I've been a fan of HBO originals ever since Tony Soprano first waddled his lovable yet homicidal self into Dr. Melfi's office, but of late the premium cable network has struggled to maintain its audience. The loss of shows like The Sopranos and Sex in the City, as well as their replacement by shows that--despite a continued excellence in quality--failed to connect with a large enough audience (Deadwood, Rome, etc.) seem to have signaled the end of HBO's "golden era".
But Alan Ball's newest creation, True Blood, would appear to be bucking that trend. The brainchild of the same man who also gave HBO the superb Six Feet Under, the X-Men-like tale of vampires and humans struggling to live together in an alternate reality America has touched off a spark with a segment of the viewing audience, and I, for one, can see why.
I've recently been putting out a multi-part series on the history of horror on television, and this has led me to the conclusion that the TV version of the genre has definitely seen better days. This is only reinforced by the fact that the last horror show to hit the airwaves, the anthology series Fear Itself, is a colossal stinker which won't even be returning next season. So there wasn't a lot of prestige to the genre left when Ball was developing his new project. Yet through quality writing, interesting execution and a refreshing respect for the vampire mythos, Ball has managed to pull off a moderate success.
I say moderate because it isn't the barnburner that shows like Oz, and currently Entourage have been for HBO. But it is generating a buzz, with interest increasing with each passing episode. I can tell you from experience, as traffic to The Vault of Horror increases dramatically every Sunday night/Monday morning following a new episode, based off just a couple of posts I have written on the show (What? How dare you accuse me of shameless SEO tactics by writing another True Blood post. That really hurts.) No doubt due in no small part to the phenomenon of Stephenie Meyers' Twilight, vampires are cool again, and True Blood is riding that wave. It was already renewed for a second season after only three episodes.
While not at the level of Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Rome or Deadwood, I have been greatly enjoying True Blood. As horror goes, it's certainly TV's finest offering in years. The always-great Anna Paquin is suited perfectly to the lead role of Sookie, the small-town Louisiana telepath who falls for Bill, the show's lead bloodsucker, as played by charismatic English actor Stephen Moyer. Ball and his writers have injected the show with enough original concepts, such as Sookie's abilities and her boss' recently revealed shapeshifter status, to keep the show fresh and free of vampire cliche.
That said, it's not without flaw. Yes, a lot of this territory was mined thoroughly by Anne Rice decades ago. And I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out exactly what the meandering story arc of Sookie's best friend Tara has to do with anything else on the show. Nevertheless, True Blood has earned a solid spot on my weekly must-see list. If you've despaired of the state of horror on TV, give it a shot.