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True Blood: The Complete Series
HBO's vampire fantasy/soap opera series True Blood ran seven seasons from 2008 until just this year, 2014. While each of the individual seasons has been released on Blu-ray on its own, HBO has also bundled together all seven seasons and put them out in on fairly massive Blu-ray boxed set.
Based on the 'Sookie Stackhouse' novels by author Charlaine Harris, HBO's True Bloodstarted off as a fun mix of horror, drama, romance, comedy and, well, it's got pretty much everything, including a kitchen sink or two. It isn't a particularly deep series and it probably owes a small debt to Twin Peaks but it's certainly an entertaining genre tinged soap opera that'll keep you coming back for more just to find out how it all ends.
The series is set in an America where vampires have 'come out of the coffin' and been kinda-sorta accepted by everyday living and breathing folk. The stories are based around a young woman named Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) who works as a waitress at a bar called Merlotte's in the small Louisiana town of Bontemps. She lives with her kindly old grandmother (Lois Smith) and worries constantly about her dumb sex fiend of a brother, Jason (Ryan Kwanten) while spending most of her spare time working at the bar run by Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell), who has no qualms about his affections for the pretty blonde waitress he's hired. Sookie's best friend, a fiery black girl named Tara (Rutina Wesley) gets canned from her position at a 'Wal-Mart' style superstore and soon winds up tending bar at Merlotte's as well, while her gay cousin, Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), works in the kitchen.
Sookie's life seems pretty normal for the most part, save for one thing: she can read people's minds. She doesn't want to, mind you, as it sometimes leads to some rather unsettling discoveries, but there are times where she just can't help it. When a vampire named Bill (Stephen Moyer) comes into Merlotte's one night seemingly by chance, Sookie notices him and he her. Their mutual attraction is instant, much to Sam's dismay and almost everyone else's disgust, and they begin a courtship that is simultaneously unusual both in its old fashioned traditions and in its taboo breaking. Sookie is soon introduced to Bill's world and he to hers as she travels to a vampire nightclub with him and he speaks at the local church about his experiences in the Civil War at the request of her grandmother.
Shortly after Sookie and Bill start dating, however, bodies start turning up all over town. The easy solution would be for the local cops, Detective Andy Bellefleur (Chris Bauer) and Sheriff Bud Dearbourne (William Sanderson) to blame the vampire in their midst but there are too many unanswerable questions for them to be able to do that. Jason Stackhouse can be linked to every one of the victims and Sam's been spotted running naked through the woods, raising some understandable suspicion. A few altercations, back stabbings, twists, turns and bizarre supporting characters keep you guessing while the soap opera romances and love triangles and horror movie elements entrench the series firmly within the roots of pulp fiction.
Adapted for the small screen by Alan Ball, this first season of True Blood turns out to be a whole lot of bloody, sexy fun. The copious scenes of bloodshed and nudity will keep exploitation fans happy, no doubt, but it's the clever dialogue, well written and reasonably believable characters and strong acting that gives the series the legs it needs to stand on. Paquin is at the forefront of it all, delivering a performance that bridges the gaps between innocent and compellingly sexual, flaky and intelligent and tender and tough with ease. She's fantastic in the lead role and does a fine job of carrying the series. Thankfully, however, she's not alone in the good acting department. Stephen Moyer can be as charming as he can be intense and frightening, doing a fine job of wrestling with his character's understandably heavy load and incessant inner turmoil. Also quite compelling are Rutina Wesley as Tara and Sam Trammell, who make an interesting contradictory pair of foils to Sookie's supposed innocent girl next door type. Ryan Kwanten also does a fine job exploring his character's development over the span of the first twelve episodes as we see him turn from a dim-witted sex maniac to a man who finds he is actually capable of caring about someone.
The series is similar to Lynch's aforementioned Twin Peaks in that there are times where the stories of the supporting characters are more interesting than the primary plot but that's not a bad thing. The whole 'serial killer in a small town' angle also reminds us of Lynch's series but True Blood definitely branches out on its own in more ways than just the overtly supernatural. The show isn't perfect but the good absolutely outweighs the bad and it's hard not to get sucked in after only one or two episodes. The cliffhangers are very successful in pulling you in and the political and social allegories, which the show is absolutely ripe with, serve to provide it with a seemingly endless supply of though provoking humor.
