Reasons to Watch: True Blood
Let's start at the beginning...
Sookie Stackhouse is a small town girl from Bon Temps, Louisiana. She is as normal as they come, until you consider what she calls her "disability". Sookie can read minds. She can control her ability with some effort, and she can amplify the effects through touch. She has lived with it for most of her life, and she has never truly realized what it would sound like for these other voices in her head to be silent.
All of this changes the moment she meets her first vampire.
When Bill Compton walks into Sookie's life, she is instantly drawn to him and the silence he can bring to her mind. But associating with Bill brings her into contact with other vampires and mythical creatures, some of which do not have the purest of intentions. Now Sookie must navigate the complexities of the vampire world, all while trying to figure out why women who have associated with vampires are winding up dead in Bon Temps.
WARNING: If you are uncomfortable with graphic depictions of sex, violence, and/or homosexuality, this show is not for you.
Still reading? Let me try and convince you to watch.
Reason #1: Vampires
If you generally enjoy supernatural story lines, this show is for you. Based on the The Southern Vampire Mysteries, a series of novels by Charlaine Harris, True Blood subscribes to a more traditional understanding of the mythical vampire. Unlike the sparkly undead vampire Edward Cullen, the vampires that populate this decadent southern landscape do indeed become engulfed with flames when in direct contact with the sun. Other weaknesses? They die when staked in the heart, although most humans would as well. The benefits include increased strength and stamina and occasionally special abilities. Some vampires can fly. Some have an increased bond with any vampires they have created. Some are just plain vampires. As in most other fictional depictions, these vampires are darkly mysterious and sexy, all the more because they have the power to destroy humans so easily.
They are vicious creatures in many respects, but these vampires are capable of living peaceably amongst humans as well. The Japanese advent of a synthetic blood enabled vampires to "come out of the coffin" once it was discovered to also satisfy vampiric cravings for blood. Without the need to maim and/or kill humans for sustenance, vampires can openly live amongst them. The drink Tru Blood® is sold at local bars and convenience stores, and businesses that cater specifically to vampires and their human groupies are opened to profit off of the new demographic. This change brings the mysterious world of vampires to light in certain ways. There is no longer doubt of their existence. But questions remain concerning the safety of living so closely with vampires. After all, if vampires have always been amongst the human population, how did they survive before the invention of synthetic blood?
If vampires are not your cup of tea, there are other supernatural creatures and elements on which to focus. Sookie's mind reading abilities play a large role in the series and new mythical creatures appear often. There are shapeshifters, werewolves, maenads, witches, and fairies. All of these groups share a distinction from human kind, but they are purposefully separated to the point of little to no interaction between groupings. Discovering the inner-workings of such groups is one of the many appeals of True Blood, and it leads to another thought-provoking aspect of the series.
Reason #2: Society and Politics
With the inclusion of a new group into any society, there come many politic issues that must be resolved. Should the new group have legal standing and representation? What role will this group form in local communities and governments? How can the needs of this group and the needs of the country be reconciled?
Many comments have been made that the struggles of vampires to integrate into society on True Blood mirrors the struggles of the LGBT community today. A scene at the end of the first season in which a vampire and human marry for the first time is particularly relevant given the passing of the same-sex marriage bill in New York this week. But that is not to say that such politically charged questions as what rights should be given to a group of citizens, and whether a group should be given citizenship at all, are pertinent only to the gay rights movement. These are general questions that are asked again and again throughout history and are being tackled head on by this series. If vampires are given citizenship, then they will be afforded certain rights, but they will also be responsible for upholding their civic duties, such as paying taxes. While the government must decide whether citizenship should be granted, the vampire community must decide whether citizenship is worth the price it may come with.
Legal standing alone cannot stem the tide of bigotry and hatred, a fact that will become increasingly clear in the upcoming fourth season. After a notable vampire publicly executes a human on television, the vampire community is faced with a public relations nightmare. Despite many acts of good faith, it is increasingly difficult to prove that the act of one lone individual does not predict the future acts of the entire community. Is integration the best policy given such circumstances, or should vampires retreat from this world as the fairy community did some time ago?
Reason #3: Relationships (Sexual and Otherwise)
The best television shows often seem to have the best ensemble casts. Even if there is a central character to follow, the richness and depth of the piece depend upon the quality of the world through which the character moves and the people with whom she interacts. In this case, even if you are a fan of The Southern Vampire Mysteries, True Blood has something additional to offer you. The background characters in this series come to life. In a book, these background characters can stay off the page when necessary, but on television they can be seen without being heard, and are in some ways far more present and accounted for simply by being on screen. For this reason, their stories instantly become more crucial to the whole. Sookie's story cannot exist without the full stories of her brother, friends, and lovers as well.
The intricacies of relationships run through this show and bind even the most disparate of characters together. Romantic relationships are formed constantly and are ever being evaluated on the basis of intimacy, trust, and compatibility, which can come down to the simple difference of sleeping during day or night. Other relational bonds are constantly tested as well, such as the bond between brother and sister, friend and friend, or parent and child. To what length does one go to keep family and friends safe from harm? To what degree is our own identity defined by our family and the relationship we share with them?
Whatever the reason...
If you tend to enjoy complex, gritty representations of the world in your television programs, True Blood may be the show for you despite the supernatural bent. It is the very disconnect from our reality that sometimes make it easier to see the similarities between our lives and those on our television screens. Underneath the layer of dark, glossy, escapist fun that the show presents at its most superficial, one can find something more real than expected. I hope you will take a chance with this show and try to find it.
That is not to say that the shallow gratuitous sex, gore, and violence is not a reason to watch.
In the end, there are various reasons you can use to justify watching this show. When asked why, it often comes down to a simple response, "I like it."
Recap of the Last Three Seasons
True Blood Season Four premieres on HBO on Sunday, June 26 @ 9:00 PM
The World of True Blood
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