Friday, November 21, 2008

HBO's 'True Blood' worth another try

Chicago Tribune Nov 21 2008

OK True Blood" fans. I give up. You win. I like this show.

And yet, to those of you who've been e-mailing me to tell me "True Blood," which airs its season finale 8 p.m. Sunday, is your favorite show—I can't agree. But the e-mail correspondents who've been saying the HBO show has finally become the escapist vamp potboiler that was lurking inside the somewhat pretentious show we first saw back in September—I agree with that assessment. Though it's not perfect, "True Blood" has improved a lot. Dare I say it no longer needs a transfusion?

There are so many things about "True Blood" I can still pick apart.

As Sookie Stackhouse, a woman in love with a courtly vampire, the miscast Anna Paquin is often the least interesting part of this show. The show's melodrama veers into laughable Southern Gothic at times. (Demon exorcisms? Really?) There are plenty of plot holes that you could drive a hearse through. The show's vampire mythology is contradictory and downright chaotic.
And don't start me on the variable accents on this show.

On the other hand, lately, "True Blood" has been doing a lot of things right.

Perhaps because of the obvious lack of chemistry between Sookie and her vampire lover, Bill (the fine Stephen Moyer), the show has been adding terrific guest actors. And it has focused on the one through-line that unites the show's disparate elements: the mystery of who's been murdering women in Bon Temps, La.

A few weeks ago, the wonderful Stephen Root showed up as a gay vampire-accountant (and that's the first time I have ever written those three words in a row). His character didn't resemble the mostly predictable vamps on this show, which have tended to favor eyeliner, leather pants and wanton murder. He was a lonely, soft-spoken guy who thought becoming a bloodsucker would spice up his life—but it didn't.

And as if that weren't enough, in recent weeks the show featured two "Homicide" veterans I would watch read from the telephone book: Michelle Forbes, of HBO's "In Treatment," and Zeljko Ivanek, who won an Emmy for his work on FX's "Damages."

"True Blood" has wisely opened up a world beyond vampires, a territory that his been well trod in books, TV and movies for decades now. There are shape-shifters in Sookie's world, and other beings with strange powers have been hinted at as well. Though it still has its self-indulgent moments, "True Blood" has picked up its pace admirably and now boasts more tension than the lackluster current season of Showtime's "Dexter."

An HBO representative says viewership for the show has dramatically increased. But even before those numbers went up, the network had renewed "True Blood" for a second season, which now looks like a wise move (and a necessary one—the finale, the HBO representative said, contains a couple of cliffhangers).

This drama is on its way to becoming what creator Alan Ball originally promised: a sexy, well-acted soap opera about bloodsuckers and the people who love them.


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