So why is it that so much of the television I like is about vampires?
OK, so one answer is that despite the vast expansion of television, much of it is still a wasteland: “reality” shows, the same cop plots recycled in infinite tiny variations, “talk” shows that are all about promoting actors rather than intelligent talk, unfunny sitcoms. If a show is well done and has depth, you don’t reject it solely on genre; there just aren’t that many choices out there.
That’s why I became obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Joss Whedon understands how to construct a serial story better than anyone in the business, and besides, Buffy is also about girls learning to be powerful women.
Still, I approached True Blood with caution, because I’m really not into vampires. But damned if I didn’t get hooked. The story is compelling, the acting is good, the producers/directors/writers know how to use the serial format effectively.
And most important: True Blood is disturbing.
When I find something disturbing, it makes me think in ways that make me uncomfortable, that challenge my view of the world. I like being shaken up.
I always want the things I read and view to make me think. Disturbing is just one aspect of that; a work that gives me new insights or a different path to understanding without making me uneasy is great, too.
Grossing me out won’t disturb me — it’ll just make me toss my cookies, or at least toss the offending object across the room. To be disturbing, the story has to show me something I think I don’t like — say vampires feeding on humans — and make me think it might be a good thing.
True Blood does that in spades. The opening credits alone, with their juxtaposition of sex, violence, religion, and hate, set the stage. The stories present a vampire civil rights movement — complete with fundamentalist Christian vampire haters who include murder in their repertoire — but the vampires have, uh, bite. They’re not downtrodden victims. And the vampire power structure — their kings and queens and sheriffs — is very autocratic and abusive.
But just when you think the vampires aren’t worth saving, you get a character like Godric in Season 2, who is 2,000 years old and thinking about the world in very non-vampiric terms.
Then you have an uneasy mix of black and white, gay and straight, not to mention all kinds of supernatural beings — shapeshifters, telepaths, even gods or at least wannabe gods — all set in a small Louisiana town. Most of the non-vampire characters are average small town people who might dream of moving to the big city, but basically are content to keep living ordinary lives: dull jobs, marriage, divorces, just getting by.
Except the vampires and other supernatural beings shake things up, to the point that people are better off not knowing what they did under the influence of something more than human. (That’s a disturbing idea right there.)
Sookie Stackhouse makes the perfect lead characer (and is well-acted by Anna Paquin), because she is an open person who is willing to accept everyone and yet at the same time is nobody’s fool. It’s a great combination, one rarely done. Since she’s also a telepath, she has a better understanding of what’s going on than most people, and is also resistant to a lot of the nonsense that engulfs her neighbors. The story wouldn’t work as well if Sookie were as dumb as her brother Jason.
The TV series is based on the novels by Charlayne Harris. I read one of them, but — sacrilege! — I think the TV show is better. It adds an edge I didn’t see in the book.
True Blood airs on HBO, though I actually watch it via Netflix (and am waiting impatiently for Season 3 to be released to DVD). HBO, because it is a cable channel, gives producers and writers much more scope, which is probably why they are able to present a large number of good, but disturbing programs. I also liked the new Battlestar Gallactica quite a lot, and The Wire was superb television — go back and get it on DVD.
Of course, because it’s HBO, the shows present a lot more explicit sex and some pretty gory violence, just because they can. I consider that a tic of HBO and put up with it. But note to producers: hinting at sex is actually hotter than watching people hump.
If you’re going to give True Blood a try, go back and start with Season 1. Like all really good television, it’s much better seen in order.
And don’t skip it just because you don’t like vampires.
My 51 flash fictions and a few other stories are available on Nancy Jane’s Bookshelf, and anthologies containing some of my stories are available through Powell’s. The free, chapter-by-chapter version of Changeling starts here. And check out my stories in the Book View Cafe anthologies The Shadow Conspiracy, Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls, and Dragon Lords and Warrior Women.