True Blood: The Good, The Bad, The Creepy — Two R29 Editors Duke It Out

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Part two of our R29 Editor Head-to-Head has our beauty production assistant, Gabrielle Korn pegged against Kelsey Miller, our SEO Editor. This round we're going to the deep South where vampires, werewolves, and fairies abide. Some have sipped the True Blood and never looked back, while others refuse to get bitten. Sure, the level of camp in True Blood can be a bit on the annoying side, but it's tasteful nonetheless. And the sex? Well, there's certainly a lot to be learned from the show. But True Blood deals with issues that are deeper than ridiculously good looking creatures getting it on. There's an underlying allegory of equality that's candy coated with all things fantastical. Some people, like Gabrielle, revel in its shamelessness while others, like Kelsey, have moved on faster than Pam scouring the leather racks at a Rick Owens sample sale.

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I guess I just don't understand how anyone who watches True Blood — like really watches it — could be anything but obsessed with it. I mean, first of all, it's a show for grownups about supernatural creatures who have complicated love lives, drug problems, and other all-too-human issues. I'm not really sure what's not appealing about that. Also, fairies. What else could Sookie be? She's my least favorite character on the show so it seems fitting that she's a thing that's kind of annoying.

Also: Some people can't empathize with discrimination unless you make it into a metaphor about vampires, you know? Really though. True Blood's allegory is the main reason I started watching. Since many people treat minorities like actual vampires, the fantastical world of True Blood echoes true for me. I've never seen a TV show where oppression on this scale, in an actual non-metaphorical way, is central to the plot (subplots, sure) so it's kind of a take-what-we-can-get situation.

That the show is about the pivotal moment in time wherein supernatural beings "come out" to the world, which in turn must adapt to the new knowledge that everyone is different, is a lot like the times we live in now — from the haters to the over-zealous supporters, to the creatures who just want to do their thing in peace, to the secret subcultures that have to evolve once they are visible to the public eye. It's a great parallel to being queer in our world. Sure, it's not perfect, but I get what they're trying to do, and that's important.

And, now that Angela Robinson (queer woman of color, writer for The L Word and of the amazingly terrible lesbian film D.E.B.S.) is more involved in the writing, I have hope that the female characters will be written more tactfully than Alan Ball ever could. I didn't really expect much from him, and I wasn't sad to see him go (sorry, Alan, I know you mean well but sometimes you do it wrong). A lesbian writing queer characters for a large audience is a rare and special thing, especially in the white male dominated industry. While Ball was great at writing depth for the male characters on the show, I wasn't always pleased with the way he handled the plots of the ladies, or the relationships between them. Robinson has already improved the quality of the show. I love her.

Also, True Blood has the best ridiculous sex scenes on TV. Who wants to watch vanilla human-on-human action when you can watch various magical species go at it? Live a little! If I wanted to watch normative sex scenes I could watch just about anything else. True Blood is messy and weird and disgusting, much like life, only more so. And, I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I'm still scared of things that happen on the show. That's probably what keeps me coming back. It doesn't have me rolling my eyes yet; I'm still looking forward to what supernatural creature will come out next.

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
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To be clear, I started out as a fan. I thought this show was an interesting, innovative allegory. Sure, it was a little heavy-handed on the symbolism. Okay, it was a little dime-store novel in terms of forbidden romance and literal bodice-ripping. But it was a fun, addictive TV show, and there’s more to life than Frontline. I was down for a little willing suspension of disbelief.

Then came the fairies. Somewhere in the third season, Sookie Stackhouse declares, “I’m a fairy? How fucking lame.” And I thought, “I’m with you, girl.” It didn’t take much longer for me to wander away from the show, and fall headlong into Mad Men, because that’s a much more realistic depiction of a life I can aspire to. In a show that’s based on a sci-fi premise, it’s difficult to develop story without completely jumping the shark. But, I thought Alan Ball could do it. He produced such emotionally-rich and restrained content like Six Feet Under, American Beauty, and Towelhead that I thought he’d be able to maintain the integrity of True Blood. I thought it would delve deeper into the complex social issues of this new cultural frontier. There’s so much to explore based on the original concept alone. How does society react to The Other? What makes us human? I wanted more of that. Plus, y’know, the dirty parts.

But instead of going deeper into the social commentary-side, Ball jumped headfirst into the rabbit hole, and we ended up with fairies. To be fair, he was guided by the book series, but as I understand it, he was happy to veer off and choose his own adventure from the original premise, so I can’t really let him off the hook. Don’t get me wrong, I was as curious as everyone to find out the great mystery of What Sookie Really Is. I was just really not impressed when she turned out to be, ahem, "a fucking fairy."

I am not at all opposed to a little sci-fi silliness (and sexiness), but I have my limits. I can take vampires, or even vampires and werewolves. But I think I personally max out at four supernatural creatures per entity. When you get to a place where a series is populated by vampires, werewolves, fairies, shape-shifters, demons, Maenads, and, what else? Witches? That’s where it starts to feel like one of those crossover episodes where the Flintstones visit the Jetsons. It’s fun to think about, but the logistics are a nightmare.

Aside from the usual problems a long-running series faces (the couples get boring, the characters get stale, and eventually someone has to have a baby), I think True Blood missed and opportunity to stick with the smart, crafty writing it had in the first and second seasons. I think it took the easy way out, and sacrificed all that juicy tension that left us wondering what was going to happen next. If someone gets backed into a corner, who cares? They’re probably just going to sprout wings and fly. It can’t be long before this show starts casting for The Mothman.

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.