The episodes that make up Season One are as follows:
Strange Love / The First Taste / Mine / Escape From The Dragon House / Sparks Fly Out / Cold Ground / Burning House Of Love / The Fourth Man In The Fire / Plaisir D'Amour / I Don't Know / To Love Is To Bury / You'll Be The Death Of Me
When the first season came to a close, the 'Bon Temps Killer' was dead at Sookie's hands and Bill had been burned and stuck in charge of tutoring a seventeen year old newly turned vampire (Deborah Ann Woll). Sam had come out as a werewolf and Jason had joined a cult. On top of that, Lafayette and Tara were dealing with problems of their own and things were generally a really big mess for all involved and Tara had found some solace in the helping hand offered by a Good Samaritan named Maryann (Michelle Forbes). This second season picks up where the first one left off and hits the ground running, fleshing out existing characters really nicely and throwing some new ones into the mix, like a vampire Sheriff named Godric (Allan Hyde) who has gone missing much to the chagrin of fellow vampire lawman, Eric Northam (Alexander Skarsgård ). More locally, in Bon Temps, Deputy Sheriff Andy Bellefleur (Chris Bauer) and Bud Dearborne (William Sanderson) wrestle with their issues, Andy's badge being taken away from him for strange behavior being chief amongst those concerns.
Of course, the core of the series and its second season is the relationship that continues to grow between Bill and Sookie despite all manner of outside interference from various factions. As the story moves along, Jason gets pulled in deeper with the cult, The Fellowship Of The Sun, run by Steve Newlin (Michael McMillian) and his strange wife Sarah (Anna Camp), which obviously causes problems for Sookie who understandably feels for her brother but still needs to do her own thing. Complicating things, in regards to Jason's involvement, if the fact that Steve is in actuality trying to put together a team who can eliminate the vampires for good. Tara's quest for love, acceptance and what can only be described as redemption hits a boil when her involvement with Maryann becomes anything but normal. It's obvious when the first season ends that this character is not the saintly woman she seems on the outside but is rather a wolf in sheep's clothing. She becomes one of the more interesting villains in this second batch of stories and the way in which Tara's story mingles with Sookie's is not only quite clever but also allows for some of the second season's scariest moments.
What makes the series as compelling as it is at this point in the run isn't so much the plot or the storytelling but the characters themselves. The writing team behind True Blood in these early seasons has done an excellent job of making each and every one of the characters in the series believable, which is no small feat when you consider the subject matter. Everyone in the show has their good qualities, well almost everyone that is, but so too do they have their flaws and their problems. As it is in real life, people screw up in True Blood and so there are consequences to their actions. A perfect example is Sam, who is obviously quite in love with Sookie despite the fact that he knows she's not interested. Like so many other people in the world, this doesn't stop him from trying and when he's inevitably shot down, you feel for the guy even if you know that his persistence if futile. Traits like this, which serve only to further humanize, and in turn, endear, certain characters to the viewers are what really helps to make this show as watchable as it is.
Some of the plot shifts and chances may seem a little ridiculous but when you remember that this is a show about vampires and that, as such, a little bit of ridiculous isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's easy to take it all in stride. The cast all do a fine job here, with the oddly attractive Paquin playing her fairly sympathetic lead quite well while her male counterpart in the form of Moyer as Bill somehow seems a fitting match for her. The pair, who is an item in real life, has a strong chemistry together that's equal parts sympathy and sexuality and they really are very good together. The rest of the cast follow suit, with Rutina Wesley frequently stealing the show as she did in the first season.
The second season isn't perfect, however, like the episodes that came before it, the show does have a strange tendency to just sort of drop characters as it progresses. A few interesting characters from season one are basically just written off and pushed out of the way in order to introduce new, though not necessarily better or more interesting, people to play with. This results in a few choppy transitions from one plot line to the next but generally the series moves along pretty smoothly. The allegory that the series is heavily entrenched in, which is using the vampire as a metaphor for minority groups and the persecution they sometimes have to deal with, is a little overdone in spots and even a bit heavy handed in others but it does lend itself to some interesting themes and ideas which the storylines do often explore rather well.
True Blood is still very much a soap opera with supernatural trappings, at times not all that far removed from the gothic drama of Dark Shadows, but that doesn't make it any less entertaining. Critics often accuse the show of playing to clichés and delving into trashy exploitation but who cares, it's fun and interesting viewing. Think of it as Melrose Place with bare boobs and a lot more blood and you'll be on the right track. The series does occasionally get pretty clever, most notably when it allows its central characters to develop naturally and moments of brilliance are definitely evident throughout this second batch of episodes, but why over think it? Ultimately this is just really good entertainment. It all builds up to a pretty interesting climax that, of course, effects all of the main characters and leaves us wanting more.
