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True Blood: The Complete First Season

Warner Bros. // Unrated // May 19, 2009
List Price: $79.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted May 16, 2009 | E-mail the Author
When you came in the air went out.
And every shadow filled up with doubt.
I don't know who you think you are,
But before the night is through,
I wanna do bad things with you.
The Series:
After HBO's mega-successful series Sopranos and Sex in the City finished their runs, the Hollywood press was ripe with speculation as to whether or not the premium cable station could come up with another hit.  (Which I considered patently absurd.  HBO has the highest good to bad show ratio of any station, cable or broadcast, and they still had some great shows on like Curb Your Enthusiasm.  But I digress...)  With every miss (*cough* John from Cincinnati *cough*) there was someone willing to pronounce the network dead and devoid of ideas.  But just the year after Sopranos ended the station released a gutsy and interesting look at a world where vampires are real:  True Blood.  Based of the book "Dead Until Dark" by Charlaine Harris, this series isn't so much about vampires themselves as how their presence would affect small town America.  With an all-star cast playing an assortment of wonderfully odd characters, HBO has another hit on its hands.

Due to the invention of artificial blood, vampires have now come 'out of the coffin' and revealed their existence to humanity.  Since they no longer need to feed on humans, they want to be productive members of society... or so they say.
The politics surrounding vampires doesn't really concern Sookie Stackhouse however.  Being a waitress at a restaurant/bar in the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, she's never even seen a vampire.  On top of that she has problems of her own including the fact that she's a 25 year old virgin who's never had a boyfriend.  That's because Sookie has a special ability:  she can hear other people's thoughts, whether she wants to or not.  It's hard for her to get past the first date when she knows the boy across the table from her is wondering how far he'll get that night.
That changes when Bill walks into the restaurant one evening.  A ruggedly handsome and extremely genteel man who is new to town, Bill is the one person who Sookie can't 'hear'.  That's because he's a vampire, 'killed' during the civil war he's come to reclaim his family's house and land, abandoned since his last living relative passed away with no heirs. 

Sookie soon takes a liking to Bill, and he to her, much to the astonishment of everyone in town.  They always thought she was strange, but to be dating a vampire?  That's just not right.  The person who is most vocal in his distain is Sookie's boss, Sam, a man who holds a torch for Sookie but has a secret himself.  Others who have a problem with Sookie's love interest include her older brother Jason, a womanizing red neck who is not the brightest bulb on the tree, and her best friend Tara, an aggressive black woman who can't seem to hold on to a job or a friend.  In fact the only one who seems to like Bill is Sookie's grandmother, who is excited to meet someone who actually fought in the civil war.
Things get more complicated for Sookie and the residents of Bon Temps when a woman is killed.  Jason was the last person who was with her, she even taped them having sex, and is the immediate suspect.  When more women start to turn up dead, all with vampire bite marks on their bodies and all who have slept with Jason things start to get murky, and Sookie starts to worry that she'll be next.

This show, based on a series of books, works very well for a variety of reasons.  First of all it's not a who dunit or monster series, but an interesting drama.  The vampires in the series aren't the focus, they're just something that separates this world from our own.  The problems that vampires have (quite analogous to gay rights currently in the US,) and their real agenda, are more incidental background material than the driving force of the show.  The reason you'll want to go on to the next episode isn't to find out who's killing the 'fang bangers' but to revisit the wonderfully eclectic and eccentric characters that populate the show.  They're all very interesting and most of them have secrets.  Just about every male in the show, from the muscular but dim Jason, to sexy vampire Bill and even the mysterious bar owner Bill, is a "bad boy" in one way or another, not to mention good looking.  That's a pair of facts that my wife assures me doesn't hurt the show at all.
The fact that vampires and mind readers are real also opens up a lot of possibilities.  When Tara's alcoholic mother says that there's a demon living in her, who are we to say that there isn't?  Could werewolves exist?  What about ghosts?  Could it be a supernatural entitiy that is killing all the women Jason sleeps with?

