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'True' Crimes: How 'True Blood' Lost Its Bite

by Maureen Ryan, posted Sep 3rd 2010 1:00PM
I'm still watching 'True Blood,' and I'll grimly hang on until the Sept. 12 season finale of the HBO show, but what happened to this once-fun drama? What used to be a romp has turned into a forced march.

'True Blood' is supposed to be our slightly loony summer escape; if the show has a theme, it's this: "Crazy stuff happens in the woods around Bon Temps!" But this season, the show has often been short on the things that made it so addictive in the past.

There have been a few bright spots: Denis O'Hare as Vampire King Russell has been a delight, some of the werewolf moments were memorable, scenes involving Eric are usually good and Lafayette and Jesus' courtship has had its share of sweet moments. But much of the show has been as messy as the remains of a recently staked vamp, and nothing in season 3 has even begun to approach the pathos and impact of season 2's Godric arc.

Let me make it clear that I don't care if 'True Blood' creator Alan Ball is diverging or remaining true to the novels by Charlaine Harris on which the television show is based. All I need 'True Blood' to do is supply a coherent and enjoyable television narrative about people who are at least moderately interesting in some way. Much of the middle of the season, however, has simply been tedious.

Here's are six reasons why:

There are way too many characters.
'True Blood' already had a lot of characters, but in season 3, it introduced several thousand more. Well, OK, not thousands, but the cast list sometimes reads like the Screen Actors Guild membership roster. There's little chance to get to know new people or spend quality time with existing Bon Temps residents when the show is trying to service so many characters, and it's clear that the overpopulation of 'True Blood' has reached the point of diminishing returns.

The plots are all over the map. Last season packed a whole lot of crazy into every episode, but the stories began unifying around Marianne by the season's midpoint. In this diffuse and overly busy season, storylines are picked up and dropped so rapidly that it's hard to get invested in anything. Hoyt (Jim Parrack) and Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) are two of my favorite characters, but they've been shoved into the margins to give other stories -- some of which are downright pointless -- screen time. And it looks like we have to add 'True Blood' to the list of shows that have criminally underused Alfre Woodard, who, all to briefly, played Lafayette's mother. All in all, as season 3's Bon Tempocalypse approaches, many characters are off in their own storylines and hardly ever interact anymore. It's frustrating.

If everyone is special, then no one is special.
The show "teased" us for several episodes by making us wonder what was up with Crystal (Lindsay Pulsipher). Well, why would we wonder when it was perfectly obvious that, like everyone else on the show, she had a special power or ability? 'True Blood' is starting to the mistakes that 'Heroes' made -- overstuffing the show with tons of "special" people and not doing the kind of character development that would make us care about those people or their abilities (Alcide was an exception -- who doesn't love Alcide? But he's gone now.). Besides, there's precious little of 'True Blood' that is grounded in everyday reality anymore. When's the last time Sookie (Anna Paquin) waited on someone at Merlotte's?

Where's the funny?
It makes sense that Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten) would experience emotional fallout from killing Eggs, but he's been so morose for so long that I very much miss his hilarious one-liners. I'm not looking for a laugh riot, but the show as a whole has delivered less cheeky, subversive humor. I know I'm not going to get 'Masterpiece Theater' here, is it so wrong to want the occasional laugh instead? Bill (Stephen Moyer) can actually be hilariously deadpan at times, the show should take more advantage of that.

Characters who have been hit with the stupid stick too many times. I nominate Tara Thornton's entire season 3 arc as the Dumbest Storyline of the Year. So she was dominated by a weird and powerful being last year, and then this year -- well, more or less the same thing happened. The repetitive Tara (Rutina Wesley) and Franklin (an overly hammy James Frain) melodrama was incredibly overwrought and annoying, and it reduced a once-sparky character to victim status -- again. And that's not the only time that characters have done in dumb things for dumb reasons in order to keep certain story lines lurching forward.

Plot turns that make little sense.
Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) is a killer and a mean drunk? What? I'm not categorically against shows making hard left turns with characters, but they have to be carefully set up and earned. With Sam, we got a whole lot of his annoying family for half a season, and then suddenly we find out that he's got an eeeevil side. Well, great, there was one person in Bon Temps who appeared to be sane and good. Now, not so much.

Will I give up on 'True Blood'? No, I'll likely return for more next season. But if season 4 is anything like season 3, I'll cut my losses early if it appears that the world of Sookie Stackhouse is still so overstuffed and underdeveloped.