The twelve episodes that make up Season Two are as follows:
Nothing But The Blood / Keep This Party Going / Scratches / Shake And Fingerpop / Never Let Me Go / Hard Hearted Hannah / Release Me / Timebomb / I Will Rise Up / New World In My View / Frenzy / Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
Picking up where the second season left off, Season Three starts with Sookie asking Eric to help her find Bill, who has been missing for a while now. Meanwhile, Sam is trying to figure things out with his parents while Tara is dealing with some serious depression issues. As the storylines start to play out and expand, Sophie-Anne (Evan Rachel Wood), the ‘Vampire Queen' of Louisiana makes a move towards Eric while Sam Merlotte heads across state lines to Arkansas to sort out some family drama.
But what of Bill? He's in the company of Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare), the ‘Vampire King' of Mississippi, while Eric is trying to protect Sookie from some local werewolves. Bill gives Sookie the boot and splits, leaving her and telling her not to bother trying to find him, but Sookie's not just going to let that happen. With some help from a werewolf named Alcide (Joe Manganiello) she heads to Mississippi to find him unaware that Bill and Lorena (Mariana Klaveno) have got their own twisted thing going on. As she gets closer, Russell has Sookie kidnapped by werewolves to protect her, Lafayette strikes up a relationship with a man named Jesús (Kevin Alejandro) and all sorts of crazy drama starts to unfold. Bill and Sookie rekindle things, sort of, but they know Lorena is going to be an issue and that she must be dealt with. And they deal with it, but after that they're on the skids again. Oh, and it comes out that Sookie is part faerie. What?
The first couple of episodes are a little on the slow slide but they do effectively build things for the last half of the season where really, it all just hits the fan. The writing team this time around really goes for it, upping not only the drama and the romance that makes Bill and Sookie's relationship the core of the storyline here but also expanding on a lot of the supporting characters' backgrounds and relationships as well. By bringing in the Vampire King and Queen characters and tying them into Bill's continuous wrestling match with himself in his attempts to control his impulses, the series gets to go into some decidedly dark territory but the humor that has always been a part of the show is here in pretty healthy doses as well. In fact, by the time that the third season has run its course, we've learned as much about a lot of the supporting characters as we have Bill and Sookie, so that makes this an interesting run of episodes.
There's also a lot of emphasis on the werewolves in this run, not just in how they live amongst the humans but in how they relate to and get along with the vampires as well. This adds an interesting layer of horror and drama to the show that actually serves it quite well. Things do get a little goofy what with the faery storyline being brought in, however, but not as goofy as they're going to get in a short period of time…
The twelve episodes that make up Season Three are as follows:
Bad Blood / Beautifully Broken / It Hurts Me Too / 9 Crimes / Trouble / I Got A Right To Sing The Blues / Hitting The Ground / Night On The Sun / Everything Is Broken / I Smell A Rat / Fresh Blood / Evil Is Going On
So with the cat out of the bag in regards to Sookie's faery heritage, Season Four and her having gone off to faery land for a bit, it makes sense that in the early episodes of this fourth run that she would start exploring her abilities in this regard. Obviously she's pretty new to this faery thing but she definitely seems into it. As this part of the story expands, she learns that her grandfather Earl (Gary Cole), who everyone had though was missing for the last forty years, was actually just in faery land for what he thought was only a few minutes. Sookie heads back to the normal plane just in time, as the Queen of the Faeries had intended to keep here there. Sookie is now completely unsure who to trust.
Sookie returns home to find that, like her grandfather, everyone thought she was dead because what was only a few minutes on the other plane was a year in Bon Temps. She finds that Jason sold off her house, Tara moved out of town and that Bill has become the Vampire King of Louisiana. He learns that a cabal of sorts has successfully resurrected a dead bird and knows that this is bad as it will mean that whoever was able to do this may be able to control vampires. Eric heads out to investigate and finds that this witches meeting was actually attended by Tara, Lafayette and Jesús, who are all back in town hoping to find Sookie. Eric handles things the way that he typically does, leading to an altercation with the witch leader, Marnie Stonebrook (Fiona Shaw).
Meanwhile, Arlene is adjusting to her new life as a mother and trying to figure out if the son she had, sired by a dead serial killer, may in fact be just as evil as his father. This complicates things with her live in boyfriend, Terry, when he learns through strange means that the baby is not his. Sam gets involved with a single mom who may or may not be a shape-shifter while Jessica, the girl Bill turned two seasons back, and her boyfriend Hoyt find themselves in some seriously hot water. But what about Sookie? How is she coping with all of this and what's to become of her relationship with Bill now that he's moved on and become in charge of things? That's where a lot of the tension stems from in this season.
