Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4 stars
Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
3.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
4 Stars
HD Audio Quality
5 Stars
Supplements
3 Stars
High-Def Extras
2.5 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

True Blood: The Complete Second Season

Street Date:
May 25th, 2010
Reviewed by:
Drew Taylor
Review Date: 1
May 25th, 2010
Movie Release Year:
2009
Studio:
HBO
Length:
0 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Unrated
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

In the midst of the current mass vampire hysteria (The 'Twilight' series storming book stores and movie theaters, 'The Vampire Diaries' on TV, and other things I'm not hip or young enough to understand), nothing quite brings the heat like the HBO original series 'True Blood' (based on the Southern Vampire novels by Charlaine Harris).

The first season of the series (which was developed by 'Six Feet Under' creator Alan Ball), focused on heroic, telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) and her romance with vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer), the first vampire to walk into Bon Temps, Louisiana. This central romance might have been the heart of the first season, but surrounding it was a myriad of vicious and bizarre subplots, among them a serial killer targeting those close to Sookie and her brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) including, tragically, her adorable grandmother, and the inner lives of the people who work at Merlotte's restaurant. This includes Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell), a man who can shapeshift, and Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) who sells vampire blood on the side.

One of the things that made the first season of 'True Blood' such a kicky joy was that it really, fully embraced the sexual metaphor of vampirism (in the opening credits, a sign reads: "God hates fangs") and, with the freedom allowed by the censor-free HBO, fully indulged those metaphors. It was a one stop shop for every hoary Southern Gothic cliché you could imagine, from lingering views of hanging Spanish moss, to chest-beating rednecks, to sweat that dewily covered every inch of skin (and, in 'True Blood' that's often a lot of skin!)

It also didn’t hurt that the cast was so committed to the material, no matter how dippy or strange it got. Anna Paquin, as the flowery Sookie, showed just the right amount of vulnerability and inner strength and the first season was almost completely about her internal struggle to keep it together in a storm of madness. The supporting cast was excellent too, not just the names I've mentioned , but smaller roles like Lizzy Caplan as one of Jason's many doomed partners and the substantial role of Rutina Wesley as Tara Thornton, Lafayette's cousin and Sookie's BFF and coworker at Merlotte's. Seeing how obviously Tennessee Williams-influenced this thing is, there were a whole lot of hook-ups and break-ups in Bon Temps. And each one was more delicious than the last.

With the second season of 'True Blood,' the show got even crazier. And while it was still majorly enjoyable, the second season was more scattershot, less focused, and ultimately less rewarding on a base emotional level. It may have been the classic sophomore slump, but it was still a lot of fun, and trailers for the upcoming third season seem to show it back on track.

The chief problem with the second season is that it breaks our main characters up into two competing arcs, one in Bon Temps and the other in Dallas, Texas. That's where two major story elements develop. The first has Jason, Sookie's goofy brother, joining the Fellowship of the Sun, a zealous Christian organization fighting for the extermination of the vampire race and who have held captive a very powerful old vampire Godric (Allan Hyde). That brings in the second Dallas-centric plot of Sookie being forced to help some other vampires (among them Alexander Skarsgard as Norse vampire Eric) find Godric and free him. Meanwhile, back in Bon Temps… Tara has fallen under the spell of witchy woman Maryann Forrester (television regular Michelle Forbes) who has a connection to Sam and maybe to a mystery beast that's been attacking folks in Bon Temps. Also, vampire Bill has a young protégé in the form of Jessica (Deborah Ann Wolf), a teenage girl he turned into a vampire in season one. Yes, it's a whole lot of "stuff," but none of it resonates like the simple and emotionally engaging core of season one.

There are other problems with season two as well – for all the examples of her pagan power, we're never really sure what Maryann is and why her powers make everyone in Bon Temps want to join a giant orgy. Also filed under the 'unexplained phenomenon' heading are Sookie's new powers (electrical sparks dance from her fingertips). This is a key betrayal of the character. What made her so relatable and fun was the fact that she was so human in a cast full of fantastical characters. (Yes, she had psychic powers but that somehow made her MORE human.) Giving her some crazy lightning powers or making her 'less human' will also lessen the emotional connection we have to her and dilute some of the fun.

All that said, I still tuned into 'True Blood' week in and week out. For sheer insanity alone, there's no better television show currently running. And if you want some richer, metaphoric stuff, you can probably get that too. If you're a sucker for the reserved housewife longings of the 'Twilight' series, well, 'True Blood' may be a little too hardcore for you – too violent, too sexy, too fun. For everyone else, drink up!

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

Each of the five 50GB Blu-ray discs goes straight to the menu, which looks a whole lot like the menu from the first season set. The set is region free and housed in a hearty cardboard box with interior packaging that folds out, revealing each disc (it's sort of annoying, honestly – there's a reason few television shows are still produced this way).

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

The second season set of 'True Blood' comes with a robust 1080p AVC MPEG-4 transfer (aspect ratio: 1.78:1).

Obviously, much of 'True Blood' takes place under the cover of night (or at least in extreme shadow) and so a chief concern of this transfer is the black levels. Thankfully, they're rather deep and inky and the shadows, while occasionally crushed, look great and maintain the overall, grimy look of the show.

Elsewhere, skin tones look good (even those that are meant to look milky pale), colors (like, say, a geyser of red blood) pop, and the immaculate detail of the production design (from the synthetic kitsch of the vampire bar to the earthiness of a pagan statue) really shines through. The sensation of 'True Blood' is one of deep South stickiness and often complete clarity isn't the show's chief concern – there's a fair amount of gain and often the picture will take on a gauzy, hallucinogenic edge, especially whenever Maryann unleashes some of her ungodly hoodoo voodoo.

