Anytime Alan Ball puts something out, I’ll be the first one to eat it up. He wrote the script for the psycho-sexual drama American Beauty, he created and directed several episodes of the brilliant HBO series Six Feet Under, and he wrote/directed the upcoming Aaron Eckhart movie Towelhead (which was amazing as well, go see it when it hits theaters). So when I heard that he had created another HBO series, I got giddy.
The new show, True Blood, premiered tonight on HBO. If you missed it, you can watch it on hbo.com here, or go to Blockbuster where they’re giving free rentals of the first episode. The series is based on the books of the same name by Charlaine Harris that Ball enjoyed for their sardonic take on vampirism. Blood follows Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin, 25th Hour), a saucy Southern waitress involved with vampire Bill Compton (88 Minutes‘ Stephen Moyer), who looks at Sookie the way Elvis Presley probably did when he first laid eyes on the 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu.
Thanks to the recent invention of synthetic blood (called Tru Blood), vampires could stop feeding inappropriately, and announce their existence to the world. This of course causes a clash between those who believe vampires don’t deserve the same rights as mortals, and those that think they do (hmmm…does this sound similar another Paquin role in X-men?). Exercising his HBO freedom, Ball adds a twist to author Harris’ inverse notion — humans drink vampire blood because it improves their sex lives — into a lame joke about Sookie’s brother (Summerland‘s Ryan Kwanten) getting a painfully huge erection. In the midst of all this, Paquin (who does a subtler Southern accent than Kyra Sedgwick in The Closer) and Moyer (who conveys Bill’s courtly menace perfectly) frequently get lost in a series in which they’re the central couple.
Despite Ball’s Oscar-winning genius, his talent gets lost in the not-so-subtle political messages. The metaphor between vampires and homosexuals is so blatant, you’d have to actively try not to notice it. Signs like ‘God hates fangs’ and phrases like ‘coming out of the coffin,’ litter the show every few minutes and weigh this pilot down and slightly spoil what could have been some wicked vampire fun. However, this show is better than pretty much anything on NBC’s fall lineup (yes, better than The Office who very publicly broke my heart last year). If you have the luxury of HBO, it’s worth it to TiVo this, as least for until we see where Ball takes it.