At this point in the game, things are so over the top that they've moved beyond fantastical into incredulous. You've really got to be willing to commit your suspension of disbelief in regards to how ‘out there' it gets in this run and honestly, it's a little much. Bringing Sookie's faery background into the forefront of the story is a fairly ridiculous idea though to the series' credit, there is at least a sense of humor about much of what we see unfold. The storylines once again do a really good job of bringing some of those interesting characters previously on the sidelines into the limelight and some of these side stories are actually more interesting than the vampire politics and Sookie/Bill shenanigans. Jessica in particular gets a lot of time here and her story, along with the subplot revolving around Arlene's potentially evil killer baby are pretty fun.
The twelve episodes that make up Season Four are as follows:
She's Not There / You Smell Like Dinner / If You Love Me, Why Am I Dyin'? / I'm Alive And On Fire / Me And The Devil / I Wish I Was The Moon / The Cold Grey Light Of Dawn / Spellbound / Let's Get Out Of Here / Burning Down The House / Soul Of Fire / And When I Die
At this point, things are starting to get a bit silly. Season Four left things open ended, there were a whole bunch of cliffhangers going on and this season picks right back up where the forth left off. As such, we get repercussions from the murder Sookie committed, we find out what happened when vampires Bill and Erik killed a powerful vampire, we learn of existence of a clandestine vampire government known only as The Authority and we find out how vampire Russell Edgington escaped from prison to cause more trouble than any one man should be able to cause. Tara's dying and there's only one way to save her, but Sookie doesn't want to think about that and so she leaves her with Pam, Eric's daughter, which spells trouble for Sookie and for Lafayette as well. As all of these plot points intertwine as this batch of episodes evolves, threads start to tie up while others unravel and honestly, it starts to get to be a bit much. Characters are introduced quickly and to the point where the cast for the show is just getting to be too big.
This season does do some interesting things in regards to the deaths of Sookie and Jason's parents to tie all of that into the main storyline but then it all gets nuts when Tara's turned and Lafayette's possessed and what is essentially a civil war amongst the vampire factions breaks out and causes chaos. Werewolves show up and things get unusually political for them, lots of people die, lots of people have sex, and the twists just keep coming and coming and coming to the point where the series that was once a nice southern gothic take on the coexistence of humans and vampires has now got as much to do with faeries and stuff as it does bloodsuckers and mortals. It's great that the series finally gets around to exposing The Authority, something that it's been teasing at since its early days, but not enough is done here to cash in on the weight that they should bring to the series. You do get the impression this go round that the series is moving towards its end. With things getting more and more melodramatic and preposterous you have to hope they're building to a big finish. Otherwise, the point is becoming increasingly lost. There's still fun to be had here, plenty of sexy/gory thrills and some decent humor too, but you may find yourself yelling ‘enough already, get on with it' at your TV more than once.
Not surprisingly, the last episode once again ends on a cliffhanger, but you probably knew that already. To the writers' credit, it's a good one and it's a hook that ensures you'll at least want to give season six somewhat of a chance if only to see where it's going to end up. It piques your curiosity and pretty much guarantees that, if you've stuck with the series this far, you're going to at least check out the first episode of season six. Here's hoping the storylines can get back on track and that the show can return to the lean and original series it was in its first two seasons rather than the hodgepodge of loose ends and screwball characters forced into genre trappings that it has become.
The episodes that make up Season Five are as follows:
Turn! Turn! Turn / Authority Always Wins / Whatever I Am, You Made Me / We'll Meet Again / Let's Boot And Rally / Hopeless / In The Beginning / Somebody That I Used To Know / Everybody Wants To Rule The World / Gone, Gone, Gone / Sunset / Save Yourself
Alright, so with Season Five having fizzled more than it sizzled, how does Season Six stack up? Mehhh…… it's an improvement, but not a huge one. When the first episode kicks in Bill has drank Lilith's blood and this killed him and then resurrected him as an evil beast causing Sookie and Eric to get out of the Authority compound as quickly as possible. Pretty much everyone involved in this side of things has been killed off and they're unsure what to do about Bill. Obviously they care about him, they all have a past together, but he's evil at this point. Bill, on the other hand, is enjoying his newfound ability to walk around freely in the sunlight without burning up and he's also seemingly developed some psychic abilities. All of this would indicate that dealing with him will not be easy for Sookie and Eric.
Back in Bon Temps proper, Governor Burrell (Arliss Howard) decides that the humans are basically going to go to war with the vampires to get back at them for the mass slaughter that took place last season. Vampire businesses are shut down and the vampires themselves are herded into internment camps. Pamela and Jessica are only a few of the vampires locked up here.