The transfer is mostly glitch-free, although there are some banding issues that pop up from time to time. But really, this is the only thing I could fault this otherwise exemplary transfer for.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Just as good as the transfer is the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track on each disc.

From the theme song (Jace Everett's nefariously catchy "Bad Things") on, you'll be blown away by the audio presentation. When things get loud (like when a roaring beast shows up), they get really, impeccably loud – but never overwhelmingly so. Similarly, the Tennessee Williams-by-way-of-Ann Rice dialogue is crisp and clear and well prioritized (mostly front-and-center).

But 'True Blood' is all about atmosphere, and this audio mix provides this marvelously. You can practically hear the Spanish moss swaying outside your window, even if you live in Southern Connecticut. When the atmosphere becomes deeper and more dimensional, like during one of Maryann's outdoor orgies, then things become really lively, but never overbearingly so. You can still make out everything that's going on, but with a more immersive sound field at work.

Directionality is good, the surround speakers are constantly used, and there aren't any glitchy technical bugs (pops or the like) to bring this mix down at all. It's more or less a peerless audio presentation – and for a television series no less! Exceptionally well done.

There are also French DTS 5.1 and Spanish DTS 2.0 tracks as well as subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

There's are a fair number of extras on the discs, but not an overwhelming amount. There are a couple of HD-exclusives, too. But I just want to take a moment to applaud the interface of the discs. For each episode you're given the option of watching the recap of the previous episodes, the episode preview (presumably the one that ran on HBO), which is helpful if you're confused as to whether or not you've seen the episode, as well as the preview of the following episode. And from the main episode selection menu you can select whether or not you want to view the episode with the commentary or enhanced viewing option. It's an incredibly slick, streamlined, and intuitive design and HBO deserves mad props for it. So, there you go HBO: mad props.

  • Audio Commentaries There are seven commentary tracks (on discs 1, 3, 4, and 5) and they are all worthy of your time and attention. Usually there are a pair of commentators, for instance on the season finale "Beyond Here Lies Nothin" you get the choice of a commentary with principle actors Anna Paquin and Michelle Forbes and another one with director Michael Cuesta and writer Alexander Woo (both creative holdovers from season one). You get different things from each commentary track (the actors are more jokey and fun) but they're both worth listening too, because you get different sides of the experience. Another really great track is the one on season two highlight "Timebomb" with vampires Stephen Moyer and Alexander Skarsgard talking to the episode's director John Dahl, who happens to be an unheralded director of American film noir classics 'Red Rock West,' 'The Last Seduction' and 'Joy Ride.' He may be slumming it, but we're all the better for it.
  • The Vampire Report: Special Edition (HD, 23:50) This is a jokey vampire news program, which gets old pretty fast (although there is a funny spoof of 'Twilight'). It's worth watching for a few minutes, but sitting through the whole thing may be an endurance test. And this is coming from a 'True Blood' fanatic.
  • Fellowship of the Sun: Reflections of Light (HD, 12:14) This is another in-character thing, except this one hosted by the nasty Fellowship of the Sun church leaders. What's really funny is that you can tell that this was shot far away from the filming of the second season, since the hair of Reverend Newlin (Michael McMillian) is noticeably longer and therefore way more goofy looking. This is far more palpable than the vampire news thing and worth watching for a chuckle or two.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

When you slide in disc 5 you get the message that "With the True Blood live feed you can link this Blu-ray directly to your Twitter and Facebook account," but I could never figure out quite how to do this. I assume this is part of some BD-Live content that is to follow.

  • Enhanced Viewing Option This is a fun little feature. It basically consists of two main features: one are these in-character videos that pop up, with 'True Blood' characters either indulging in biographical details or commenting on the events of the season. Cute. The second thing is a text block that pops up, offering behind the scenes details. Other features that make themselves known are "Flash backs" to season one, which is kind of cool, "Flash Forward" dissections of season two events, and "Pro- and Anti-Vampire News Feeds" which is more along the lines of that fake vampire show elsewhere in the features, which is at turns grating and endearing. Overall, this is one of the better "Enhanced Viewing" modes I've witnessed on a Blu-ray disc. Very well done and worth your time.
  • Character Perspectives (HD, 122:14) This is the "character perspective" stuff from the Enhanced Viewing Option on its own. I'd say skip watching these on their own, they work much better in the body of the Enhanced Viewing experience.

Final Thoughts

I am a diehard 'True Blood' fan, but even I can recognize that the second season was a little wobbly. That said, this is an exemplary presentation in terms of audio and video, with a host of worthwhile special features. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's one of the best television-on-Blu-ray sets that I've had the pleasure of viewing. If you like your vampires with a little more bite than, say, the preening, wimpy bloodsuckers of 'Twilight,' then by all means pick up this new set. It's worth staying up all night for! :[

Technical Specs

  • 5 BD-50 Blu-ray Discs

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.78:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
  • French DTS 5.1
  • Spanish DTS 2.0

Subtitles/Captions

  • English
  • English SDH
  • French
  • Spanish
  • Portugese
  • Dutch

Supplements

  • The Vampire Report: Special Edition
  • Fellowship of the Sun: Reflections of Light
  • 7 Commentary Tracks with Cast and Crew

Exclusive HD Content

  • True Blood Enhanced Viewing (all 12 episodes)
  • Character Perspectives
  • BD-Live (maybe?)

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