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TUBE TALK: 'True Blood' runs cold in Season 4

August 15, 2011 - Ray Eckenrode
We used to be a fan of "True Blood" and we used this blog to promote the show early in its first season. We cautioned then not to take show too seriously, to accept it for what it was: a fairy tale, a morality play, a soap opera, cotton candy for adults. So it pains us to criticize the show the way we have this summer, but we call them as we see them and we can plainly see that Season 4 of HBO’s vampire franchise has been an unfocused, mind-numbing, near disaster so far.

The mess carries on a sad legacy creator Alan Ball encountered in the skittish fourth season of his HBO funeral home dramedy “Six Feet Under.” That show recovered and concluded with several excellent seasons and one of the best finales ever written so while “True Blood” aspirations have never been quite that high there’s still hope Ball can clean up the mess (and not a hot mess) he and the show’s writers have created, especially since the show is a serial that can start relatively fresh in its next season.

And if you’re saying “what mess?” right now then you’re only watching “True Blood” for the sex scenes (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

The problems with “True Blood” all steam from the same big problem: Too many characters. We count at least 20 recurring ones (who’ve appeared in multiple seasons) and dozens of other minor ones. To compound things, we’re not only talking about characters but supernatural characters (vampires, werewolves, werepanthers, witches, shapeshifters, skinwalkers, maenads and fairies). While you can get away with that many freaky characters in a series of novels (“True Blood” is based on books by Charlaine Harris) where you’ve got hundreds of pages of exposition to work with, you can’t with a one-hour weekly TV show (even soap operas are five hours a week). The result is lack of focus, lack of continuity, lack of attention to detail and characters acting, well, out of character.

Consider:

+ We spent three seasons getting to know Bill Compton, the show’s central vampire, as a benevolent protagonist, thrown into his preternatural existence against his will and unwilling to succumb to the lust for human blood that comes with the territory, hopelessly in love with a human woman he can never truly have as a partner. Then, in Season 4, with no foreshadowing and very little setup, Bill turns bad – very bad – and we learn everything about Season 1, 2 and 3 Bill was an act and that he’s really a power-hungry vamp social climber who doesn’t care who he hurts along the way. Um, OK. But wait, there’s more. After six episodes of getting acclimated to cutthroat (pardon the pun) Bill, he goes soft again on us, bailing out on the opportunity to eliminate his chief rival, a move that certainly would have cemented his power, something we’ve been told for six episodes is ALL HE CARES ABOUT. Seriously, the writing for pro wrestling heel turns is a million times better than what we’ve seen this season from Ball’s crew.

+ In the Season 3 finale, we learned that Sookie Stackhouse, the series central figure, is actually part fairy, which means she has especially delicious blood, which is why all these crazy vampires find her so damned attractive. Is you suspend your disbelief (which you should have done in Episode 1 of a show about vampires who come out of the closet, so to speak, after a human blood substitute is invented), it’s actually a pretty cool explanation. Armed with that background, Season 4 began with an extended scene, nearly 10 minutes long, set in the fairy kingdom that seemed to set up major plot points for the episodes ahead. Again, this was the FIRST thing the audience saw in Season 4. And … nothing much really. The fairy kingdom story line has barely been mentioned again. WTF? Seriously, WTF?

+ The ridiculousness might have reached a peak in last night’s episode as small armies of vampires and witches came face to face for a showdown (in a cemetery, of course). The bitchiest witch (who’s actually an Inquisition-era spirit) had already shown the ability to cast spells that could CONTROL the behavior of vampires, but in this critical confrontation she decided instead to make it foggy. Hilarity ensued – but not a good kind of hilarity.

+ There’s more but we’ll spare you. We doubt there’s much hope of getting this train wreck back on the tracks this season so we’ll watch and mumble under our breaths until “Boardwalk Empire” returns on Sunday, Sept. 25. We’ll also hope for better days (actually mostly nights) in Season 5.

 
 

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