True Blood - Season 1 (DVD / Blu-ray)
Reviewed by Heather Wixson
Starring Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley
Directed by Alan Ball
Distributed by HBO Home Entertainment
"True Blood", based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries series of books by Charlaine Harris, is Alan Ball’s latest HBO series that gives viewers a look into a fictitious world in which vampires not only exist, but exist alongside those of us that aren’t so photo-sensitive. The series centers around the world of Sookie Stackhouse (Paquin) who isn’t your normal girl from Louisiana. She’s got a special gift for being able to read the minds of those around her, whether she wants to or not.
Sookie’s world is turned upside down when she meets the handsome vampire Bill (Moyer), and coincidentally enough, people in her life suddenly start getting killed off. The common thread to the murders? All people who associate with vampires. Sookie realizes that she might be next on the list and decides to figure out just who the murderer is before it's too late.
That’s the simple overview. The truth is, "True Blood" is far more complex and compelling than just Sookie’s fight to stay alive and her blossoming love affair with Bill. What is really the driving force behind "True Blood" and makes it must-see television is Ball’s ability to create complex storylines that intricately weave together. Pair that with a talented cast of characters dripping with sexual tension, and you’ve got the best vampire serial since "Dark Shadows".
The supporting cast of "True Blood" is what makes this show better than simply a love story between two characters. We've got Sookie’s brother Jason (Kwanten), who on the surface seems like your average pretty boy womanizer, and her hard-boiled best friend Tara (Wesley), who is fighting through her own inner demons. We also meet Sam (Trammell), who is not only Sookie’s boss but has an uncanny ability to appear whenever Sookie might be in danger. The true heart of the Stackhouse family (and for the series as well) is her grandmother Adele (Lois Smith), who offers wisdom to Sookie and her hospitality to Bill when most people in the community wouldn’t dream of doing so. Probably my favorite of the "True Blood" supporting characters is Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), a flamboyant drug dealing, out-of-the-closet cook at Sam’s restaurant who pretty much steals every scene he’s in. Ellis ably demonstrates his ability to play Lafayette far deeper than just some sort of gay caricature.
"True Blood" does take a few episodes before it really finds its footing, but I sort of think that’s par for the course when it comes to setting up a serialized drama -- you need a few episodes to develop characters and their relationships and set up the dramatic arc for the season. But once "True Blood" gets rolling, it’s a satisfying hell of a joyride that will leave you riveted until the very last scene of the first season.
One of my favorite episodes of the season (and it’s hard to pick just one) was “To Love Is To Bury”, which focuses on the ramifications of Bill’s murder of a fellow vampire in order to protect Sookie. Viewers get a taste for how the vampire hierarchy works through a tribunal that sentences Bill to sire a young innocent girl as his vampire apprentice. Once she awakens, all innocence is lost, and suddenly we’ve got “Vampires Gone Wild” as she discovers swearing, Goth clothes, and her bloodlust. The episode demonstrates just how skillful Ball is at balancing the dramatic with dark humor.
The special features of "True Blood" showcase the viral campaigns that HBO put into place before the first season started including both the “Tru Blood” beverage ads (the synthetic drink that the newly civilized vampire community drinks so that they can stay away from feasting on the living) as well as some public service ads that offer up both sides of the vampires in society argument. The true gem of the special features is the In Focus piece, a witty little mockumentary on how vampires work on trying to fit into the normal population.
Much more compelling but also a pain in the neck to get to are all the bits of supplemental viewing that appear as Blu-ray exclusives. Here's the thing: These pop-up or picture-in-picture slices of goodness are only accessible while you're watching the show itself. This proves kind of distracting depending on what you're trying to focus on, not to mention it would take hours to see everything this set has to offer. An index of these materials similar to how New Line did their Infini-film features would have been a godsend. Maybe for Season 2, right?
"True Blood" Season 1 is a must-own for any genre fan. If you love vampires and vampire lore mixed with the very sexy South, this is your hot ticket to blood-stained bliss! And don't forget to sink your teeth into Season 2 when it starts on June 14th.
4 1/2 out of 5
4 out of 5
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