BLEACHED: As Sookie Stackhouse, True Blood’s telepathic waitress heroine, Anna Paquin seems a little lost.
With regard to this whole nouveau vampire thing, this revitalized appreciation for the undead, I should declare myself at the outset a more or less complete philistine. There’s very little goth in my veins; I have no feel for the crypt or the curlicue. The vampire, as a figure, attracts me only in a remote and æstheticized sort of a way — like an Impressionist, say, or a Bolshevik. So I haven’t read Anne Rice, and I haven’t read Stephenie Meyer, and I haven’t read Charlaine Harris, on whose “Southern Vampire” series HBO’s new drama True Blood is based. I have seen Harris’s picture, however, and she looks like a lovely, jolly, un-vampiric woman.
Were you a fan of Six Feet Under? Because True Blood (which premieres this Sunday, September 7, at 9 pm) is written by Alan (American Beauty) Ball, who also directs a few of the episodes. The opening credits are great — bottleneck-blues thump over fretted images of snakehandlers, swamp shacks, midnight roads, trembling Pentecostalists, etc. And the premise is . . . interesting: after thousands of years of stakes-through-the-heart and garlic bulbs shaken in their faces like maracas, the vampires are comin’ out. They want respect, they want to lead normal lives. Above a liquor-store counter, a TV is making shrunken chat-show noises — Bill Maher is on screen, archly quizzing one of the brides of Nosferatu. “We’re citizens,” she insists, “We pay taxes, we deserve equal rights.” What? Rights for vampires? Surely this is liberalism run mad! “But doesn’t your race have a rather sordid history?” asks Bill, voicing the obvious concern. “Well, now that Japanese have perfected synthetic blood. . . . ” Ah, the Japanese. Bless their industrious hearts.
So the vampires are like . . . outsiders. Marginalized. Discriminated against. “GOD HATES FANGS,” proclaims a roadside sign. Ho-ho. And now they’re entering society. People are having sex with them, and not just that droopy vampire sex you see in the movies.
In recent years, the erotics of vampirehood have tended to function as a corrective to the hegemony of porn, privileging pallor, languor, swooning, and submission over the sunbed glow and the hard-on that never sets. The vampires of True Blood are raunchier than that. Nastier, if you will. Grrrr.
We’re fortunate to have Ball’s not-very-imaginative script, bobbing with cliché’d Cajunisms, to take the edge off our arousal. I’ve loved Anna Paquin since the first X-Men movie, but as Sookie Stackhouse, True Blood’s telepathic waitress heroine, she seems a little lost. When they dyed her hair and eyebrows blond, they bleached some of the character out of her face, some necessary darkness or intensity. Her psychic gift is nicely rendered, though — moving through the bar, tray in hand, she has the mental chatter of every patron she passes buzzing in and out of her bandwidth. (“One beer tonight, Jesus. That’s all I need . . . ” “Look at her in that tight T-shirt.”) She meets a tubercular-looking vampire who’s been alive since the Civil War and discovers a blissful silence emanating from his cranium — a thought hole. It’s love.
None of this is terrible, some of it is quite pleasantly daft, and once the series settles down, it may even become compelling. Ball’s usual attention to detail is in evidence (Sookie’s best friend, Tara, bored at work, is sitting there reading Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine), and the fight scenes are pretty damn good. The Southern milieu is done with a sweaty hand, but then, the South itself is done with a sweaty hand. What’s my problem? Call me a species-ist. I just don’t dig vampires.