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True Blood: The Complete First Season (2008)

HBO Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/19/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/19/2009

Unless you are completely ignorant about the entertainment industry, you know that horror is seen as the bastard stepchild of Hollywood. Horror movies are considered cheap and easy to make, and thus they get little respect. Despite the fact that most horror movies turn a profit (and therefore, studios have no problem bankrolling them), they aren't deemed worthy of the upper echelon's attention. Thus, when someone who is considered a heavy-hitter in show business decides to dip their toe into the horror pool, things can get iffy. Will they take it seriously? Will they shun the true horror aspect altogether and simply make a puff-piece? Or will the results be a mixed bag? The latter is the case with the HBO series True Blood, whose first season has just come to Blu-ray Disc.

True Blood is set in the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, and occurs in a world where vampires have decided to make their presence known. Thanks to a synthetic blood called "True Blood", vampires can now live in the open among humans without have to prey upon them. Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) works as a waitress at Merlotte's Bar and Grill. Sookie's life is fairly average, save for the fact that she's telepathic and can hear the thoughts of those around her. Because of this, she has always had trouble with romantic relationships. Her boss, Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell), is a nice guy who has a crush on Sookie. Sooke's best friend, Tara (Rutina Wesley), is well-known for her bad temper, which makes it all the harder for Sam to reluctantly hire her to bartend at Merlotte's. One night, a vampire, Bill (Stephen Moyer), comes into the restaurant. Sookie is instantly captivated by Bill -- not because he's a vampire, but because she can't read his mind. This intrigues her and a flirtation begins between them. Meanwhile, Sookie's dimwit brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten), has started the unfortunate habit of starting relationships with women who are soon found dead. As if that weren't bad enough, Jason gets mixed up with "V" -- the street name for vampire blood, which boosts a human's senses and abilities when ingested. Is a killer loose in Bon Temps? Is it a vampire? As Sookie gets closer to Bill, she learns that many of the myths and legends about the bloodsuckers simply aren't true and that Bill, who was alive during the Civil War, is a fascinating person. She also learns that she's falling in love with him.

True Blood comes from Alan Ball, the creator and executive producer of Six Feet Under and the writer of American Beauty. In addition to the award-winning Six Feet Under, Ball has written for other TV series as well, so he has many years experience in television. So, how did he let True Blood spin out of control like it did?

At the outset, the show is very promising. While it's not terribly original, it introduces us to some intriguing characters and the small-town Louisiana setting is somewhat different from what we are used to seeing in vampire stories. But, it's not too long before True Blood begins to spread itself too thin. Not unlike Heroes, the show introduces far too many characters and ideas and it then begins to separate its characters, destroying any dynamic which has been created. By attempting to focus on too many characters and subplots at once, True Blood soon loses sight of what it was meant to be. There were several points where I paraphrased Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park by saying, "Are there going to be any vampires in your vampire show?" The thing which really bothered me was the fact that the show only focuses on the search for the killer when it's convenient for the show. Otherwise, I was simply yelling at the TV, "Why isn't anyone looking for the murderer?" The show also falls back onto stereotypes too often. Oh, what's this, goth vampires who think that they are bad-asses? Wow, I've never seen that before.

True Blood is a frustrating show because for everything that it does right, it does two things wrong. However, when the show can remained focused, especially on the relationship between Sookie and Bill, it's very intriguing. Unlike his violent brethren, Bill is a genteel Southern gentleman. Not only is Sookie thrown by the fact that he's a vampire, but by his demeanor as well. Some of the other characters and their situations are also interesting, but the show also runs some things into the ground, such as Jason's stupidity. I did like how the show used vampirism and the use of "V" to explore themes of sexuality and addiction, although by the end of the season, we've been hammered over the head with these ideas.

It's ambitious for HBO to air a show like this, but perhaps Alan Ball didn't know what he was getting into. Based on a series of novels by Charlaine Harris, True Blood falls somewhere between Interview with a Vampire and Twilight. It focuses on relationships, but it also contains some classic horror ideas. The show doesn't seem to know how to balance these separate pieces and the result is something which is well-made, well-acted, often interesting, but equally frustrating.

True Blood: The Complete First Season forsakes blood on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of HBO Home Video. The five disc set contains all 12 episodes of Season One. The episodes have been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Discs contain an AVC 1080p transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image varies throughout the season. While all of the episodes are sharp and clear, the first few are notably grainy. For some reason, this clears up after a while. The colors are very good, especially reds and greens, and the image is never too bright or dark. When it comes to Blu-ray Disc, there are several factors one can use to measure the quality of the video and here, it's the level of detail. We can see every blemish on the actors' faces, to a point that it's distracting at times. (Couldn't they get some ProActiv on the set?) The Discs carry a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.2 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are very good, most notably those which take place outside in the forest. These effects are nicely detailed and show good separation. The surround effects are good as well, and the rear-speaker action enhances many scenes. I didn't note an overabundance of subwoofer effects, but the action scenes provide some nice ones.

The True Blood: The Complete First Season set is short on extras. Each episode has "Enhanced Viewing" which is, as far as I can tell, is mostly Lafayette commenting on the show. There are also tidbits from the show, such as commercials and maps, but they are few and far between. Other than that, the only extras are AUDIO COMMENTARIES -- Disc 1: Commentary on Episode 1 "Strange Love" by Executive Producer/Series Creator Alan Ball; Commenatry on Episode 2 "The First Taste" by Actor Anna Paquin and Director Scott Winant; Disc 2: Commentary on Episode 4 "Escape from Dragon House" by Writer Brian Buckner and Director Michael Lehmann; Disc 3: Commentary on Episode 5 "Sparks Fly Out" by Actor Stephen Moyer and Director Dan Minahan;
Commenatry on Episode 7 "Burning House of Love" by Director Marcos Siega; Disc 5: Commentary on Episode 11 "To Love it to Bury" by Writer/Director Nancy Oliver.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long