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How True Blood Jumped the Shark and Survived

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True Blood jumped the shark.

There's no denying it. When slick vampire Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) defied gravity and flew up, up, and away just like Superman in this season's penultimate episode "Frenzy"… well, I'd put that right up there with Fonzie strapping on his water skis, wouldn't you? Not only did it look ridiculous — as this show's vampire effects unfortunately often do — but there was absolutely no precedence. When one of Arlene's stunned kids shouted, "He can fly?!" I was right there with her. I've been watching this show for two seasons now and I had no idea that vampires could fly.

I was prepared to call it quits. The show's second season started off very strong, but the plot involving bitchtastic maenad Maryann (Michelle Forbes) paled greatly in comparison with the goings-on at the vampire-phobic Fellowship of the Sun Church. By time they got to the fourth or fifth straight episode where Maryann drove the residents of Bon Temps into fits of orgiastic sex and violence, the storyline had basically lost whatever steam it had started with.

And yet here I am, a couple days after the season finale, looking forward to the next batch of episodes (set to air summer 2010). The finale, "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'," might not be an example of great television, but it is an example of great True Blood. Which brings me to the conclusion that True Blood succeeds by explicitly not being great television. To be sure, it's had its share of heavy emotional moments. I won't soon forget the aftermath of Sookie's grandmother's death, or the beautiful way in which they did away with Amy (Lizzy Caplan). Not to mention the fact that repressed road worker Hoyt (Jim Parrack) and teenage vampire Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) have one of the best relationships on TV.

It's also undeniable that it might just be the most inconsistent show on the air right now. When True Blood started in September 2008, it was not, how you say, "good." Coming from Alan Ball, the man behind Six Feet Under, it was a major disappointment. Its pilot episode was okay, and it chugged along for a few episodes before reaching its nadir with the horrible "Escape from Dragon House," in which Jason's (Ryan Kwanten) dick almost exploded from ingesting too much vampire blood. Yet the following episode, "Sparks Fly Out," showed such a tremendous leap in quality and maturity that it was impossible to tune out.

What to make of the series? It was too extreme and campy to take as straight drama, yet too human and grounded to dismiss as kitsch. Ball was really letting loose, getting his ya-yas out after years of doing the somber, profound Six Feet Under (not to mention serious-minded films such as American Beauty and Towelhead). When he finds the perfect balance between effective character drama and batshit insanity, the show works like gangbusters, so much so that you ache for it to keep walking that tightrope. There was a time when I thought it would be a seriously great show, in the second half of the first season and the first half of the second, but that time has passed.

Instead, "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'" has finally allowed me to understand what makes the show tick. It's got a bunch of crazy supernatural stuff, with Maryann's impending marriage to the god Dionysus leading to a sort of awe-inspiring death scene in which shifter Sam (Sam Trammell) appears as a bull, gores her with his horn, then reverts to human form and yanks her heart out with his bare hand. This takes up the first half of the episode, and allows the rest to deal with the emotional fallout. Sam knows that, despite almost sacrificing himself to save Sookie (Anna Paquin), her heart belongs to vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer). There's a very sad scene where he looks at a deer and cries. I'm not entirely sure what that's supposed to mean, but then he goes to find his real parents and there's a lot of intrigue.

Hoyt goes to apologize to Jessica for over-reacting after she sunk her fangs into his possessed mom (only on True Blood, folks), but Jessica is off feeding her depression by devouring sleazy old truckers. Then we see Bill and Sookie dancing at a French restaurant, very romantic, before he proposes to her. She freaks out, goes to the bathroom to make up her mind, and when she comes back, Bill has been dragged off by an unseen assailant. Who is probably the Sookie-obsessed, vengeance-seeking Eric. Yeah, it's definitely Eric.

That's a lot of insanity, right? Now realize that every single episode of True Blood is exactly like this and you'll begin to understand why it's one of the most frustrating, exhausting shows on the air. I've lowered my expectations, wrapped my head around where the show is going. The reason that I am able to enjoy True Blood despite all of its many flaws is simply that it doesn't ask to be taken as anything more than the pulpy, addictive nonsense it is.

The second season was an exciting and at times disappointing experience, but with its unevenness comes the realization that no matter what it does, True Blood is jump-the-shark-proof. Why? Because it's jumped so far over the shark that it's hit the water again and is on the look-out for more dorsal fins. If Sookie takes to the skies next year, I won't be surprised. But I'll be back for the next go-round.

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About Arlo J. Wiley

  • StupidonLineName

    The entire second was spent making practice runs at the ramp, but I could see Fonzie’s skies leave the ramp as Bill & the Queen began talking.

    i’d like to see Bill die just because Eric is a better actor.

