HBO's promotion of True Blood last spring is how I got alerted to Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Tales featuring the somewhat unusual Sookie Stackhouse. I read a few of them and was impressed with Harris's abilities. She tells jam-packed tales of mayhem and good humor and generosity of spirit -- while also killing off people you really really like, and in so few words that all of the books barely make 300 pp. in production, yet you feel as though you've traveled years and worlds. These books are to be read for recreation. In fact, if Sookie life wasn't so filled with people and events, she would read these books for fun, and so would her marvelous grandmother. This kind of talent a writer's born with. The writer can hone it, the writer can become more practiced, but the author can't be taught to have it.
Nevertheless, the books actually are about what matters: prejudice and fear. Perhaps why I vibrated with them so much is that they are set in a Louisiana I know. I love Louisiana and I hate it at the same time. It's the violence and the prejudice, and no group of people is immune from committing both.
The first episodes then, of last summer's season one of True Blood (second season starts in June) arrived this week. Some of the blood and mayhem are more than I can actually look at -- I never can watch a sequence in which a woman is getting the sh*t beaten and kicked out of her, well, I never can watch this happen to a man either. In terms of the story arc though, and the characters, and the landscape emotional, political, moral and botanical they move in and which acts on them as much as they act up it, this is one of the good things on television.
True Blood is employing some of the actors who made a mark in other HBO series: Chris Bauer, who played Frank Sobatka on The Wire's season 2, plays Andy Bellefluer, and William Sanderson, who played E.B. Farnum in Deadwood, plays Sheriff Bud Dearborne. True Blood has a big cast of fascinating characters, and a lot of them are really attractive to look at, without much of that manufactured Hollywood look (other than in some of the younger males, who are so gym sculpted that you know nobody can look like that without devoting at least 6 hours a day to it, everyday, with a trainer, which nobody could afford to do in True Blood's neighborhood). It is Anna Paquin, who plays Sookie, on whose shoulders the series ultimately stands or falls. She's perfect, without being perfect. She is very attractive, but she's got a gap between her front teeth -- no Hollywood caps here (unless these are special cosmetic caps for the role, which is possible -- that's how much attention I pay to actors, you see, until one shows up in a story I like).
In the tradition that HBO has established, the music is exciting, memorable and signals immediately where you are, and you won't get tired of it during the series' run (though it does sound to my ears as though the score composer, Nathan Barr, has bitten some signature bars right from Deadwood's signature score). The same for the location shots for the repeated opening of each episode of the show. They feel recognizably HBO, and I mean that it in a good way. You know you're in for first class, unembarrassing and probably fairly smart entertainment.