Fall ’08 TV Season Blitz, Day 2: The Return of HBO Sunday Nights
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 9, 2008
You know I need you desperately
(Sunday Night, 10:00-10:30 PM, HBO)
New Cast: Bow Wow, with more supposedly to come
Where We’re At Now: Medellin has officially come and gone as a critically-panned, straight-to-video flop, and Vince has gone hiding in a Mexican paradise while the shit hits the fan. Eric has recently added two new clients to The Murphy Group (at least one of which is Bow Wow), but still panics over Vince’s recent lack of offers. The drought appears to come to an end when a producer claims to want Vinny for a new horror flick, leading E and Ari to try to reel him back into reality. Meanwhile, Drama has a new long-distance girlfriend.
Thoughts?: My only real problem with the return of Entourage is that it’s happening three months too late–this is a summer show if there ever was one, lightweight, totally inessential, but more fun and relaxing than a Red Stripe and a Best Damn Top 50 marathon. Besides that, it’s pretty much same as it ever was–cars, girls, toys, and a minimum of stress. This episode wasn’t much better or worse than any in recent memory–your average Entourage ep is almost always going to be worth watching in your average channel-flipping evening, so I let my watching of it be dictated by that. You never feel like a particularly large amount of effort went into Entourage, anyway, so I don’t feel so bad barely putting any effort into watching it.
Still Hot / Worth Sticking With?: The days of this show being a must-watch, if they ever really existed, are definitely long since over, but if you’ve ever liked it, there’s no reason why you won’t still like it. There are some minor plot developments–namely Vince having to play the underdog for the first time since Season One and E starting to seem more and more like the Suit that Billy always accused him of being–but by the end of the episode, it’s just Vince, Eric, Turtle and Drama, loving the ladies and the life and each other, and it’s still all that’s needed to put a smile on your face. Besides, Meadow Soprano and Andrew Bynum are gonna be on this season (though not necessarily in the same episode), so you gotta stick around for that.
(Sunday Night, 9-10, HBO)
Cast: Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Sam Trammell, Nelson Ellis, Frank Sobotka from The Wire for at least one episode
Premise: In the (maybe?) future, vampires not only exist, but have become viable members of society, based on their new reliance on a synthetically created blood substitute called True Blood, which is readily available at bars and convenience stores. Still, as would be expected for such a minority group, vampries are subject to a certain amount of prosecution, as well as a certain amount of fetishism, from outsiders fascinated and appalled by them. In a small Louisiana town, gentle, telepathic Sookie (Paquin) works at a bar owned by her admiring-from-afar boss Sam (Trammell), and quickly becomes infatuated with vampire Bill (Moyer) when she saves his life from a couple of thugs looking to sell his blood on the black market. Meanwhile, Sookie’s filandering brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) may or may not have killed a neighbrohood flirt during rough, vampire-inspired sex, and the thugs haven’t forgotten about Sookie yet.
Thoughts: While I was watching this show, I was mostly just amazed that nothing with this basic plot had ever been made before. In an age when even comic book-inspired movies are being treated with heavy tones and auteur aesthetics, how is this the first high-profile example of a program or movie saying “OK, so what if vampires actually existed?” Openly gay producer Alan Ball, he of American Beauty and Six Feet Under creepiness-in-suburbia fame, is certainly the man to bring this idea to fruition, cleverly drawing on the history of outsiderness and aberrant sexuality in vampirism to create obvious parallels with all sorts of different minority groups. And the idea of the titular blood-substitute is a brilliant excuse for vampires to be able to acceptable, if not entirely accepted, in polite society. The potential for this concept, if done with the right cast, in the right setting, and within the right perameters, is practically limitless.
Whether this is the cast, setting and perameters for it best to succeed is sort of hard to determine for the moment. I’ve always dug Paquin, and potential vamp love-interest Moyer seems compellingly sullen enough as well. But is the rest of the thusfar thin cast up to the challenge? And aside from the obvious Anne Rice connections (nicely referenced in the show’s excellent opening gambit), is a small town in Louisiana, already a sort of smothering atmosphere even within the confines of the pilot, really the best place for this show? And can Ball and company set up a decent set of rules for how vampirism actually works in this context (how are they created, how do they self-sustain, how are they killed), and can they get us to care about or relate to vampirism once they do?
Still, even with all these questions to go, I’m definitely intrigued. To my knowledge, there’s never really been a decent sci-fi / fantasy show to be given the freedom of a Showtime or HBO setting, and already, True Blood has differentiated itself from the pack in one very key element: Sex. There’s a whole lot of it in the first episode, and it’s not like the sex on Entourage–it’s freaky, (relatively) graphic, and often a little scary. If nothing else, True Blood has already shown the ability to use sex in a way few if any TV shows have previously–to titillate, hopefully, but also to build character, tension and to freak people the fuck out from time to time. And there’s also the potential for greatness in the relationship between Paquin and Moyer, which has already displayed some decent electricity, and has a fine tradition of super-romantic human-vamp relations to draw from.
Hit Potential: Think it’s bought itself one season, at least. Vampires will always sell, sex will always sell more, and Alan Ball has achieved the HBO cred to ensure the channel’s trust through a shaky start if need be. And even if it doesn’t have a long run of commercial success, the thing definitely has cult show written all over it.
Worth Watching?: Yeah, the first scene alone was enough to ensure my viewership through at least the first three episodes or so. At this point, “promising” and “intriguing” are about the most we can ask for from new TV premieres anyway, and this show was definitely both of those things. Keys to the show’s future will be establishing compelling drama on both the scale of the show’s small town and on the larger scale of the vampires’ search for acceptance in society (or to convert them into their own fold, whichever).