Sunday, September 8, 2013

Your Mileage May Vary: My First Response To "True Blood"

Quite some time ago, I picked up a Charlaine Harris book to read on a flight. I did it because everybody was talking about her "Sookie Stackhouse" books, and the tv series True Blood which grew therefrom.

I admit it. I was hoping to enjoy what I read.

I didn't, though. I found Harris' writing pedestrian and predictable, and the main character -- Sookie Stackhouse -- felt like a prizewinning "mary sue". The book was eminently forgettable, and I promptly did my best to forget it. (As an aside: Tansy Rayner-Roberts "Nancy Napoleon" stories are much, much more interesting and entertaining, if you like Para/Rom. You can get 'em from Twelfth Planet Press.)

Of course, that definitely didn't preclude the possibility that True Blood was good TV. And I've got a lot of friends who swear by it. Well, hell -- I mean, the Hamish Macbeth TV series with Robert Carlyle was delightful, while the series of books that inspired it was... actually, pretty awful.

So today, there I was grinding away on the rowing machine. You want boring? Rowing machines are boring. Boring as a... really, really boring thing. A wimble. Yeah. Rowing machines are as boring as a wimble. And once you look up "wimble", you'll see that's rather boring indeed.

To combat the boredom, I usually run a DVD on a little player while I row. Turn it up, set the subtitles, and I'm good to go. Hell, it's the only way I'm going to catch up on the TV everybody else watches anyhow, right? Well, yesterday I finished Inglorious Basterds, and so I thought: fine. Here's the time I start in on True Blood.

First Season. Episode One: in the machine, and away we go.

Well, crap. Maybe it's just 'cos I was rowing, you know? But I don't think so. I think Ep One of TB stinks.

It kicks off with a lot of lowest-common-denominator sex/death imagery. And while I like the possibilities inherent in 'vampire rights' and Deep South redneckery with vampires tossed in... I didn't get much of interest.

Poor bloody Anna Paquin. If they'd pulled her Sookie Stackhouse pony tail any fucking tighter, her face would likely have split right down the centre. And the character's still a goddam Mary Sue. Don't believe me? Try this site here: Avoiding Mary Sue.

There's lots of sites like this, by the way. This was just the first one I happened to grab through Google. But you'll note the first six warning signs are all right there: the unusually attractive woman masquerading as the 'plain jane'. (It's Anna Paquin. Dress her as a waitress, fine. Scrape her hair back until her face explodes. Fine. She's still Anna Paquin, and no amount of heavy-handed hints dropped about her lack of sex life can change that.)

Then there's the Mysterious Powers: she's a telepath, for some reason. Read's everybody's mind. Oh, but not the mind of the Dark and Mysterious Bill the Vampire. Okay, points for naming him 'Bill', but for fuck's sake: yet another broodingly handsome, dark but pale vampire staring intensely at the heroine (and believe me, if the staring got any more intense in this, poor Bill would likely wind up permanently cross-eyed)

Oh, and of course there's the 'everybody loves her' thing. We find out that her boss is wildly (secretly) in love with her, but can't bring himself to announce it. And of course, Mister Intensity the Vampire finds her fascinating. Of course, to be fair she does initially rescue him from some rednecks who want to drain his blood (apparently it works like a drug on humans?) but that really just leads us to the next Mary Sue point -- the bit where she's heroically rescuing the shit out of people all over the place.

No prophecy (yet) of course. And we don't know yet if her past is tragic and angsty. But the bit where she's every so nice and perfect and two-dimensional... that's all over the screen, baby.

So, there it is. End of episode one, and I was pretty damned happy when the redneck blood-draining types caught Mary-Sookie off guard and started kicking the shit out of her. I'm hoping that's a sign of things to come -- but I suspect quite strongly it simply points to a rescue courtesy of Mister Intense Stares early in episode two.

I own all of Season One. Given the "must see" status so many of my friends have pinned to this series, I will watch all that I have. (Why not? I watched the 1992 Captain America the other day while exercising. It was moderately hilarious, though entirely unintentional in its comedic goofiness.)

But: unless the writing improves significantly, I will absolutely not not bother with Season Two. I don't actually care whose tits they throw at the screen. If I want screen-boobs, there's way more than anyone could ever use on the Internet. I want interesting characters who aren't dull stereotypes (redneck drugpuppies; sassy black gay guys... yeah, you know who I'm talking about).

Oh, and for fuck's sake -- somebody should tell poor Anna to stop gurning. Maybe it's the scant material they've given her in this episode (she has to be Instantly Fascinated by Mister Intense Stare -- and that's her motivation for... ummm... most of it. Which, let's face it, is pathetic) but she seems to have adopted the Nicholas Cage approach to acting in finding her inner Sookie.

Oh, and in other news: the Australian electorate was predictably stupid today, and Rupert Murdoch must be a moderately happy old fart.