  • Veron

    In season one, it was in the graveyard I think, Sookie asked Bill if vampires had powers and Bill said they had different kinds of powers.

  • You know, I have heard TONS about this, yet have not watched it. I do plan to though!

  • Arlo – I’m not quite sure I agree with the jumping the shark theme, but more because I have missed several eps. So , I can’t agree, but I can’t disagree either. Either way, I enjoyed your write up. And I think we both agree that the show has some fantastic qualities. And Willow: Take it down a notch. You can point out mistakes or whatever without lecturing.

  • I liked this series much. It is not a classical vampire story.

  • Chelsea

    Not all vampires can fly. Its a gift of Eric’s that is covered in the books. So those who have watched more than the show were not surprised and for those who haven’t, the surprise was kinda the point.

  • Arlo

    Willow: I should have made the connection between Daphne and the deer. I didn’t; my bad. That one’s on me. However, while Eric saying, “I must fly” might be a bit of clever foreshadowing, it is in no way a direct indication that he can actually fly. And the books are irrelevant in this matter since I am purely discussing the TV series.

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. I understand that flying is part of vampire lore. But it’s an aspect of the mythology that has always struck me as particularly stupid, especially in the relatively down-to-earth Sookieverse.

  • I disagree, I’ve been hooked and in love with this show from the very first episode. But such is television taste, and everyone feels about things differently. I was very glad at least that Sam is the one who killed Maryann, because he really deserved that chance since she’s been trying to kill him all season.

    I really wouldn’t call Eric flying jumping the shark. If there was never anything about vampires flying in lore, that’d be a WHAT moment, but it’s not uncommon.

  • Tony

    I think saying they jumped the shark by having a vampire fly is a little much. First of all, in various forms, vampires have flown throughout mythology. Secondly, the original premise of the show we vampire’s at least quasi-trying to fit in to humanity so obviously they won’t be flying around regularly.

    Was this slightly inconsistent? Yes. But to jump the shark you’ve got to go quite a bit further.

  • I read the first two books before the series started; kept being distracted by the differences and initially thought the books were better. But as the series continued (1 and 2), that all they really were was somewhat different. But I did recognize that there were cinematic inconsistencies re: storyline, character, etc. But ultimately, I had to agree with the books’ author, Charlayne Harris, who said that Ball had made his own thing of it but remained true to its spirit, message and wit. The series’ weaknesses and plot details/special effects aside, “True Blood” deserves its place in the rarefied category of quality, ground-breaking TV. It’s key over-riding ideas top all other considerations. This creative combination of horror, humor, melodrama and satire suggests that the mysterious, the Other and the other-worldly may be very much with us and asks what an interesting world it would be if that were true. It makes a case for evil coming out of hiding (at least in part) and some of it seeking redemption and re-acceptance by normalcy and mortality; it also shows us the frequent banality of evil which, along with its more traditional magic and melancholy, presents us with some very interesting parallel realities. Most important, TRUE BLOOD suggests with cunning and style that the kinds of things that now seem to be so divisive: racism, sexism, homophobia and such, would be greatly minimized in a reality where the true enemy is not human. The series has so far been uneven, but I look forward to its return, because it’s smart and timely. Essentially what Arlo says in this review: “What to make of the series? It was too extreme and campy to take as straight drama, yet too human and grounded to dismiss as kitsch.” Exactly.

  • I thought that was strange too. I also wish they had kept Godric on a bit longer. His reference to Jesus was classic.

    As far as the flying goes, Anne Rice who pretty much owns the Louisiana Vampire Novel thing often had her older, stronger vampires be able to fly. But it wasn’t all of them and there was more history regarding their origins than a Yahtzee loving ‘Pop Tart’…I think her whole set-up and role is more ridiculous than him going sky-born.

    – R.P.M
    Riddled Phantasms Magazine

  • If AB sticks to the story line of book three then the one who abducted Bill is not Eric! I won’t post who it is so as not to spoil those who don’t follow the books!
    I was very upset with this season of True Blood! There was SO much potential and it looked halfway through the season as if it may actually own up to that potential but it’s second half left me flat, bored and disenchanted! Let’s hope that next season will be much better!

  • Willow

    Also he looks at the deer and cries because Daphne turned into a deer and he was sad since she was dead and she was the only other shape shifter he knew. PAY ATTENTION.

  • Willow

    Uhm, Eric has referenced flying in the past. In his scene in lafayette’s house he says “I must fly” and leaves. He also flies in the book. You just don’t pay attention.