'True Blood' weekends: 'In stock and overpriced at your neighborhood health food store'
So, "True Blood" fans. Did you enjoy your long weekend without the show? Were you able to take in a Labor Day parade or have one last, lazy day of summer ... or did you wake up Monday morning twitching from withdrawal? I get why HBO takes this holiday weekend off every year, but it increasingly seems silly, what with DVRs and midweek repeats and such. It breaks the season up just when it needs momentum the most, and it leaves everyone hanging so long that it's easy to forget just why everything was so compelling in the first place. Hey, AMC aired both of its shows last Sunday, and it didn't seem to suffer too much ratings-wise. Maybe HBO should think about doing the same next year.
But now we're right up against the big season finale, and there's plenty of discussion out there about whether or not the show has been successful in its third season. I gave my take right after the episode aired -- the short of it is that I've liked the main plots quite a bit, but I've found all of the supporting plots pretty tough to sit through -- but you guys were pretty well split over whether the season has worked. Some agreed with me, but some thought that the sheer number of story lines fed into one another so well that they kept driving the momentum into crazier and crazier places. I can see that point of view, I suppose, but I still think way too much of what happened this season was, frankly, boring.
Things became even clearer to me after watching the season premiere of "The Vampire Diaries" on Thursday. I don't want to say "Vampire Diaries" is better than this show -- on the levels of writing, directing, and acting, "True Blood" is clearly better -- but it does have a real sense of how to pace its story line and how to space out its revelations. Furthermore, that series finds a way to incorporate much of its useless supporting cast into the same story line or into the main story line in a way that "True Blood" just hasn't done for its (much better) supporting cast this season. And if a character isn't working -- or even if a character is working, and it will be worth the shock -- "Vampire Diaries" has no fear about just killing one of them off. Honestly, "True Blood" could stand to thin its ensemble just a bit, and if nothing else, I'd like for the finale to get rid of one or two characters who are mostly just taking up space, much as I like all of the actors playing them.
And now that I've ignited a battle to the death between fans of both shows in comments, it's time to find out what all of you thought way back in the Pleistocene era when this episode aired.
Many of you jumped to point out that the series has largely departed from Charlaine Harris' books over the last few years. I guess I wasn't making my point of view clear enough -- I figured that was more or less the case without having read the books. If Harris wrote books as long and meandering as this season has been, she wouldn't be a bestseller. (Say what you will about the publishing industry, but particularly in the genre fields, it's less friendly to shaggy plotting than TV tends to be.) Can you imagine Season 3 ever working as a book? I can't. It would require too many tangents into story lines that have nothing to do with anything. Whatever climax the show is building toward, it's only slowly rolling in that direction because it keeps getting distracted. For a horror-romance like the books "True Blood" is based on, pacing is lifeblood, and I can't imagine Harris doing something this lackadaisical.
Book and Show Fan gets at the irritation some book fans have felt with this season about as well as anyone could:
"The problem this season is that the show has made up story lines just to give their large cast something to do. You mentioned the books, so I'm going there. The entire Sam's storyline, more than half of Tara's storyline, Jason shooting Eggs/wanting to be a cop/high school football player storyline, Arlene being pregnant storyline, and Jesus storyline are all inventions of the show. I'm NOT a bookie fanatic at all. I love many of the unique story lines that the TB writers have created. I love Jessica and Lafayette. Godric being Eric's maker storyline was original to the show and it was the best part of last season. Eric's revenge against Russell storyline is original to the show and is the best part of this season. But I think the problem is that the writers are giving characters that were minor characters in the books and that are not very interesting a lot of screen time. I've loved this season and have anxiously awaited every episode, but I wonder how this season will hold up once it is all over."
Markus H. takes the writers to task a little more sternly:
"The hubris on 'True Blood' is true 'Hollywood' -- i.e., egos who think they know how to write better than Charlaine Harris. Not an encouraging sign. The Charlaine Harris-based storylines (Dallas, Mississippi) always, ALWAYS, stand head and shoulders above the invented plotlines (Sam/Tara/Jason, etc.) and for the life of me I can't figure out why Alan Ball either agrees with this approach or simply can't see that the invented stuff on 'True Blood' is a pale imitation of Ms. Harris' real gothic writing. Take the 'scheme' (and I use the term ever so loosely) for killing Russell. Really, Eric? That's it? Using the carrot stick of daywalking to lure Russell out into the open? Yawn. I feel cheated. After such an excellent build-up of Russell as an almost indestructible entity, I expected no less than an 'Ocean's 11'-style elaborate team effort to trick and destroy him. But no, here, have some fairy blood, you'll be able to walk in the day. Ugh. I've yet to be inducted into vampire-dom myself, but the FIRST thing I would be is suspicious if somebody were to try to lure me into the daylight. Surely a 3,000-year-old one would be even smarter than me and know immediately that it was a hoax. VanDerWerff's right -- this HAS been both the best and worst season of 'True Blood.'"
