I didn’t like True Blood immediately. It took me a few episodes. Sometimes it’s dumb. But it’s also really great. I like supernatural telly. I watch every supernatural telly show I can get my hands on, no matter how terrible. I also read supernatural romance fiction, both adult and young adult. I like films with supernatural themes. I’m not really interested in ‘classic’ horror fiction at all, but I do read masses of SF lit. Masses of it, and nothing else these days… well, except for the odd crime novel.
I am predisposed to liking programs like True Blood. But I am also a fairly critical reader, in the sense that I am interested in critiquing themes, industrial context, audiences and so on. My doctoral research was centred on audiences and am particularly interested in fan studies.
But I also like to just watch. I like chick flicks because no one dies, and because things end happily. Though I can’t abide a spineless bimbo female protagonist, I can excuse terrible acting, directing and writing if the story is nice.
What do I like about True Blood?
1. It looks really good. In that the colours are nice, the ‘cinematography’ in season 1 is sweet. It’s really quite lush and fancy – not like ordinary TV at all.
2. Despite its fancy ‘look’, True Blood reads like melodrama. Like daytime TV. All hyper-emotion and ridiculous plot lines. It looks like ‘quality’ but reads like ‘trash’.
3. Except for the sex. The sex is pretty hardcore. That’s not Bold and The Beautiful, it’s supernatural ‘romance’.
4. It’s supernatural romance lit made into telly. The TB books are truly, terribly awful. The TV series isn’t. It’s clever. But at the same time it’s utterly celebrating the awfulness of the books. Not all supernatural romance lit is awful, but a fair swag of it is. Some of it is quite brilliant. This is where the big figures in popular fiction are at. This is where the readership is at. Women. Supernatural. Romance. Part of the pleasure of romance (you know who I’m referencing, here) is the ‘dirty secret’ aspect: it is ‘wrong’ to like it (because it is trash and terrible and all about love and kissing (and fucking) and all those things ‘women’ like), but it’s so addictive, so pleasurable. Such a lovely, quick read where nobody (important) dies, where the morals are quite black and white and the heroine always gets (to fuck) her man.
Romances are increasingly sexy; not just chaste kisses.
Supernatural romances blur the genre lines: there are far more interesting things going on here than a woman pursuing love. Now she has a gun or a stake or a spell book or a muscle car, and her hot sexbot love interest is increasingly secondary to her job as demon hunter/werewolf friend/wiccan powerhouse.
TB doesn’t quite handle these things as well as the best supernatural romance books, but then it’s not looking for a women-only audience. But it takes that idea of guilty pleasure and runs with it. It’s celebrating the awfullest of the awful supernatural romance books.
5. But it twists the generic conventions a little. The heroine is the least likeable character in the story. But in the books she’s a really painful, stupid, shallow, racist bimbo. So the telly series is a slight improvement. But the very best character in TB is Lafayette. He is beautiful, he’s glamorous, he’s an arse-kicker (literally), he calls Sookie on her bullshit (I do like the way he calls her a skank somewhere in season 1), he’s African American and he’s gay. He is the one, persistently ‘real’ character. Even though he is the stereotypical young buck, he twists this role repeatedly, commenting on the way his body is read by white queer men, by white straight women, and by white straight men. His queerness is really one of the most important elements tipping me off to the campness of TB: read this as hyper-sex, hyper-gender, hyper-hype (and here, the masses of online ‘tease’ and ‘tie-in’ marketing sites (bloodcopy, TruBlood, American Vampire League, Fellowship of the Sun), Myspace account and youtube channels (BloodCopy and the Fellowship of the Sun channels) are just wonderful: there’s just too much TB online viral marketing for this to be anything other than awesome parody of viral marketing campaigns.)
Supernatural romances tend to have kind of lame heroines for the most part, but the very best ones are awesome. I’m especially fond of Mercy in Patricia Briggs’ skinwalker series and Rachel Caine‘s weather wardens. Teen supernatural romances are a whole other genre, but some feature truly great heroines: Rachel Cain’s Claire in her Morganville Vampire series is great, and my current passion, Lili St Crow’s Strange Angels series’ protagonist Dru is fully sick.
But TB is not trying to be the very best. It’s aiming for trash.
6. It sounds more like a Tex Perkins album than the Twilight sound track. Sort of dark and kind of disgusting, but in a really sexy way. You probably wouldn’t date this series (well, not after you’ve turned 20), but by geez you’d think about having hot sex with it. And then washing very thoroughly afterwards.
It’s really about the grotesque, about the flesh and the body, both in terms of sex and of violence. But then, that’s what vampires are all about. Underneath. Twilight might be all about abstinence, but TB is about recognising the subtext of those type of ‘safe’ vampires. Really, when you’re watching a vampire text, the violence and sex get mixed up. The idea of drinking blood is both revolting and riveting. While your more mainstream vampire media work because they only suggest and imply this stuff, TB is wonderful because it doesn’t bother implying or suggesting. It wears it all at once, all the time. Loudly. Nothing is left unsaid or simply suggested in terms of sex and violence in TB
7. It passes the Bechdel Test.
8. It’s utterly ridiculous. Truly, utterly ridiculous. It’s so ridiculous you squirm and shriek.
9. The romances are really kind of horrible. While Sookie and Vampire Bill’s romance begins in season one all hearts and flowers, the second season really begins to turn their ‘true love’ story line on its head. Eric’s question about Bill’s motivations in giving Sookie his blood are really telling: why exactly did Bill rush into forming this intense relationship with Sookie, taking her at a disadvantage and really keeping her as the vulnerable ‘heroine’ to his ‘hero’? This is one of the things I really like about TB: the romance part is continually fucked about. Characters like Eric question the hero’s motivations. Eric asks the sorts of questions I ask myself about romance fiction: what is so ok about the heroine being so blindly, desperately in love with the hero that she overlooks self-respect and self-preservation in pursuit of his affection (and desire)?
Jason, Sookie’s dumb, body-beautiful brother finally finds ‘love’, but it’s with an utterly screwed up vampire murdering hippy drug addict. Sookie’s friend Arlene’s fiance [SPOILER] turns out to be a murdering bigot [ENDSPOILER]. And it continues… I’m really looking forward to seeing how Hoyt and Jessica’s sacharine-sweet romance turns out.
10. It’s shocking. Not in a sex or violence way (though it really is quite full-frontal for telly). But in an excess and overflow way. There’s a lot of sex, and it’s quite graphic. But it’s also ridiculous, particularly in season 2. There’s a lot of violence and blood, and it’s also ridiculous (I’m thinking of scenes like the bombing of the Dallas nest in particular). It’s all colour and close-up and gorgeous lighting and cinematography. But its content is ‘trashy’ and really quite dodgy.