Wednesday, December 10, 2008
My favorite new television show this fall was HBO's True Blood. The show is a mix of familiar horror tropes and soap opera romance, but it is so well-crafted that it well exceeds what one might expect based on that description. The basic premise is a world in which vampires have "come out of the coffin" and work to live openly among humans. The impetus for this development is the introduction of a new synthetic blood substitute called TruBlood, which allows the vamps to get their daily nutrients without, you know, having to kill humans. Of course, some vampires aren't happy with this "mainstreaming" and still prey on humans. This makes things harder for the vamps earnestly attempting to fit in with human society (though even they struggle mightily with their baser instincts). Not surprisingly, many humans remain wary and even frightened of vamps. Show creator Alan Ball (of Six Feet Under fame) weaves in a lot of parallels between what the vamps go through and civil rights struggles of the past and present. Some of these are not so subtle, such as the sign glimpsed in the opening montage that reads "God Hates Fangs." But the show very skillfully interweaves its several subplots, with each episode's conclusion leaving the viewer hungry for more. The show is superbly acted. The players have great chemistry together. I also love that the show is steeped in a deep south atmosphere. My only real complaint is having to wait so long for season two, which is set for next summer.
The show is based on a series of novels by Charlaine Harris. I'd always heard these books described as "paranormal romances", and that sort of thing has never much piqued my interest. But I enjoyed True Blood so much that I found myself thirsting for more and decided to pick up the second book in the series, Living Dead In Dallas, which picks up more or less where the show's first season leaves off. There are some differences between book and show, as is to be expected. Some characters are different. Some from the show are barely present, while others are altogether missing. But many of the elements of the show are nonetheless there. Most of the basics of the world Harris fashions are represented on screen. The one significant difference is that Harris's prose lacks the grit of the show and is a good deal less explicit. Regardless, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first 100 or so pages of Living Dead. I felt the book faltered some in its middle third, with pages of blandly-written and unconvincing action scenes. Sookie's incongruous wholesomeness in light of the vamp scene she's immersed herself in also grates. Throughout this section, the book began to feel more lightweight and closer to what my worst expectations of what it would be like. I was thinking I might not read any more books in the series at this point. Then the book did an abrupt turnaround and again began to strongly resemble the show I so enjoyed. Overall I'd give it a grade of about B. It would be a B+ without that droopy middle part. I wouldn't really recommend it for horror purists. It's just not going to be their cup of bloody tea. Not even close, really. But if you're a fan of True Blood and, like me, are suffering withdrawal pangs, it might be worth checking out. I'll probably give the third book, Club Dead, a whirl at some point. I've been told it's better than book two. Time will tell.