Meanwhile, getting back to the weird faery thing that's still going on, Jason meets Grandpa Earl and pledges his help it taking out a vampire named Macklin Warlow (Rob Kazinsky) who is in cahoots with Lilith and out to kill Sookie who is having trouble denying her attraction to ‘Ben' which definitely complicates things. Sookie has Lafayette summon her dead parents while Bill does some sort of astral projection thing and travels to another plane to consult with Lilith about the war that is brewing between the vampires and the humans, so maybe he's not as evil as he was earlier. It's complicated. Eric aligns himself with Bill to help save Nora while Bill goes after Burrell and… we won't spoil the last few episodes.
This season is again just all over the place. The main story about the war between the vampires and the humans and the use of internment camps and abuse of government powers by Burrell is actually quite well done and more often than not very suspenseful. The faery storylines are still pretty hokey though and at times almost feel out of place. The writing this time around is pretty erratic and where exploring the supporting characters had once been an interesting way to expand on the universe the show takes place in, this time around it's too much. Sub-plots build on sub-plots and while creating complex storylines is admirable here the structure feels thrown together. Bill's character in particular is really inconsistent at this point and on top of that logic is tossed out the window.
It's still entertaining enough on a superficial level to be worth watching, particularly as there are some interesting developments in the works that we know will be resolved in the final season, but evidently bringing a bunch of fresh writers on to try and correct some of the problems that the two seasons prior had trouble with wasn't entirely successful. At least there's still a lot of sex and violence.
The ten episodes that make up Season Six are as follows:
Who Are You Really? / The Sun / You're No Good / At Last / Fuck The Pain Away / Don't You Feel Me / In The Evening / Dead Meat / Life Matters / Radioactive
It all comes down to this… the final season of True Blood, and we're going to go light on plot recaps here to avoid as many spoilers as possible. The Hep V Vampire group lays brutal siege to Bon Temps and before whatever it is that sends them scurrying away disposes of them, they kidnap Arlene, Holly and Nicole (who is pregnant). Important characters die, Pam can't find Eric and as the townsfolk understandably become enraged by all this, Sookie does what she can to calm the angry mob and convince them that she may be able to help with all of this.
Arlene and Holly launch their escape plan, Lettie Mae starts to possibly loose it and Sookie leads a crew to Saint Alice where they find only bodies. Without the authorities around, Bon Temps descends further into anarchy and more important characters die. Things start to get crazy with Jessica while Bill, well, Bill's waging a war of his own, one that he might not walk away from no matter his intentions in regards to the people of Bon Temps and specially, one Sookie Stackhouse.
Obviously those who appreciated the skewed direction that the show was heading in for seasons five and six will appreciate this seventh run more than those who didn't, but in many ways the show ends not with a bang but with a whimper. The first three seasons of True Blood were rock solid entertainment and from there descended into unevenness and frequent bouts of mediocrity made watchable by liberal doses of sex and violence. A cool soundtrack helped here too. With Season Seven hopes were high for an apocalyptic showdown of Shakespearean proportions and while it's true that a whole lot of characters do get killed off here (and to the writing team's credit, often in some pretty creative ways), this season spends too much time on the massacre aspect before really getting down to resolving the countless plotlines that the two seasons prior spent so much time crafting, often unnecessarily, in the first place.
Is it a complete wash? No, and your mileage may obviously vary, but the timing on a lot of the resolutions introduced here seems off. Again, without going into spoiler territory we've got to keep it vague but why explore Tara's childhood issues now rather than earlier when it would have possibly had a lot more impact and made a lot more sense? There's a lot of time spent here chasing those loose plot ends that winds up harming the pacing a bit more than it should, and by the time we get to the resolution of Bill and Sookie's relationship things get so flowery and melodramatic that, yeah fine this is a soap opera but still…. it just seems to go around in circles for too long to make the payoff work the way it needed to.
With that out of the way, there's some good here. The resolution of Jason's story is handled quite well and with a maturity and effective complexity lacking in some of the other diversionary plot lines. The acting is solid here too and things are resolved rather well in this regard. As to the core of the series, however, the ‘ending' would seem to have been structured the way that it was to leave open the possibility of further follow ups. Time will obviously tell if that's the case or not, but don't for a minute discount that possibility.
