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True Blood: The Complete Second Season

HBO // Unrated // May 25, 2010
List Price: $79.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted May 13, 2010 | E-mail the Author
The Series:
HBO has yet another hit on its hands.  The first season of True Blood was an excellent look at a world, particularly the deep south of the US, where vampires existed.  Filled with sex, horror, and an interesting mystery, the show hit all the right notes.  The second season premiered on June 14, 2009 and was had the highest ratings on any HBO presentation since the final episode of the Sopranos.  Now those people who don't spring for the pay network (myself included) who wanted to see what's going to happen next in Bon Temps, LA have to wait no longer. HBO will release True Blood: Season Two on Blu-ray and DVD on May 25th of this year. It's arriving not a moment too soon.
Series background:
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.  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 and Bill grow close, and in the first season they investigate a series of murders that has terrified the sleepy little town.  Most people thought that Sookie's brother, Jason, was the killer, but it turns out they were wrong.
Season Two:
Naturally not everyone likes vampires, especially the Religious Right.  That's examined in more detail this season as Jason Stackhouse becomes embroiled in a Christian sect, the Fellowship of the Sun.  While he's traveled off to Texas to a 'leadership conference' that will teach him anti-vampire rhetoric (unbeknownst to his sister), Sookie and Bill become entangled in a problem of their own. 
It seems that a very ancient and powerful vampire, Godric, has disappeared.  He's the Sherrif of a large area of the country, based in Dallas, and the vampires need Sookie's unique ability to help track down their missing leader.  Unfortunately this sets both siblings on paths that will soon cross.
The second major plot line this season revolves around Maryanne, the rich woman who showed up in Bon Temps last season and invited Sookie's best friend, Tara, to live with her rent free.  It was a good tome for Tara to find someone to take care of her, since she was going through a rough patch.  In Maryanne's lush house, Tara has gourmet meals, servants to clean up after her, and a hunky sweet guy who happens to be staying there too and takes a shine to the young girl.  But Maryanne isn't who she seems to be, and her presence in the town starts to cause unrest.  Seemingly innocent things start happening at first, but they soon spiral out of control.
After watching this series of shows, the first season looks like it was just a warm up.  Now that the main characters and the world they live in have been established the writers can really get down to telling some good stories and exploring what they've created.  (Well, they and Charlaine Harris who wrote the books the show is based on.)  This world gets fleshed out a bit more, and it's quite an interesting world too. 
One of the great things about this program is that it really isn't a monster show like Buffy.  It's a drama that happens to have vampires, shape shifters, and telepaths in the cast.  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 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 killed Miss Jeanette and put her in the back of a policeman's car, 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 main problem I have with this season is the 'vampire rights' subplot that's obviously supposed to be an analogy for gay rights in the US.  (One of the anti-vampire slogans is "God hates fangs" an all-to-obvious reference to "God hates fags".)  It's not subtle or nuanced, and the jabs that they take at the religious far right are too easy and the writers come across as being a bit lazy.  It would have been hard, but they could have used more restraint in the analogy and the series would have been better.  (This started me wondering:  How do homosexuals feel about being compared to vampires?  Is this a sympathetic analogy?  The vampires in the show aren't all sparkling and good either.  One literally tears a man limb from limb and throws the pieces around in an early episode, confirming what the religious group says.  Like I said, the analogy is too heavy handed for my tastes and it doesn't hold up to scrutiny.  But I digress...)
Getting back to the show's good points:  it 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 good.  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 at the beginning 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.  Blacks were crushed slightly in some shadowy scenes too.  These last 'flaws' are most probably intentional though and what the director and DP wanted, as they help set the tone of the show.
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.
As with season one, this set has an extensive Picture-in-Picture "enhanced viewing" mode.  While watching the shows (with a player equipped for P-in-P playback, many early stand-alone player's can't) viewers are treated to a plethora of in-character interviews with the people who populate the show, trivia, factoids, and even flashbacks to the first season.  This can be distracting when watching an episode for the first time, so luckily most of the video content is accessible from the extras menu.
There are also six commentary tracks with various members of the cast and crew who talk about the show, the production, and their characters.  While I didn't have time to listen to all of these, the ones I spot checked was entertaining and informative.
The fifth disc includes the bulk of the stand along featurettes.  It starts out with Character Perspectives, over two hours of some of the in-character shorts that made up part of the P-in-P experience.  These are fun, getting a chance to hear the characters speak about their thoughts and motivation without having to shoe-horn it into an episode, but it did go on for a bit too long.  Near the end my eyes were glazing over.  The in-characters pieces continue with Fellowship of the Sun: Reflections of Light where the Reverend Nelwin and his spouse give advice to members of his church, and The Vampire Report, a series of news reports. 
Final Thoughts:
This is a nice set.  The show keeps getting better as it goes, and it was nice that they included the video P-in-P extras in a separate section in this collection.  In addition to that the audio is outstanding and the picture is very good.  Creepy, violent, tender, intriguing and very sexy, this show is well worth checking out.  Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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