How True Blood changed TV
Eric, Sookie, Bill - in that order!
True Blood creator Alan Ball confirmed on Tuesday that he was stepping down from his top job of managing the daily running of the show, now going into its fifth season.
"True Blood has been, and will continue to be, a highlight of not only my career but my life,” Ball said in a statement. “Because of the fantastic cast, writers, producers and crew, with whom I have been lucky enough to work these past five years, I know I could step back and the show will continue to thrive as I look forward to new and exciting ventures." Ball will step down after season five wraps.
Okay, so Alan Ball is clearly something of a genius – even if True Blood’s not your cup of tea, you have to give him credit for his other television triumph – Six Feet Under, a darkly comedic series which aired from 2001-2008 about a family-run funeral parlour. And even if that wasn’t to your liking you probably loved the Oscar-winning American Beauty, another dark take on family life – which he co-produced and wrote.
But, can we be real for a second here? True Blood has not been, well ... pumping, as it were, since (deep breath now!) season two. I say this with love! Season one was extraordinarily bold and it was scary – even the titillating vampire sex scenes were scary! The show, which focused on steamy bedroom scenes, old fashioned suspense and storytelling, carried a fascinating subtext about prejudice in America and how it can play out through religious groups, government legislation and ordinary, upstanding “red state” citizens.
Ball, who is himself gay, was hip to the obvious allusions to gay rights and even AIDS - and it would be hard to deny them. Remember that sign at the start of the show each week? “God Hates Fangs”? A clear reference to the Fred Phelps right-wing anti-gay group who picket funerals with signs that read “God Hates Fags.”
But by season three, what had once stood for great storytelling had devolved into a murky puddle of gimmicks. Sure, when I first found out Sam Merlotte was really a dog I practically panted with excitement. Sayum is a DAWG?! Hell yeah he is! I told myself. But then came the werewolves and the witches and the voodoo and the faeries. I know, the original books by Charlaine Harris involved faeries but there was something else too: everything sort of resolved itself a little too neatly. Sookie, (Anna Paquin) and ... what’s his name? He was so boring I can’t even remember it - oh yes! – Vampire Bill, (Stephen Moyer). Well, I’m not sure if it was because they got married in real life but Sookie and Bill, once the show’s heart and soul, quickly became its dull centre.
Admittedly, when the Vampire King of Mississippi, Russell, arrived on the scene in series 3 (played with lip-licking relish by Denis O’Hare) he breathed new life into the show but not enough and sadly, not for long.
Alan Ball did mention exhaustion as a factor in his resignation from the top job. As well he should – Ball has another couple of projects already lined up.
But while he may have one foot in a sinking ship, (or is grave the better metaphor here?) Ball has also left behind a legacy – a handful of new shows that without True Blood would not have been green lit. See, Ball did something extraordinary with True Blood – he made it okay for adults to enjoy the supernatural/ horror and fantasy genres that are normally the mainstay of kids and teenagers. Sure, a great many adults were already into Harry Potter and Twilight but they were never the target demographic. These new shows are unabashedly of the fantasy / supernatural / horror genre and, in true Ball style - very dark. They’re also for grownups.
Let’s look at them shall we?
American Horror Story
It’s got the Ball-style family conflict down pat. It’s also got Denis O’Hare! It’s wry, too, with plenty of eros, (Ball’s not solely to blame, it is after all, made by the same guys who brought us Nip/Tuck). But the most obvious True Blood characteristic is that terrible-yet-delicious gothic kitsch.
Game of Thrones
Superficially this might be called Dungeons and Dragons the TV Show or the less kind, Game of Nerds. Obviously it’s influenced by Lord of the Rings and less directly, Gladiator. But the scheming? The incest? The monsters? The family dysfunction? That’s pure Ball.
It’s fairytale CSI! Each week our detective, (David Giuntoli) must solve a murder ... based on a story by the Brothers Grimm. See, the Grimms wrote these fairytales but they meant for them to be a guide– a bible if you like – for other humans to defend themselves. The creatures they wrote of still exist today. And, in the tradition of True Blood the detective is also a descendent of the Grimm, and just like Sookie it’s his destiny to fight all the trolls, wolves, giants, goblins and other demented creatures that are also part-time humans.
Once Upon a Time
Ok, this is probably also for kids. A bunch of characters from fairytales – from Snow White through to Jiminy Cricket – remain frozen in a hypnotic state in a small town. The catch? They have no idea they’re fairytale characters. Look, it’s complicated! For this elasticity of reality we can credit one man: Ball.