The ten episodes that make up Season Seven are as follows:
Jesus Gonna Be Here / I Found You / Fire In The Hole / Death Is Not The End / Lost Cause / Karma / May Be The Last Time / Almost Home / Love Is To Die / Thank YouThe Blu-ray:
True Blood looks fantastic in high definition. HBO's AVC encoded 1.78.1 1080p transfers are strong from start to finish and do an amazing job of bringing the series' colorful cinematography to life. Everything looks lifelike and natural, while skin tones look dead on, though depending on the characters can look quite different. Vampires look different than humans and such, but that is as it should be. The upgrade in quality that the Blu-ray offers over what standard definition can offer is substantial, making it easier to appreciate the details in the series' production values from the costumes to the sets to the props to the locations. There aren't any problems with compression artifacts or edge enhancement, though eagle-eyed viewers who are looking for it might spot some minor banding once in a blue moon, and a couple of shots look to have been shot with a softer look in mind than others, but the authoring here is excellent. There's no noticeable noise reduction, leaving the gritty and grainy texture of the visuals wholly intact. A couple of outdoor nighttime scenes look just a tiny bit noisy but this is nitpicking, the series really does look fantastic in high definition and its loyal fanbase should be more than pleased with HBO's superlative efforts in this regard.Sound:
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix that this set contains sounds stunning right from the opening chords of the series' song which plays over the credits of each episode. Surround channels are used throughout the series to build atmosphere by spreading out the effects and score perfectly. Directionality is spot on, with plenty of left to right and front to back movement noticeable when the series calls for it. Ambient and background noise is very crisp detailed, so you'll pick up on not only background character voices but more subtle effects like animals in the background of certain scenes. Dialogue is very natural sounding and easy to understand without having any of the dialogue sound pumped up at all. The more action intensive scenes benefit from strong and full bass, making each sound effect resonate properly and with a good amount of weight behind. This series sounds excellent on Blu-ray, it's difficult to imagine anyone complaining about the work done here. Optional subtitles are offered in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch.Extras:
Extras are, not surprisingly, season specific and spread throughout the set as follows:
Six of the twelve episodes in the set feature commentary tracks from show creator Alan Ball, head writers Nancy Oliver and Brian Buckner, series' directors Michael Lehmann, Dan Minahan, Marcos Siega, and Scott Winant and last but not least, the two lead actors Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin. They play out as follows:
Strange Love: with series creator Alan Ball
The First Taste: with Anna Paquin and director Scott Winant
Escape From Dragon House: with writer Brian Buckner and director Michael Lehmann
Sparks Fly Out: with Stephen Moyer and director Dan Minahan
Burning House Of Love: with director Marcos Siega To Love Is To Bury: with writer/director Nancy Oliver
Throughout the talks, you definitely get the feeling that all involved had a good time making this series. There's a welcome enthusiasm here that makes the tracks easy enough to listen to, and on top of that, they're filled with some really interesting stories about casting, scripting, location shooting other production related issues. Each episode also includes an Enhanced Viewing Experience option which, when turned on through the menu, will allow you to access all sorts of neat picture-in-picture material relating to everything from behind the scenes content to the fake blood drink advertisements and much more.
Season one also includes a few interesting featurette style supplements as well, starting with some fun faux commercials: two for the True Blood beverage we see Bill drinking in the series, one for a vampire lawyer, one for a vampire dating service and one for a vampire hotel. This work nicely alongside a pair of opposing public service advertisements, one for and one against vampire rights, both of which are quite amusing. Rounding things out nicely is a fourteen minute fake talk show clip called In Focus: Vampires In America that allows a few television journalist types to argue back and forth on the issues of vampire rights in the United States.
Each of the twelve episodes also contains a brief text based plot synopsis as well as 'previously on' and 'next on' bumpers that help put each episode into context. The discs all contain some classy animated menus and chapter selection options.
The best of the extra in this set arrive in the form of the seven cast and crew commentary tracks that are scattered throughout the set. The participants are as follows:
Keep This Party Going: Director Michael Lehmann and Actor Nelsan Ellise
Release Me: Director Michael Ruscio and Writer Raelle Tucker
Timebomb: Actors Stephen Moyer and Alexander Skarsgård with Director John Dahl
New World In My View: Actors Ryan Kwanten and Sam Trammell
Frenzy: Series Creator/Writer Alan Ball, Director Daniel Minahan, and Actress Rutina Wesley
Beyond Here Lies Nothin' (commentary one): Actresses Anna Paquin and Michelle Forbes
Beyond Here Lies Nothin' (commentary two): Director Michael Cuesta and Writer Alexander Woo
The commentary tracks are good ones, all killer no filler so to speak, with the participants doing a fine job of dissecting storylines, character motivations and plot points while also elaborating on locations, effects, casting, acting, and storyline changes. Pretty much anything you'd want to have covered is given some thought here, with the Frenzy track really sticking out as it's a top down view of the entire series up until that point in the show which makes for pretty interesting listening. There's a good sense of humor present throughout each of the talks and you get the impression that the people involved in this series really enjoy working with one another and have a good time creating this material. Also included for each episode in Season Two is another Enhanced Viewing Experience option that, when enabled, allows you to access some interesting picture-in-picture content. There are a bunch of interviews included here that you can also access in the Character Report section in their lengthier, unabridged versions.
