Tuesday, 15 September 2009

TV REVIEW: True Blood Season 2

What I was going to do with TV reviews was do things the way things are done by the real people, which is to review every episode of every TV show that I watch ever. Then I realized that apart from the inevitable carpel tunnel, I'm far too lazy to accomplish something as largely scaled as that, so the compromise which my sloth came up with was to simply done one lump sum review at the end of each series. Allowing my time to be spent in otherwise useful capacities (to be named later.)

So True Blood. I saw the first season a while ago and while I wasn't entirely blown away, there was a lot to like. There were some good performances, albeit sporadically, there was occasionally good writing and it had Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball as its show-runner. That particular show was at its best as strong as anything else on television and while Ball rarely reaches that level of quality in this show, there are rare moments where you can tell the same talent is involved. The first season ended strongly after a slightly shaky start, but its safe to say that this second year did the complete opposite, beginning very strongly and becoming lazier and more contrived as the series progressed. The show has been described by someone with more deftness then me as ' Twilight without the abstinence' and while I may have put up an argument against that last year, where the show at least tried to be about something. But now it seems prescient, because its become a show that revels in its own ridiculousness, an 18 rated supernatural soap. Every time it attempts to be something more, it feels contrived and falls short. The only time the show really feels at home is when it drops its ambitions and stays true to what it is. A piece of common denominator escapism for smart people. Or in more eloquent phrasing, a guilty pleasure for the culturally aware. Which is a shame.

Before getting into the season I'll explain some about the characters and the general ethos of this show. At its center is Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) , a waitress/telepath who works at a bar in Bon Temps, a remote town in the deep south. She's in love with a 100 and something vampire named Bill ( Stephen Moyer). Oh and there's Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) , a shape-shifting bar-tender. Jason (Ryan Kwanten), Sookie's brother is powerless supernaturally speaking but is a giant ho, there's Eric, a 1000 year old Scandinavian vampire who essentially just pouts around being an asshole and many many more. Its difficult to summarize any show more mythically inclined without making it sound like just about the worst thing ever, and often that's unfair to the show. Anyways this second season saw the arrival of Maryann (Michelle Forbes), who casts a bizarre spell on the residents of Bon temps which forces them to be at their most decadent. It sees Sookie, Bill and Eric make the pilgrimage to Dallas in search of missing vampire Godric (Allan Hyde) and Jason embraces his intolerant side, joining the vampire-hating religious sect The Fellowship of the Sun. Well that's the gist of the story lines anyway, there's more convolutions to it but if I go any further this will be more of a description then a review.

What went right this year? Well the performances maybe got a little better. Alexander Skarsgaard as Eric pretty much steals every scene he's in and his combination of omniscience and petulance is a joy, particularly in comparison to some of the stick in the mud characters there are on this show. Michelle Forbes actually gives a good performance as Maryann, but the problem is she gets absorbed into one sucky storyline. It starts out promising and for 4 episodes or so there's a strong sense of tension being built up, but then once we know what's going on it pretty much all goes to shit. This kind of drags her character down with it, which is certainly a waste. The show's only real score in terms of narrative would probably be the Godric stuff, because not only is there a terrific guest performance from Allan Hyde, who despite only featuring prominently in two episodes comes very close to displacing Eric as the best thing about the show. But it also adds a real pathos to the going's on, and briefly stops the show from drowning in its own sense of camp. Similarly some of the smaller characters are much stronger, with Deborah Ann Woll as an erratic teenage vampire (Not at all a rip off of Claudia in Interview With A Vampire, see she's a redhead) Chris Bauer's OTT alcoholic detective is pretty awesome, as is Nelsan Ellis' drug and blood dealing chef.

What went wrong? Well as I already mentioned the Mary-Ann story-line crashed and burned, as they only really had a half a year of story and the rest was just dragged out. Any fans of Lost will know that the automatic response to this is to yell Fuck You loudly at the TV screen before switching over to Heroes. Which FYI is also crap. The Fellowship of the sun story, which had the potential to be interesting ended up a misfire because it was put together too broadly, with Ball just about stopping short of filling the screen with the words, 'Guys, religious extremism = bad news'. The controlling force of it, Reverend Steve Newlin and wife Sarah Newlin are such painful caricatures that it decapitates the thing from the start. Ryan Kwanten does his absolute best to make it work, but it wouldn't. Because the writers couldn't resist turning it into a cartoon. Ironically the wrap-up to it is very strong, but mostly because its intertwined with the introduction of Godric. The central relationship of Sookie and Bill is an epic fail just for how relentlessly dull it is. Oscar Winner Paquin's performance is all shrieky hysteria, and plays the thing like a scream queen from a 70's horror movie. Which is either good or bad depending on whether the show is being serious or not. Stephen Moyer's Bill has more potential then what were given here and his character definitely has a weak season. But that's nothing compared To Sam Trammell's year which was to run away from Mary Ann. From June to September. Thank you Sam.

In the end though, there's the sense that the show never takes it self seriously, almost like the show believes that its too good for itself. But by doing this it makes it half the show it could be and so it becomes Twilight without the abstinence, when it could have been so much more. But as a spectacle of big budget television pulp fiction, it could be worse.

Best Episode: 8, Timebomb

Rating: 6/10

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