Watching the HBO original series 'True Blood' is like catching an all-night marathon of Tennessee Williams plays, except that while the director was working out his adaptations, he was openly inspired by his subscription to Hustler magazine and late night, B-grade horror movies (the kind that used to be hosted by adults dressed up like ghouls).
Literally, every Southern gothic cliché is present and accounted for, as if they're being checked off a very long list (lilting southern drawls, hanging Spanish moss, a gay short order cook, a sassy best friend, a delinquent Cajun). About halfway through the first season's twelve episodes, I thought to myself, "Gee, it's kind of strange that this show is set in Louisiana, has all sorts of supernatural stuff going on, and yet there hasn't been one voodoo exorcism." And then, as if my prayers had been answered, not one but two voodoo exorcisms soon took place before the first season's finale. Hallelujah.
So, yes, 'True Blood' is a whole lot of down-and-dirty fun.
The series was developed by 'Six Feet Under' creator Alan Ball, based on the "Southern Vampire" series of novels by Charlaine Harris. The plot centers around Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin, adorable), a telepathic waitress at a dive bar in swampy rural Louisiana. She's got a brother, chronic womanizer Jason (Ryan Kwanten), an opinionated best friend Tara (Rutina Wesley), a mysterious boss (Sam Trammell) and a crush on a vampire, the 175 year-old former Confederate soldier Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer). So, as you can imagine, Sookie's life is complicated. And that's before you factor in the serial killer who seems to be targeting people close to Sookie (which helpfully sets up her dimwitted brother to take the fall).
As you can imagine from the description above, the series milks these situations for all they're worth. The show takes place in a world where vampires have come "out of the coffin" and are a nationally recognized minority. There's even a synthetic blood, made in Japan, called Tru Blood. The tone oscillates between camp and scary, with a healthy dose of blood, gore, and bare breasts thrown in for good measure.
All in all, 'True Blood' is a whole lot of fun, if you just let yourself go. It's a guilty pleasure for sure. These episodes aren't crafted with a whole lot of grace, but it doesn't matter! I did a marathon of the first season over a long weekend, and I had a blast. Once this thing gets rolling, it's pretty much unstoppable. The cast is uniformly superb, striking just the right tonal balance. As far as tough, loveable heroines go, Anna Paquin is truly outstanding. The series is shot beautifully, too, with every scene oozing atmosphere, warmth, or dread.
For those HBO junkies bemoaning the loss of the network's sexy single women, Italian gangsters, and Baltimore thugs, well, you should pick this one up without hesitation. It's smart, sophisticated, sexy, and scary. What more could you want?
One of the greatest things about 'True Blood' is the fact that it occasionally looks really crummy. This isn't a bad thing, but sometimes, with the reduced lighting, the backwoods locations, and all that sweat, it can look like you're watching a beat-up VHS copy of an illegal snuff film. Thankfully, the Blu-ray has kept up with this level of earthy grime while presenting a truly breathtaking transfer.
The 1080p/AVC-encoded 1.78:1 transfer is a stunner, one that retains most of the grain, which adds a lot to the overall look of the series but doesn't dilute any of the specifics. You get the best of both worlds. Textures are well defined, skin tones are spot on. Black levels remain deep and dark. Edges are sharp without enhancements. And most importantly, reds really pop (sometimes literally, as with the geysers of garish blood).
The series prides itself on its earthy, deep south colors, and those colors look absolutely amazing - from the color of Sookie's bikini to the red-and-black logo of the Tru Blood bottle, it's just outstanding.
There are, however, a few instances of compression artifacts. These pop up during some of the more poorly lit scenes. But this is a minor quibble, and overall doesn't take away from the great transfer (and, honestly, are only barely noticeable). It's rare for a video presentation to be as pristine and, at the same time, as grimy, as this. And it's a testament to the technical prowess of this disc.
The disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is just as atmospheric as the series itself. Dialogue is clear and well prioritized, always sounding strong. This is really something considering some of the characters' thick Cajun accents.
The ambience is emphasized, and really brings the cricket-filled Southern landscape to life. All tracks are utilized, with specific sounds spanning various channels, with special emphasis on the rear speakers. There are lots of creatures that go bump in the night scuttling around in this series, and they're brought to life brilliantly here. Everything from a lonely dog walking along the marsh to the scattershot cacophony of the vampire nightclub Fangtasia (vampires love puns in this world) or the vampire tribunal (which is kind of like 'Mad Max' meets 'Interview with the Vampire') are represented in a strong, vibrant sound scape.
The more action packed elements are treated with all the finesse as the smaller sequences. The surround sound is maintained throughout the entire series, and the warmth and grittiness of the series is exemplified here. It's a really outstanding audio track and should hopefully force other television shows on Blu-ray to up their games.
Also included on the disc are French DTS 5.1 and Spanish DTS 2.0 audio tracks as well as subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese.
I just want to say that this is probably the best television series interface I've come across in terms of TV on home video. Each episode has a separate menu which lets you access the show and choose which special features you want to watch, along with brief "Previously On" or "Next On" montages (in HD!) that really complete the experience of having watched the show when it originally aired. The only gripe is that the series is spread across five discs. Five discs? Really? For 12 hours of television without any truly significant extras? C'mon, HBO.
Audio Commentaries Goes down like this:
- Executive producer/series creator Alan Ball for "Strange Love"
- Anna Paquin (Sookie) and episode director Scott Winant for "The First Taste"
- Writer Brian Buckner and director Michael Lehmann for "Escape from Dragon House"
- Stephen Moyer (Bill) and director Dan Minahan for "Sparks Fly Out"
- Director Marcos Siega for "Burning House of Love"
- Writer/director Nancy Oliver for "To Love is to Bury"
So we get commentary tracks for half of the first season episodes, which is pretty good. Also pretty good: the tracks themselves. Alan Ball's track for the pilot is probably the best, as he talks about the genesis of the project (he was early for a dentist's appointment, so he walked into a Barnes & Noble, picked up one of the books, and fell in love), about watching a whole host of vampire movies and picking out the things he would absolutely stay away from (like that blue tint that mires the 'Underworld' franchise), and what it was like putting the series together (and having it quickly, temporarily, derailed by the writers' strike). The other tracks are listenable, for sure, with other standouts being the Moyer/Minahan track for "Sparks Fly Out" and the Paquin/Winant track for "The First Taste" (even though it's a little awkward because Paquin literally phoned her track in). While the information sometimes overlaps, these are great to listen to, especially since the disc is devoid of an extensive "making of" documentary package.
'True Blood: Complete First Season' is one of the very best Blu-ray releases thus far this year. It's an excellent, totally outrageous television series that pushes boundaries and will make you shriek and scream and laugh, and the package is unparalleled in terms of Audio/Video quality for a television series. The interface is absolutely outstanding and while there could have been more special features, the ones that are provided are pretty noteworthy. Don't hesitate to grab this set. This one is highly recommended.