@moryan on Twitter]

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Cindy C

The problem is he added to many different characters from later books. Sookie does not find out she is fae until the 8th book--so it kinda ruins it because that was a big part of the series of books. There was no Lafayette as he died--but I like the character in the show so glad he stayed--but the whole Jesus storyline is stupid. Franklin Mott in the books was a decent person and took care of Tara--it didn't turn bad for her until like the 5th book when she was given to Mickey-and Alcide continues throughout the entire series of books--if they do the next season right it is where Eric loses his memory and him and Sookie do the nasty--which is an excellent book--also they did not follow the Jason storyline line when he meets Hot Shot folks who are all inbred panthers and Jason is turned into one--this arc in the show was just plain stupid and Crystal is plain where in the book she is pretty--and there is no such line in book for the Sam--throughout the books Sam is such a decent stable person and to make him the way he is---it isn't Sam--everyone actually roots for Sookie and Sam to end up together---there are still 3 more books to be written so hopefully there will be a good ending for them. Alan Ball just tries to throw too many areas of too many books together and it does not make a cohesive element--Talbot was not even a vampire in the book...he needs to stick much closer to the books than his own fantasy--even I who have been obsessed with the books and series---this year has made me lose the want to see it next only--only the fact that I have read the 4th book makes me want to see if it is even close---I was really disappointed in the ending this yeaar.

September 15 2010 at 1:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think True Blood needs to add a little more mystery and suspense like in season 1 when we didn't know who the killer was. I still like the show but I agree with you on some things. We do need Sookie grounded a bit more in reality but now that she is a fairy I guess that may not be happening.

I disagree with posters' view on Sam's storyline. I think it was very revealing that Sam was not always a nice guy. This season shows that he sometimes struggles with his dark side.

This is not too much different from Bill. He was a vicious killer under Lorena but he began to dislike what he had become and changed his ways.

September 15 2010 at 11:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't get all of the Mary-Ann and Tara hate here? I found MaryAnne fun and she absolutely made last season great. It was just the right amount of camp and Michelle Forbes played it beautifully. That element of fun and intrigue is what has been missing this season. And as for Tara, she's an interesting character, despite her dire circumstances for most of this season. I look forward to seeing where she goes from here.

September 14 2010 at 3:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love the show and will continue to watch...if only till i get bored with it. But i have to agree about season 3. Its started off great..i got well into it, however toward the middle and to the end it got a bit...silly and ...not sure how to say this but..over played maybe? Sookie was great as the ditzy blonde in the begining, but now shes a kick-ass super freak with speacial powers that turned out to be ...fairey? how corny is that? Even she herself said...how fcking lame is that? I agree with her. no i miss the first season with mystery and unknown. It needs a bit less corny sub plots.

September 14 2010 at 9:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow, you're edgy. Usually the inevitable, and at times ridiculous, backlash comes along with the fourth season. But look at you, you're way more advanced than us, you hate the show already.

September 10 2010 at 10:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Craig Ranapia

Another reason: The only woman of colour in the regular cast spends two seasons constantly being sexually, physically and psychologically abused. And just to add insult to injury, she tells us every other peisode how she really deserves it. WTF, Ball?

September 09 2010 at 3:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Season 2 had similar problems - whenever Sookie's story is separate from the other characters, things really drag for me. I loved Michelle Forbes performance, but the Mary Ann story dragged on way too long last season.

The Sam story arc is boring. His family members are all unlikeable, so I just fast forward through those bits. The Russell/Mississippi story though has been great, due to the performances for Russell, Talbot, Eric, Bill, Pam, and Sookie.

Tara and Franklin were both hilarious and horrifying. But Tara's character has been decimated by the repeated beatings - girlfriend needs a win and to get over the victim role she's been stuck with for most of the series. Jason's character has been written all over the map this season. They should have stuck with the becoming a cop/Eggs guilt part and introduced the Crystal Meth Panther/Abusing Cop Job for later. They seem to be rushing to introduce too many story lines just so each character gets screen time every week.

At least in season 2, we knew Sookie and Bill would eventually return to Bon Temps to deal with Mary Ann in her house. But there are so many disparate storylines, why would Bill or Sookie even get involved with the resolving the crystal meth ring, or Sam's brother, or Arlene's baby? The stories aren't converging around Sookie which is when these support characters work best for me.

I do agree that some people need to be just regular crazy humans. The Lafayette-may-have powers now seems like an overreach. I believe Alfre Woodard's committed to Memphis Beat and that makes it difficult to schedule her (Nelsan Ellis said this at DragonCon this weekend.)

September 07 2010 at 7:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Wendy's comment
Craig Ranapia

@Wendy: I didn't know that about Woodard -- I just wish they'd made better use of (IMO) one of the best actresses around when they have her.

September 09 2010 at 3:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Pretty much completely agree. Also, I'm starting to get a little annoyed / repulsed with the way this series is treating its female characters. Tara Is Punished For Promiscuity is threatening to become a nasty little recurring theme, as are Abused Women Returning To Their Abusers (just off the top of my head, Crystal and her family, Sookie and Bill, Sam's mum and dad).

September 07 2010 at 7:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They can't get back to the books at this point! they have deviated so far away from the original storylines of the characters that there is no hope. It is a shame that they have destroyed a great story. I think part of the problem is that they are trying to be too cheap in their production costs to do anything right.

September 07 2010 at 4:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The show just keeps getting more bizarre and less interesting! OK, I am getting over the idea that the series has so little in common with a fantastic series of books (I still don't understand how any writer can let them do that to their work, but that is her issue not ours) but why can't they at least plot out in advance what direction they are headed in? It feels like they are just throwing in new junk at every turn and no one knows where it is going!

September 07 2010 at 3:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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