From there, we move on to The Vampire Report, which is twenty-four minutes of fake news reports that are done completely straight and in character and which cover some of the events that take place in the series. They're amusing enough and worth watching once but more of a novelty than anything else. More interesting is Fellowship Of The Sun: Reflections Of Light, which is a twelve minute segment that is along the same lines and which allows the two core members of the cult that Jason becomes involved with talk about their belief system and their values.
Each of the twelve episodes also contains a brief text based plot synopsis as well as 'previously on' and 'next on' bumpers that help put each episode into context. The discs all contain some classy animated menus and chapter selection options.
Once again, extras for this season start off with a series of audio commentaries available for the following episodes:
Beautiful Broken: with Alexander Skarsgård and director Scott Winant
It Hurts Me Too: with writer Alexander Woo and director Michael Lehmann
9 Crimes: with Kristin Bauer Van Straten and director David Petrarca
I Got A Right To Sing The Blues: with series creator Alan Ball and Denis O'Hare
Hitting The Ground: with Anna Paquin, Joe Manganiello and writer Brian Buckner Evil Is Going On: with Stephen Moyer and director Anthony Hemingway
As is typical with the commentaries for this series, we get a nice mix of people who worked in front of and behind the camera so pretty much all bases are covered. There's discussion here about the writing process, the storylines, the character development, what goes into crafting a believable performance in the context of the stories being told and quite a bit more. These are informative and interesting and absolutely the most valuable supplements going for this show.
We also get Post Mortem featurettes for every episode in the set, which are really just quick episode specific bits that offer up more insight into different aspects of the production. These are quick, fleeting almost, but fun and interesting. Also included for each episode is another Enhanced Viewing Experience option that, when enabled, allows you to access some interesting picture-in-picture content. A lot of this material is also accessible via the Character Perspectives featurttes where the unabridged versions of the interviews that went into that content are found. Moving right along we find an eleven minute Anatomy Of A Scene featurette that shows off a werewolf attack from the second episode, another True Blood Lines interactive guide, episode bumpers, a Snoop Dogg music video, animated menus and chapter selection.
Once again, we get a half dozen commentaries for this season. Here's how they all shake down:
You Smell Like Dinner: with writer Brian Buckner, Stephen Moyer) and Deborah Ann Woll
If You Love Me, Why Am I Dyin'?: with Alan Ball and Anna Paquin
I'm Alive And On Fire: with director Michael Lehmann and Alexander Skarsgård
I Wish I Was The Moon: with writer Raelle Tucker and executive producer Gregg Fienberg
Let's Get Out Of Here: with director Romeo Tirone and Sam Trammell Burning Down The House: with director Lesli Linka Glatter, writer Nancy Oliver and Fiona Shaw
As have proven the norm with the True Blood commentaries, combining writers, directors and products with on-camera talent makes for interesting discussions. We get all sorts of behind the scenes dirt dished out here as well as insight into the effects work, the sets, the writing process, character development, continuity within the framework of the series and quite a lot more. These tracks are complimented once again for Enhanced Viewing Mode options for each episode in the series, and again, you can access all sorts of interesting information and behind the scenes clips and facts by way of the picture-in-picture technology used here.
Each episode also has accompanying it an Inside The Episode featurette, a quick behind the scenes segment that offers up a look at what went into creating the story and how things evolve throughout the season's run. Also on board is a half hour featurette called True Blood: The Final Touches which is effectively a discussion between creator/showrunner/writer Alan Ball and a few of his fellow post-production supervisor types about what goes into running the show. It's like a more in-depth version of the Inside The Episode bits and it's a pretty interesting, revealing talk about not only the writing but also the technical side of creating the world in which True Blood takes place. Another True Blood Lines interactive timeline/guide to the season is included here too along with the obligatory animated menus and chapter selection.
HBO supplies Inside The Episodes featurettes for each episode in the set. These basically allow the cast and crew, with an emphasis on the writers, to dish the dirt on the behind the scenes stories that took place as all of this nuttiness was being put together. Complimenting this are five separate commentaries for these episodes:
We'll Meet Again: with Chris Bauer, writer Alexander Woo and director Romeo Tirone
Somebody That I Used To Know: with Stephen Moyer (who also directoed) and writer Mark Hudis Everybody Wants To Rule The World: with director Dan Attias, Denis O'Hare and Carrie Preston
Sunset: with writer Angela Robinson and director Lesli Linka Glatter
Save Yourself: with Anna Paquin, Alan Ball and director Michael Lehmann
The tracks are done with the cast and crew of the show including input from Alan Ball, Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Denis O'Hare and Carrie Preston among others. These tracks are done fairly informally and there's an emphasis on what the characters go through but there are plenty of behind the scenes stories told here, from what it was like to be involved in some of the more risqué moments that pop up in the season to ideas that were tossed around and not used during the writing process. You can also watch each episode with the Enhanced Viewing mode turned on, which will allow you to access character biographies, vampire histories, flashbacks, and ‘flashforwards' in real time as the episodes play. True Blood Lines is another interactive "re-Vamped guide and archive" you can use to get more information on who is who and how they all connect to one another.
