Sunday, September 7, 2008

God Hates Fangs

Producer Alan Ball is putting the red back in redneck.

His new HBO series TrueBlood combines Sordid Lives and The Vampire Lestat, exploring the hyperreal realm of Louisiana bloodsuckers. In the not-too-distant future the Japanese have invented a synthetic blood called TruBlood, and heartened by new possibilities for tolerance and respectability, vampires are “coming out of the coffin” to demand their rights as citizens.

Of course, any similarity to the gay rights struggle is intentional. And what separates this series from Buffy is a cheeky awareness of the sexual subversiveness of vampire lore, and what separates it from Showtime After Dark is that the thrills play against the backdrop of the culture wars’ biggest battleground, the Bible Belt.

Oscar-winner Anna Paquin plays goodhearted, virginal Sookie Stackhouse, a truckstop waitress with the gift of hearing other people’s thoughts. In Episode 1, she meets Bill (Stephen Moyer), a brooding vamp version of Dylan Mckay, whose thoughts she cannot hear. Right away she develops a sort of crush on the exotic stranger—and puts herself at considerable risk to protect him from exploitative humans.

We learn that vampires are as allergic to silver as werewolves, that some humans (fang-bangers) prey on the vampires, for vampire blood and vampire sex have rejuvenating, aphrodisiac effects on mortals. Just as we thought, though, vampires come out at night, are cold to the touch, and live through centuries without ageing.

We learn, too, that “human values” may not be better than the perverse, parasitical thirsts of bloodsuckers, after all. Sookie’s hunky brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is a smalltown Hud with a taste for rough kink and, perhaps, serial killing.

All this unfolds with a great deal of wit and style.

In supporting roles, we get William Sanderson, Lois Smith, Nelsan Ellis, and Chris Bauer, who provide a homey, 21st-century Mayberry ambience—a nice dodge from the usual Dark Shadows archness.

The first episode shows promise—this show may be Ball’s and HBO’s next big thing—and I may find it almost as addictive as Mad Men.

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