31 Pilots in 31 Days: True Blood

When it was originally on: 2008-2014

Original network: HBO

Where you can stream it now: HBO Max

Had I seen it before: No.

What IMDb says: Telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse encounters a strange new supernatural world when she meets the mysterious Bill Compton, a southern Louisiana gentleman and vampire.

Why I picked it: A big part of these X pilots in X days projects is seeing see how different tv outlets put their own spin on similar trends. We already did one version of HBO v. The CW earlier this month when I reviewed the Euphoria and Gossip Girl pilots back to back, and now I get to repeat it with a trend somehow never came up in the 140+ pilots I’ve reviewed so far. That’s right. The sexy vampires are coming.

Back in the late ’00s, Twilight paved the way for what seemed like far too much sexy vampire media, though now I can only name a few examples. At the time, I didn’t give any of these shows a fair shake partly because I didn’t like Twilight very much, and assumed these shows were just like Twilight, partly because I bought into the false idea that not liking typical teenage girl things somehow made me cooler or smarter than the teenage girls that did.

Enough time has elapsed that we can reevaluate the sexy vampire shows with a bit more perspective; were these shows legitimately good, shameless cash grabs, or both? Was it really fair of me to lump them all together as Twilight wannabes? Are there more differences between the sexy vampire universes than I realized? Now is the time to find out.

Enter True Blood, HBO’s offering to the sexy vampire menu. It feels like a relatively forgotten show now for how popular it seemed to be at at the time. If I were to ask anyone to name the first 5 HBO originals that come to mind, I’m not sure anyone would say True Blood now. Yet it marked an important moment of HBO starting to cater to a younger generation. True Blood wasn’t necessarily made to win Emmys and garner all the same “prestige” that other HBO shows did… but it did give younger audiences who might not be interested in shows like The Wire or Sex and the City something to watch. It also introduced fantasy to HBO three years before Game of Thrones took the world by storm.

What I liked: This is a really fun world and I love the balance it has between normal human stuff and supernatural stuff. The show quickly establishes that in this world, vampires can drink synthetic blood, allowing them to live relatively normal lives amongst the humans. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean humans will trust or accept them. Perhaps more importantly, we learn there’s no immediate difference between the vampires and the humans. That meant I got to watch the rest of the pilot knowing any human could turn out to be an undercover vampire, and that certainly added to the excitement.

After this little bit of world building, we meet our lead, Sookie, who can read minds. After the pilot, it’s unclear if mind-reading means that Sookie is some other kind of supernatural creature, or if there are other people in this universe who can read minds. Either way, it’s exciting to think that the True Blood world might be even more than just a human world with vampires in it; there’s room for even more magic powers or supernatural creatures.

What’s particularly impressive about the True Blood pilot is that the world building doesn’t exist at the expense of character. I still feel like Sookie is a spunky, brave, smart-but-sometimes-naive character. She feels fully formed, and would feel that way even if we took her mind-reading powers away. If anything, the choices she makes about when and how to use her mind-reading just tells us even more about what kind of a person she is. There’s also a great cast of supporting characters: her brother, her best friend, her boss who also has a thing for her, and the sexy new vampire she’s crushing on. We have a firm grasp on where everyone stands on the vampire issue, and the ways in which they might come into conflict with others in our ensemble.

All in all, True Blood does a great job of setting up different characters and it’s mythology without ever feeling like it’s trying too hard. I was definitely bummed to have to stop after episode 1.

What I didn’t like: I kind of wish there was more drawing Sookie to Bill at this point. He’s brooding and mysterious, sure, and part of it is just the curiosity of him being a vampire, but I don’t know that the two really have “chemistry” at this point. It’ll be interesting to see if that develops.

Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes! It seems like a fun time that won’t make me think too hard.


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