HBO have also supplied some featurettes here, starting with Authority Confessionals in which some video entries from Nora, Kibwe, Rosalyn, Salome, Steve, and Russell explore the history of The Authority as it pertains to the events in this particular season. There's a half an hour's worth of material here. True Blood Episode Six: Autopsy is an hour long documentary and a pretty good one at that which lets the cast and crew as discuss the major events of episode six. This also lends itself towards some behind the scenes footage and info and a nice overall look at what goes into putting this show together from various perspectives. Rounding out the extras are ‘Previews & Recaps' for each episode, more True Blood Lines interactive guides, menus and chapter selection.
This season actually has noticeably less in the way of extra features than the five that came before it, but once again we do get a decent batch of audio commentaries:
At Last: with writer Alexander Woo and Amelia Rose Blaire
In The Evening: with writer Kate Barnow and Stephen Moyer
Life Matters: with writer Brian Buckner and Carrie Preston
Radioactive: with executive producer Brian Buckner and writer Kate Barnow
At the risk of sounding like a broken record here, the commentaries are once again the best way to learn about how this show comes together and what goes into making it. Every episode in the set also has the obligatory Inside The Episodes mini-featurettes that keep track of character development and plot shifts to help you keep to speed on all of the series' building insanity.
The half hour long Vamp Camp Files is an amusing piece hosted by Anna Camp in character as Sarah Newlin from the series. Here she talks up the merits of the vampire containment facility featured in the show before spreading more anti-vampire political propaganda and then offering tips on how to defend yourself from vampires. Finishing off the extras for Season Six are more True Blood Lines interactive guides, menus and chapter selection.
Season Seven also comes with a selection of five new audio commentaries recorded with the cast and crew:
I Found You: with writer Kate Barnow and director Howard Deutch
Death Is Not The End: with writer Daniel Kenneth, director Gregg Fienberg and Kristen Bauer van Straten
Karma: with director Angela Robinson, Carrie Preston and Lauren Bowles
May Be The Last Time: with writer Craig Chester, director Simon Jayes and Chris Bauer
Thank You: with writer Brian Buckner, Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer
Again, the commentaries are fun, and if you're only going to listen to one make it the track for Thank You with the two leads and Bruckner. It's interesting and fairly sentimental. As far as the featurettes go, the most interesting is True Death: The Final Days On Set which runs fifteen minutes, mostly just footage shot on set during the making of the last few episodes of the series, all shot by the cast members in their spare time. It's very informal and quite candid if a tiny bit disjointed. As the featurettes progresses things get a bit more sentimental as the cast members express the sadness involved in seeing the series that they'd been involved with for some long on various levels come to a close. It also shows off some interesting behind the scenes footage, showing everything from Sookie in bondage to fake blood tubes to cast members playing around on their laptops to choreographing stunts. Also on hand is True Blood: A Farewell To Bon Temps runs twenty-eight minutes and discusses what people like about vampires and features interviews with pretty much all of the principal cast members. They also talk about the way that sex is used in the show, how all the stars aligned in terms of creativity and talent to get this show up and running, the emotions involved in wrapping up the last season, and quite a bit more. The cast reminisce about the early days of the show, how their relationships evolved over the course of the seven seasons, getting used to playing their characters and more.
The obligatory True Blood Lines timeline featurette is here again as are the ‘previews and recaps' bumpers, animated menus and chapter selection.
The set comes housed inside some slick and sturdy carboard packaging. Digital HD versions of each episode are also provided.Final Thoughts:
True Blood: The Complete Series is a very nice release of a show that starts off very strongly, those first three seasons are great entertainment. From there it gets uneven and then takes a fairly noticeable dive in quality and, well, sanity to only partially redeems itself towards the end of its seven season run. If you've already got the individual releases, this hefty boxed set probably doesn't make sense for you, just grab Season Seven on its own and complete your run. If you don't have those sets, this is an easy way to get the entire collection in excellent quality with a load of extra features and handy digital copies too. For those that fit that niche, consider the set recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.