*½ (out of four)
The successful vampire drama returns for more bloodthirsty histrionics, but the show's looking quite long in the fang...
HBO's vampire drama True Blood has been bad longer than it was ever any good. That first season of high-concept thrills, strung around an enjoyable Southern Gothic murder-mystery, now seems like a lifetime ago. The show's since transmogrified into a blood-soaked supernatural soap that hates its human characters, and has no idea what to do with the paranormal ones. It's a narrative clusterfuck, too, with nothing to focus on or provide much-needed ballast. Entire sequences exist so that week's promo looks cool out of context. In this season's typically uneven premiere, True Blood performed its usual acrobatics of annulling plot-threads leftover from the previous year, putting others on a hasty back burner, and inching the remainder forward slightly. My faith in True Blood is non-existent now, so I can't even throw support behind the odd subplots that appear to have potential, because the writers are almost guaranteed to mess things up.
Tara (Rutina Wesley) has been blasted in the head with a shotgun, in front of a helpless Sookie (Anna Paquin), but rather than use this opportunity to dispose of a worthless character... dead Tara's instead "turned" into a vampire by cynical Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten), so her love-rival Sookie's indebted to her. Some may think it'll be interesting to see how Tara reacts to being the very thing she despises, but you already know exactly how hotheaded Tara will behave: annoyingly, with sass and swearing. Anyway, isn't this idea setup for exploration elsewhere, what with the return of anti-vampire religious zealot Reverend Newlin (Michael McMillian)? Or is he just going to spend the season making goo-goo eyes over hunky Jason (Ryan Kwanten) like a fanged sex pest?
Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) stripped to Victoria's Secret lingerie within a minute of her first appearance, which I'm not altogether complaining about, but considering it was a scene where she laid claim to Jason and ravished him... why, within a half hour of showtime, was Jessica suddenly giving Jason the cold shoulder during a house-party of friends she's never once mentioned before? Was it all a bizarre excuse to have Woll perform karaoke to "Cherry Bomb" on Band Hero? This is exactly the kind of schizophrenic writing that's spoiling True Blood, as writer Brian Buckner literally altered the Jason/Jessica dynamic in the blink of an eye, for no clear reason, beyond the fact the writers bore of their own ideas so quickly. Who knows if Newlin will even be back (and who really cares?), but please don't turn Jessica into a cock-teasing super-bitch. I'm starting to hate my favourite character.
Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bill (Stephen Moyer) were captured by representatives of the Vampire Authority and taken away in the trunk of a car to be given the "True Death", only to escape during transit. Then Eric discovered one of their kidnappers was his sister Nora (Lucy Griffiths), whom he has an apparently incestuous relationship with. (Although I prefer to think "sister" was meant platonically, mainly because Griffiths has zero similarities to Skarsgård —being a petite English brunette.) It transpires that Nora was about to rescue Eric and Bill anyway, by staging an ambush and shipping them overseas with fake IDs. Nora might have been an interesting addition to the show, with better writing, but unfortunately Griffiths was only really around for a sex scene in a shipping container (again, not complaining). Following on from Lara Pulver being similarly wasted on True Blood as a "fairy grandmother", just what is this show's beef with alums of Robin Hood?
It's hardly worth mentioning the human characters, who are now a minority breed. Remember when Bill arriving at Merlotte's was seen as an exotic situation in season 1? These days, half the damn town's population are vampires, shape-shifters, werewolves, were-panthers, witches, or whatever a brujo is. For what it's worth, Sheriff Andy (Chris Bauer) met his sleazy-looking girlfriend's teenage kids; Jessica's ex Hoyt (Jim Parrack) has new pals who delight in calling Jason a "girlfriend fucker" (such wit!); and waitress Arlene's (Carrie Preston) husband Terry (Todd Lowe) is keeping something secret about his war veteran friend. If you're in any way interested in these storylines, Lord have mercy.
Preston's agent also needs to find a contractual loophole so their client can leave this silly show and become a regular on The Good Wife, where she's considerably more enjoyable and appealing as an eccentric lawyer. Oh, and Sam's (Sam Trammell) still running headfirst into problems. The local wolf pack are still on his back, believing he killed their "pack-master" Marcus, while he covers for the real killer Alcide (Joe Manganiello). There's also the news that Russell Edgington's escaped from his cement pit, but will Denis O'Hare's eventual return be worth sticking around for? Even he couldn't salvage the third season he appeared in.
"Turn! Turn! Turn!" wasn't an unmitigated disaster, but it was ample proof True Blood's become anemic. The show once offered doses of crazy violence and memorable cliffhangers, but even those have turned stale and oddly predictable. It just feels contrived these days. Beyond the occasional snappy or droll line of dialogue (often from Pam), the writing isn't up to scratch anymore. Alan Ball appears trapped in a creative bubble, refusing to change what's patently wrong with his show, perhaps because he's only paying attention to the ratings (which remain strong). It's Glee all over again. I'm just surprised season 4's absurd "witches vs vampires" storyline didn't frustrated more of the hardcore audience, but maybe season 5 is where most folk will start to smell the rancid stink. The thing is, even if they do come to their senses and become more openly critical about the show's many failings, the fact Alan Ball's stepping down as showrunner will likely encourage everyone to champion True Blood into its sixth season, if only to see what changes take place without Ball steering the ship. It certainly can't get much worse, can it?
written by Brian Buckner / directed by Daniel Minahan / 10 June 2012 / HBO