I'll give KarenJ the last word on this:
"All these side plots are just a distraction it seems. On my cable guide for the last two episodes there were SIX plot points mentioned in the preview for that week's show. SIX!! That's ridiculous... and the six weren't even all of them. Normally, when a story goes from book(s) to film, the plots are 'paired down'. This season seems to have done the opposite. Probably not... but the season has certainly been disjointed and watches as 'half I care - half I don't.'"
Meanwhile, a couple of this blog's readers want to talk about how "True Blood" plays with traditional TV structure (a subject critic Jaime Weinman tackles in relation to this show and HBO's upcoming "Boardwalk Empire"). Ira is a graduate screenwriter, and I think he's onto something here:
"In the end of the first two seasons, there were stories introduced that set up the next season. Miss Jeneatte made sense in the context of season one, but also set up the MaryAnn story. The Queen made sense for season two, but set up the Russell story. But these stories that are being set up for future seasons aren't doing that. In fact, the show is written more in the model of a daytime show, where it has nothing in common with a traditional TV episode where a specific story is set up and resolved by the end of the hour. I'm not just talking procedurals, even shows like 'Breaking Bad' or 'Damages' have something introduced dramatically that is resolved in some way at the end of the hour. Because it's set up as a weekly TV show. But this season, 'True Blood' has evolved into some weird daytime hybrid where anything that happens in an episode doesn't seem to have been necessarily thought up for that episode. It's as if the storylines have been plotted out for season three, then just placed in a line and a couple beats from each storyline take place in each episode.
"Sure, there are some ups and downs in the stories, but I think the show would operate the exact same way if season finales and premieres were taken out of the equation. Would 'True Blood' be any different if it aired every week, without breaks? Even the cliffhangers that happen at the end of each season get picked up in the premiere, the only time that we get real time passage is in the finale after the big climax, then it's business as usual. I feel like if the show had no seasons and aired non-stop, those time passage episodes would just get stretched out a bit more."
And B-Me makes many of the same points as Weinman:
"I've said this before, in other forums, and I'll say it again; Alan Ball must be a fan of daytime soap operas because he is writing 'True Blood' like a soap opera. Don't get me wrong, I love 'True Blood' and I also love the soaps and had watched them for many years but no longer (too busy). In soaps, due to the large ensemble cast, they had 6-7 plot-lines going at the same time. Some plot-lines were related to the others and then there were the plot-lines way out in left field. One main difference is that the soaps air five days a week throughout the year, while 'True Blood' only airs 12 episodes a year. Due to this, the overall story arc has been fantastic however, the weaker plot-lines are glaringly apparent. I would love to see the season have 24 episodes (like on the regular networks) and I would also like better weaving of the subplots into the main story arc."
Finally, if you're interested in the differences between books and show, Mel C posts a fairly exhaustive list at the end of Page 1 of the comments section on last week's post. It certainly helped me see just how far the show's producers have deviated from the basic setup Harris gave them. This is not necessarily better or worse -- a TV show has to be its own thing -- but it does seem that the general thesis that the producers constantly have to toss material to a far larger cast than Harris ever did is correct. And in trying to give all of those characters material, they've lost some of what makes the show so charming, which is the universe that Harris created for her books.
That said, I'm hopeful the team will pull it all together for the finale. And even if it doesn't, this season has had enough awesome moments to make it work for me. If you need to get in touch before the finale, please drop me a line in comments or via Twitter or e-mail, and I'll see you all to learn just how Eric and Russell survived direct sunlight (because you know they're going to).
--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)
Photo: We hope this photo of Sookie (Anna Paquin) from the finale doesn't spoil any major plot points for you. At some point, Sookie is going to reach toward something with a hopeful look in her eyes. Great. Now we've ruined it. (Credit: HBO)