HBO's "True Blood" was Enjoyable but Incredibly Uneven Review

Despite seven seasons of very uneven television, you can’t really accuse HBO’s True Blood of getting lazy, losing focus, or even jumping the shark, because it basically had all three of those qualities coming right out of its pilot episode. The writing for True Blood immediately established a tone of pulpy, over-the-top, sloppy harlequin romance and then, to fit with the vampire-crazed times, it added in any and every supernatural element it could think of whenever possible. That was all True Blood ever aspired to be. That it also managed to be fun and entertaining and drew you into caring about one or two characters (even if they weren’t Anna Paquin’s Sookie Stackhouse, Stephen Moyer’s Bill Compton, or Alexander Skarsgard’s Eric Northman), just serves as proof that True Blood was right at home in HBO’s stable of inconsistent but always engrossing serials.

Stripped down to its core, True Blood is a love story set in Louisiana’s bayou about a waitress (Paquin) and the two vampires (Moyer and Skarsgard) who take a liking to her in a time in fictional American history when vampires have made their presence to humanity known. And while the love triangle drives a good portion of the drama for the series’ seven seasons, that wrinkle about the world of man just now becoming aware of vampires, as well as a larger world of the supernatural, is really what makes True Blood, as a concept, interesting. Few shows set in a semi-ground realistic world go the route of exploring how mankind copes with the new supernatural revelation, with the vast majority being about how to either suppress that knowledge or keep people from having to encounter it. With True Blood, the cat was out of the bag from the get-go, and it allowed the writers to explore some interesting conflicts between and within the realms of man and the fantastical.

Unfortunately, that element of the series’ story typically came second or third thanks to the Sookie love triangle and whatever each season’s mostly disappointing supernatural evil happened to be. The one exception to True Blood’s lackluster season-capping villains, and also the show’s finest moment, came in the form of Denis O’Hare as antagonistic vampire Russell Edgington. It’s tempting to say Edgington was True Blood’s best villain because the show built him up and developed him across multiple seasons unlike other villains who simply rose up and eliminated between a single season’s start and end, but really it’s more than that. Unlike other season-long villains who occupied one part of the show’s narrative arc while a number of other subplots continued on alongside it, largely unaffected, Russell Edgington’s appearance tied together so many subplots that, for the entirety of its fifth season, True Blood seemed like it really knew what it was doing.

If you’d watched the first four seasons or the two that came after that, however, you know the fifth season was really just a flash in the pan. After that, the various subplots drifted apart again and viewers once again had to latch on to the one or two that really appealed to them. To make matters worse, those other subplots were by no means created equally, with some based on characters who became increasingly grating as the show went on and others who simply never got developed quite enough to really leave an impact. The best example of the latter might be Sam Trammell’s Sam Merlotte, the owner of the diner who can shapeshift into any animal. Though the character is given plenty to do from one season to the next, the impact of his stories are minimalized or altogether truncated to accommodate other arcs. As for the former example of characters who annoy rather than intrigue, you have Nelsan Ellis’s Lafayette Reynolds who starts off as the token sassy homosexual character of the series who gets drawn too far into the spotlight as a pawn in the fourth season’s villain’s plans.

The absolute least that can be said for True Blood’s seven season run is that it fulfilled its promise of a supernatural-tinged love story. At most, True Blood is an incredibly uneven but often enjoyable supernatural soap opera that never shies from being ridiculous or really funny when the opportune moment arises. As long as you know going in that True Blood makes no attempt to be anything more than these two high and low points, then it’s rather good for what it is, but if you want strongly written drama with developed characters, then True Blood isn’t what you’re looking for.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Like many HBO releases, the Complete Series set for True Blood includes all seasons on Blu-ray along with a digital copy.

Extras include all of the audio commentaries, previews, and recaps that appeared on the original single season releases, as well as behind-the-scenes looks at filming of True Blood. Blu-ray exclusive extras include an interactive guide to the characters and their subplots as well as a look at production of the series’ final season.

"True Blood: The Complete Series" is on sale November 11, 2014 and is rated tv-ma. Drama, Fantasy, Mystery. Directed by Michael Lehmann, Scott Winant. Written by Alan Ball, Charlaine Harris, Brian Buckner. Starring Alexander Skarsgard, Anna Paquin, Deborah Ann Woll, Ryan Kwanten, Sam Trammell, Stephen Moyer.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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