1. Strange Love
Welcome to Bon Temps…
After a ridiculously long wait, UK viewers finally got the chance to find out exactly why True Blood is considered by many to be the best thing on TV. Series one premiered on F/X on Friday night, to a very respectable 290,000 vamp loving viewers. Congratulations, UK. You’ve made a very good choice.
Currently a third of the way through its second season in the US, and enchanting nearly four million Americans, True Blood is that rarest of shows – smart, funny, extremely well-written and startlingly original. Based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris and made by HBO, True Blood goes to places Twilight can only dream of. Truly a drama for grown-ups, if Strange Love was your first taste, prepare to become a junkie.
Set in the Deep South backwater of Bon Temps, the show follows waitress with a secret, Sookie Stackhouse. Not that it’s really a secret. In small towns keeping secrets is almost impossible, and with Sookie around, completely impossible.
Ms Stackhouse, played with wide-eyed Southern sass by Anna Paquin, is somewhat psychic. She can tap into anyone and everyone’s train of thought, which is not as much fun as you might think. A large part of the town knows what she can do, and as long as she promises not to do it to them, they’re pretty much fine with it. Sookie’s mind-reading gives the show one of its most original devices – by allowing us to hear what the townsfolk are thinking, the writers can add the sort of detail that would normally require tedious amounts of exposition, as well as provide plenty of opportunities for comedy.
Sookie’s psychic talents are not the only supernatural occurrence in the TB universe. In her world, vampires not only exist, but ‘came out of the coffin’ two years previously, after a Japanese genius perfected synthetic blood. With no need to feed on humans, vamps have joined mainstream society, and are fighting for their civil rights.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, their demand for equality doesn’t sit well with all the good people of America, particularly those of a religious persuasion. When the citizens of Bon Temps come face to face with vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) after he walks into the local dive, Sookie is the first and only one to welcome him. And not just because it’s her job.
An ardent believer in vampire rights, and with a natural affinity to anyone who is considered outside the norm, Sookie’s connection to Bill is obvious to all. Before you know it, she’s risking her life to save him from the local drug dealers when they attempt to drain his blood. It seems vampire blood is a precious commodity, and the drug of choice for a new generation. As such, even vampires aren’t safe in mainstream society.
Not only do the good citizens of Bon Temps have to deal with their first vampire, they also have to deal with losing one of their number. Maudette Pickens, local vampire ho, and sometime lay of Jason Stackhouse, was strangled in her apartment. Unbeknown to Jason, who is Sookie’s brother and the town man-whore, his most recent encounter with Maudette was taped. Said tape is now in the hands of the police, and showing as it does Jason clearly strangling her during sex, he’s the number one suspect in her murder.
He’s not the only one in trouble, though. Having cost the local drug dealers some serious cash, it’s payback time. Alone in the car park of the bar, Sookie didn’t even hear them coming, and the savage beating doesn’t look like it’s going to end any time soon…
As introductions to world class shows go, Strange Love is up there with the best of them. The superb cast, headed by Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer, do an incredible job with some top class material, and the aforementioned couple’s chemistry is undeniable.
The biggest surprise, though, is Ryan Kwanten. Almost unrecognisable as Jason Stackhouse, Vinnie from Home And Away is but a memory – his performance here is alarmingly convincing, right down to the accent.
The southern setting and the excellent dialogue combine with some fantastic characterisation to produce one of the most interesting and unusual hours of television you are ever likely to see, and it’s clear why four million people keep coming back. What’s not clear is why the Emmys haven’t noticed.
Of course, with a network like HBO behind True Blood, it’s expected to be a slick, well-produced show, which it is. But there’s more to it than that, which is in large part due to the presence of Alan Ball. Imbuing True Blood with the touch of class that was evident throughout Six Feet Under, what could so easily have been schlock-horror-porn is the sharpest, darkest and funniest show currently in production. Even the vamps are classy – not for True Blood the tacky, Klingon-style forehead and extra fangs of Buffy (sorry Joss Whedon); in this world the vamps are more Dracula than Spike, and let’s face it, way sexier.
So, if you like your drama sharp, funny and adult, stay tuned. I promise you won’t be disappointed. If you don’t, may I recommend Lost?
Catch our first take on True Blood’s first episode, back when it first appeared in the States, here…