True Blood: The Complete First Season (2008)
By: Julian on June 9, 2010  | 
DVD
Warner Bros | Region 4, PAL | 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 5.1 | 643 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Creator: Alan Ball
Starring: Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Sam Trammell
Country: USA
External Links
IMDB Purchase YouTube
Allow me to commence this review by taking a pre-emptive strike against those "jaded horror fans" who are under the impression that watching an episode of True Blood is tantamount to dressing in drag and admitting to be a slobbering Twihard (for the uninitiated, that's a reference to fans of Stephenie Meyer's angsty teen romance-cum-pop culture sensation Twilight). Firstly, for those concerned about whether True Blood is some sort of Twilight spin-off, let me put your minds at rest: Charlaine Harris' first entry to the Southern Vampire Mysteries, Dead Until Dark (the book upon which Season 1 is based), was published in May 2001. Stephenie Meyer's Twilight was published in October 2005. The pilot for Alan Ball's True Blood premiered on September 2008. Catherine Hardwicke's adaptation of Twilight was released in theatres in November 2008.

Thematically, I will comprehensively list the similarities between Twilight and True Blood:

    • Romance exists between vampires and humans.

    • Not all vampires are bad.

If those points (and bear in mind that list is exhaustive) stands between the jaded horror fan and a tremendously fun and exploitative TV show, then that's a real shame. Season 1 of True Blood is a top effort by Alan Ball, who knows a thing or two about writing punchy, intelligent television (Six Feet Under) and film (American Beauty).

Forgive me for that lengthy preamble, but I feel it was something I was required to do to reassure some more presumptuous prospective viewers. But I really must stress from the outset that True Blood is a show for adult audiences, and it possesses adult themes and adult content (you'll notice it's restricted to 18 year olds in Australia, and carries similarly restrictive ratings in other jurisdictions). Above all, though, and the reason I enjoyed this so much, is that it elaborates a vampire mythology resistant to the cliché you might find predominant in genre favourites, and Ball takes advantage of the TV format to expand some of his and author Harris' more interesting ideas.

True Blood's heroine is Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a telepath who works in Merlotte's bar and grill in the fictitious Louisianan town of Bon Temps. Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) is the bar's proprietor and is good friends with Sookie, as is another barmaid Tara (Rutina Wesley) and the flamboyant chef Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis). When 170-odd year old vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) walks into Merlotte's for a bottle of Tru Blood (synthetic blood distilled for law-abiding vampires), only Sookie is star-struck: Bill is the first vampire patron of Merlotte's since vampires "came out of the coffin" two years earlier, and the residents of Bon Temps are more than a little alarmed by the presence of such outcasts. Sookie and Bill strike up a friendship that Sam and Tara are highly critical of, and Sookie starts exploring the vampire sub-culture lurking beneath the underbelly of Bon Temps.

Meanwhile, Sookie's brother Jason is in trouble with the law when a woman is found dead after her and Jason engaged in a vicious S&M session. Incompetent gung-ho detective Andy Bellefleur (Chris Bauer) is convinced Jason is a sadistic killer, but the mild-mannered Sherriff Dearborne (William Sanderson, whom exploitation fans will recognise from Fight for Your Life) isn't so sure. But as the murder count in Bon Temps rises, the local law find themselves with a similarly increasing list of suspects – with local vampires (and Jason) heading the list.

The vampire population in True Blood are visible, and it's a vocal minority who are bad eggs. As far as social commentary goes, the discrimination vampires endure is writ large, and certainly draws from homosexual discrimination, past and present, in the Deep South: there's an appearance in the brilliant opening credit montage of a church billboard reading "God Hates Fangs", a prolific (fictitious) Republican congressman creating politicised lobby groups against vampires largely because of their sexual deviances and the derision Sookie is subjected to when her relationship with Bill is no longer platonic ("I never thought my sister would be a fang-banger!", Jason snarls) is a major plot point later in the season. Ball's comment regarding discrimination (though he has rebuked critics who suggest the commentary here is allegorical of the gay rights movement specifically) wildly oscillates between subtle and hammer-in-face obvious, though the latter is happily not commonplace and the majority of it is completely justified by context: chiefly, this is a show about vampires being a societal minority, and True Blood intelligently charts the vicissitudes of such a position.

The twelve episodes comprising Season 1 of True Blood are all directed in a consummate manner, with the brilliant John Dahl (The Last Seduction, Joy Ride) helming episode 3, and Alan Ball directing the pilot, season finale, and a couple in between. But the real talent is in the performers: Paquin and Moyer are convincing as the leads, but the supporting roles are the stand-outs: Nelsan Ellis effortlessly steals every scene he's in, and William Sanderson is also great value as Dearborne.

I've made brief mention of the title sequence, but I'll elaborate a little bit here: it's probably the best I have seen made for television or film. Digital Kitchen (Six Feet Under, Dexter) is the company that created it, and they score their montage of images, often religious and cultural symbolism juxtaposed with scenes of violence and depravity, to Jace Everett's country number Bad Things. The idea that the company seized upon when creating the sequence was that of "a whore in a house of prayer". Very impressive.

True Blood only occasionally drags its feet. There are certain characterisations I would have preferred go unexplored or omitted altogether (Sam's true identity was wholly unnecessary in the context of this season - whether or not it plays a larger part in season 2, I'm not sure. There are also periods, brief as they are, during which the show's plot seems muddled, and it occasionally seems that the writers have bitten off a bit more than they can chew. All in all though I think the debut season of Alan Ball's True Blood is a hugely entertaining exercise in Southern gothic sleaze. It's oten violent, always sexy and deals out fun by the barrel-load. Recommended.
Video
All episodes are presented in 1.78:1 with 16:9 enhancement. It looks crystal-clear, as it should.
Audio
Two Dolby 5.1 tracks in English and French, and one 2.0 in Spanish. No complaints.
Extra Features
Commentaries, fake advertisements and a featurette Vampires in America.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
If the predominant hallmark of a successful television show is its ability to grip a viewer, then True Blood is absolutely successful: every episode leaves on a cliffhanger. I'm talking about genuine plot twists, not hooks to lure viewers that leave them disappointed, and I think the show's astronomically-increasing ratings are a testament to that. True Blood is not without its faults, nor is it a horror show in the strict sense of the word, but there's a hell of a lot to like here.

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