Shiny Shelf

True Blood

By Mark Clapham on 15 November 2009

There’s an exceptionally scatological episode of ‘South Park’ where, every time something truly puerile and gross happens, a caption appears on-screen reminding you that it’s an ‘Emmy award winning series’.

Similarly, every time something fantastically graphic and extreme happens in ‘True Blood’ – for example, one of the characters having blood drained from a very delicate place to recover from the side-effects of a drug overdose – it’s worth taking a moment to boggle at the fact that this is Alan Ball’s follow-up to the multi-multi-award winning ‘Six Feet Under’.

While ‘6FU’ was noted for all the usual HBO adult stuff – swearing, sex, etc – and particularly for its frankness in terms of addressing the mechanics of death, it was also noted for its glacial, almost mannered tastefulness. Like the Ball-scripted ‘American Beauty’, think of ‘Six Feet Under’ and chances are your first thought will be of some beautifully composed fade-to-white at the end of a well-observed, slow-moving character scene.

‘True Blood’, on the other hand, is the kind of show which ends a scene on a tongue lapping up thick blood as it oozes out of a neck wound. Tasty!

I’m exaggerating (a little), of course. There are plenty of signs that this is a Ball production, from the uncanny eye for a crushingly embarassing social situation (no-one does difficult silences around the dinner table better than Ball) to the unsparing observation of the rituals of grief.

For all its on-the-nose extremity, ‘True Blood’ is also easily as classy a production as its feted predecessor, from the masterful writing that gives an early episode the energy of non-stop plot progress (when later you realise it was actually an hour of near-solid exposition), to the precise use of locations and music cues.

But there’s definitely a feeling that, having written about so many buttoned-up characters and crushingly realistic situations in the past, Ball is cutting loose with ‘True Blood’, allowing himself the latitude of fantasy and the freedom to write characters who are unrestrained in their impulses.

Of course, while this may make a pleasant change of pace for Ball, it isn’t really his previous work that ‘True Blood’ sets itself against. By accident or design, ‘True Blood’ is the anti-’Twilight’ – whereas Stephanie Meyer’s books-turned-mega-franchise are all tasteful sparkle and chaste romance, ‘True Blood’ (itself based on Charlaine Harris’ book series) gets down and dirty.

While there’s a slow build to the central romance between vampire Bill and psychic waitress Sookie Stackhouse, we’re never in any doubt of the passions running just below the surface of their polite courtship. Elsewhere, restraint is pretty much non-existent, with all manner of explicit shennanigans going on. In particular, Sookie’s no-good brother Jason has no self control whatsoever, and gets himself into all manner of trouble in the process.

(Jason is a great creation, by the way – if he was just a common-or-garden jerk, he’d just be annoying, but he’s such an epically shabby, shameless, self-centred little prick of a disaster area that he ends up being superbly entertaining and almost endearing.)

‘True Blood’ is a ridiculously enjoyable stew of high-class schlock – it somehow manages to be a graphic horror fantasy full of sex scenes and made-up drugs, while also being a beautifully written, acted and produced drama with sympathetic characters and relatable situations. Hot stuff.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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