On TV: True Blood
After several stillborn attempts at creating the next water cooler drama, HBO has excitedly seized upon True Blood as its only marquee series to show the signs of a (delicious) pulse. Certainly, the Alan Ball vampire show is watchable and well-acted, and the first four episodes of the new season exhibit no signs of a sophomore slump. However, I couldn't shake one nagging feeling while watching them: Shouldn't this be a little bit better?
I don't mean I'm looking for some stuffy prestige project -- quite the contrary. True Blood is best when it fully embraces its camp value, never more than the early Season Two moment when Michelle Forbes (as the mysterious new villain Mary Ann) slaps her fey assistant, channels Joan Crawford, and bellows, "No one. Needed. TOWELS!"
What's weird about True Blood, though, is that those are the I-can't-believe-they-did-that moments. For example, there is a major, major reveal about a main character who's been left in life-or-death peril that comes a little ways into Sunday's premiere episode, and it's treated in such a mundane fashion that it almost dares you to wonder how thrilling Lost or Buffy would have made such a moment. Later in the season, Anna Paquin's Sookie is stalked by a silhouetted monster while alone at night, and the sequence is so clumsily shot and cut that the only tension comes from the show's steadfast refusal to shake off its stagey, Six Feet Under blocking during an action sequence.
I appreciate the emphasis on acting and character, and some of the season's best scenes are its quietest -- especially a bravura, diner-set conversation between young vampire Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and the enamored Hoyt (Jim Parrack), where Woll plays every beat from flirtatious to ashamed as Jessica realizes that she'll have to tell the guy she likes that she's actually dead. Certainly, it's rare to see a cast that looks like its having so much fun, whether it's Forbes indulging in campy histrionics, Ryan Kwanten exploring his gullible doofus side as Sookie's brother Jason, or Alexander Skarsgård making the most of his blond bad boy vamp Eric.
But if Ball and Co. are willing to embrace the lowbrow and give it an HBO sheen, couldn't they go all the way and make their monster movie moments a little more exciting? Make my pulse race a little, guys -- I'm sure it'd be a lot tastier to sink your teeth into. RATING: 6