Be warned however - there is a lot of sex in this show.  Originally cablecast on HBO, there is full frontal nudity and seeing women's breasts is not uncommon.  Which brings me to the only real problem I have with the series... vampires and sex.  Vampires are dead.  It's clearly stated that they don't breath and don't eat food.  They can't even eat food, even for just the enjoyment of it.  They do have the desire to drink blood, which is both a method of procreation and sustenance for them.  So why in the world would they want to have sex?   There's no biological imperative that creates a sex drive as with humans and they don't do anything else (like drinking alcohol) simply for the physical pleasure it creates.  Yet once character claims she was paid $1000 for sex by a vampire, and others keep human groupies around for feeding purposes and as sex toys.  The first I can understand, but the second?  Okay, I admit I'm thinking about this a little too much, but the more you do, the less it makes sense.

Even with this flaw, the show is very sexy.  Lead Anna Paquin (X-men movies, Almost Famous) was a perfect casting choice.  She's attractive, but not a bombshell-beauty knockout.  She looks like someone you would find waiting tables at a bar in Louisiana.  The gap between her top front teeth and other slight imperfections make the show seem real.  She has a lot of screen presence and the chemistry with co-star Stephen Moyer (who also appeared in the excellent BBC vampires TV show Ultraviolet) really makes the show steam during their romantic scenes.
The Blu-ray Disc:

The twelve episodes that make up this first season are presented on five Blu-ray discs.  Unfortunately they're housed in one of those fold-out books.  You know, the ones where you have to have four feet of free table space to unravel the cardboard so you can select the disc you want.  Most studios have gone to double thinpaks by now, and I wish HBO had followed.
The 1.78:1 AVC encoded image looks very good, but it isn't quite reference quality.  The first thing that viewers notice is the nice detail.  As a matter of fact, that increased definition works against the show in a couple of places, mainly when someone is wielding a wound that is made with a prosthetic makeup appliance.  These tended to less realistic than they would have in SD, Sookie's black eye near the end of the season is a good example.  The earthy palate that was used for the show was reproduced well too.  The show captures all of the ambiance of living in Louisiana and just watching some scenes will make you feel hot and humid.  The swamps were filled with bright green foliage and brown rotting vegetation, the flesh tones are great, and the red blood is vivid and impressive.  Lines were generally tights and even low-light situations had a good amount of detail.  The only problems I saw was that some scenes were a tad on the soft side and there was a bit too much grain in some places for my tastes.
Presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, the show sounds absolutely wonderful.  From the first notes of the opening song the full-ranged audio does a magnificent job of accenting the emotions of scenes without ever becoming intrusive or overbearing.  The full soundstage is used with ambient noises coming from all corners of the room and the result is very effective.  This doesn't only apply to the action sequences, but to the quieter moments too.  The soft sounds of a graveyard at night or the gentle noises you hear while two people are fishing on a lake do a lot to draw the viewer into the show.  This is a great sounding set that I couldn't find any fault with.
Here's a riddle:  When does a Blu-ray set that doesn't skimp on high-quality bonus features get low marks?  Answer:  When it literally takes HOURS to access them.  There are some great things hidden in this set:  mock commercials for an artificial blood drink aimed at vampires, Vampire Rights public service announcements, background on how some of the characters were turned into vampires, and comments on some of the residents of Bon Temps by Lafayette, the male-prostitute drug dealer in the show, and much more.  The problem is that these are only accessed by using the Picture-in-Picture "enhanced viewing" mode while watching the shows.  If you don't have a player capable of displaying Picture-in-Picture (as many early stand-alone player's can't), you're out of luck.  Even if you can access these, it's very distracting if you're watching the shows for the first time, as I was.  It's much more enjoyable to see the shows 'clean' and then go back and catch the extras.  Which brings me to another flaw... there's not enough of them.  It's easy to go ten minutes without getting a pop-up comment or feature, and each episode only has a few such moments.  If they had made these videos accessible from the extras menu it would have been a great set, but as it is these are so hard to access that it's nearly the same as if they weren't include at all.
There are also six commentary tracks with various members of the cast and crew.
Final Thoughts:
Disappointing extras aside, this is a nice set.  The audio is outstanding and the picture is very good.  The series is just hitting its stride too.  Placed in a unique world, populated with interesting characters and sprinkled with surprising plot twists, the show is easy to get hooked on.  I'm just glad that it wasn't running on Fox or it would have been cancelled half way through.  Though there is a lot of sex, it's also a very sexy show and well worth checking out.  Highly Recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.
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Highly Recommended

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