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True Blood: Season 1 Review

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Twilight for grown-ups

★★★★★

Twilight fans, cover your eyes. HBO’s latest runaway hit (in the States it’s garnered the network’s biggest ratings since The Sopranos), True Blood invites serious comparisons to the Bella-and-Edward saga: both are based on a series of novels (Charlaine Harris’ The Southern Vampire Mysteries actually predate Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight books, though they’ve reached the screen later); both are set in a sleepy, backwater town; and both involve a love triangle between a naive human, a shaggy shapeshifter and a courtly vampire. But while the tween-targeting film franchise involves nothing racier than hand-holding, True Blood is fair seething with sin. We’re talking voodoo exorcisms, sleazy sex, weird violence and more pairs of jiggling breasts than TV viewers have seen since the heyday of the Bada Bing.

The action goes down in Bon Temps, a burg in the swampy outskirts of Louisiana with an ironic name — no-one here’s having a good time. While set in the present day, vampires have “come out of the coffin” and now co-exist with the rest of us, resisting their primal urges by drinking a synthetic blood-substitute called Tru Blood. Tension is rife between monster and man. Vampire groupies, charmingly dubbed ‘fangbangers’, are ostracised for craving sex with the undead, while others profit from the narcotic qualities of their blood, kidnapping them and draining the ‘V’ to sell to addicts. In the middle of all this is wide-eyed Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a bar waitress with the power to read minds.

Coming from Oscar-winning Alan Ball, the mordant genius who created funeral-home show Six Feet Under, you’d expect this set-up to yield a smart socio-political satire. But Ball, it seems, has given in to the humidity and indulged his trashier impulses. Ludicrous (and ludicrously clichéd) characters, like Sookie’s lunk-headed brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) or flamboyantly gay short-order cook Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), are matched by soap-opera storylines, one of which involves Jason OD-ing on V and getting an erection that looks like an eggplant. Anyone looking for vérité in their vamp-drama will have to keep searching.

Those who enjoy a guilty pleasure of an evening, however, will likely find this a fun if over-cooked ride, a juju-laced, borderline-bonkers slab of Southern Gothic that delights in its pulpiness. Season 2, which aired to better reviews than the first in the US, widens out into a battle between vampires and evangelical Christians — the blood’s going to run and run...

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