2009 and 2010 have been strong years for television series, with the emergance of genuinely cult-appeal productions like Glee, The Pacific and Flashforward. Almost out of nowhere, the True Blood series joined that list when it hit late in 2009, with the books taking up multiple slots in the booksellers' Top 100 and vampire fever already riding the crest of a bloody wave with the Twilight series heading up the new tween vamp obsession.
True Blood though is a different creature entirely.
The best description Ive read of the series comes from the wonderful Den of Geek:
HBO's True Blood, (is) a program that expertly blends the Southern drama of Tennessee Williams with sexy vampire mythology and the driest sense of humor known to man. Add to all this a rather substantial dollop of sex and drugs, and the result is the funniest detective/vampire/romance series ever produced.
Noticeably more adult than its vamp contemporaries, and with a great deal more in terms of menace, the series managed to pick up fans who loved the whole vampiric explosion but who wanted a little more gritty substance to get their teeth into (if you'll pardon the pun). The first series gained a lot of fans, and a surprisingly good general critical reception, so it was an inevitability that they would speed through a second (and indeed now third) to cement the success before the bubble bursts.
That success has been helped a good deal by some excellent marketing work, especially in terms of the posters and taglines that it was impossible to miss for a while last year. The deliciously cool (and very HBO on-brand) feel of the whole series was cemented by quirky PR that was infinitely quotable, and made excellent bedroom wall poster material: how could anyone resist taglines like "Thou Shalt not Crave Thy Neighbour" or " It Hurts So Good"? Or posters like this for the second series:
Anyway, for anyone who's been living under a rock for the past year or so True Blood is based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries series, by Charlaine Harris, and focuses upon the often troubled co-existence of humans and vampires in Bon Temps, Louisiana. More specifically, the series follows Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a waitress who has the ability to read minds and her relationship with vampire stud Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), as well as a broad ensemble of characters whose own storylines entwine with the primary narrative strands to create a rich, and pretty complex narrative network.
So, how good a job did Alan Ball and powerhouses HBO do on the second series? The fact that it is now officially the most viewed HBO series since The Sopranos would suggest that they've created gold.
The acting performances are as strong as in the first season, with Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer leading the line well, in a sort of anti-Edward/Bella sort of way, bristling with more sexual tension than a boys' boarding school dorm. The chemistry between the pair is never limp, and it continues to be spellbinding throughout the second series, as the actors continue their fine form. The result is an eminently watchable on-screen dynamic, and one that should not be underestimated in the draw of the series as a whole- that relationship carries the weight of the series on its back, and it more than copes. In fact it thrives.
As with the first series, in which Jason's implication in a group of murders forms the primary plot but other subplots take a considerable amount of focus, the second season focuses upon a few narrative strands which interlink, though this time there are two main strands. Generally, the series focuses on the disappearance of Godric, a 2000 year old vampire who is the oldest and thus strongest vampire in North America, who Eric sends Sookie and Bill to find. Additionally, the series concentrates on new character Maryann, who is a maenad (or follower of the goddess Dionysus) who arrives in town and begins exerting her menacing influence over most of the residents of Bon Temps. After the discovery of Drew as the murderer in the first series, and the subsequent malevolent void the discovery created, Maryann (Michelle Forbes) steps in wonderfully, and carries the considerable burden of being the main antagonist perfectly
Visually, the series is very impressive, particularly on the higher definition format. The dark brooding visuals translate beautifully, and the compelling mixture of high-gloss sex and violence looks positively pornographic on blu-ray. And it certainly helps that everyone is impossibly beautiful: Alexander Skarsgard (who plays vampire sheriff Eric) in particular is almost enough to make me weep for my comparatively infinite physical shortcomings.
The best bits of the first season endure into the second, including the incredibly cool title music by gravel voiced God Jace Everett that accompanies the best title sequence since the clever visuals of Dexter. The wider musical accompaniment to the series is just brilliantly measured (and rightly won an EMI as proof), with a great innate suggestion of Louisiana in the subtle nuances of Nathan Barr's original score.
After two seasons, True Blood is still a truly wonderful TV series, great looking, full of brilliant performances and wildly entertaining, and the optioning of a third series is testament to that achievement. Seriously, if you havent seen it yet, go now and find it, rent it or buy it- either way your eyes will thank you for it. True Blood Season 2 is available to buy on DVD and Blu-Ray right now.