouse re-imagined. Amidst all of the blood and drama and chaos, they're the fun part of the show-- and one of the reasons I haven't been able to turn it off for good. I want to know what happens to them, whether they, too, get caught up with that brooding bad boy (bad man, really) or if they escape and give him what he's due. They're minor characters, so far; they don't even have names. But they're what's keeping me watching. This week, anyway.

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