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TV IS THE NEW CINEMA: Losing Faith in 'True Blood'

Thompson on Hollywood By David Chute | Thompson on Hollywood August 21, 2013 at 7:45PM

Having just completed its 6th season, "True Blood" seems to be taking a cue from "The Walking Dead," working out a dismal strategy for the near future. You can understand why they might be tempted. AMC's zombie apocalypse melodrama got a huge ratings spike over the past two seasons by dropping a lot of the slow-paced interpersonal drama and reframing itself a relatively straightforward horror/action series, delivering an exploding head or a crowbar to the eye every few minutes.
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Alexander Skarsgard's nordic vamp Eric Northman feels the burn on the season finale of "True Blood"
HBO Alexander Skarsgard's nordic vamp Eric Northman feels the burn on the season finale of "True Blood"

Having just completed its 6th season, "True Blood" seems to be taking a cue from "The Walking Dead," working out a dismal strategy for the near future. You can understand why they might be tempted. AMC's zombie apocalypse melodrama got a huge ratings spike over the past two seasons by dropping a lot of the slow-paced interpersonal drama and reframing itself a relatively straightforward horror/action series, delivering an exploding head or a crowbar to the eye every few minutes.

"True Blood" has never been coherent enough to qualify as a drama of any kind, even a melo one, and in fact this has been its saving grace as a guilty pleasure, this goofy willingness to pile on every kind of shock or turn-on its creators could think up -- fairies on top of werewolves on top of vampires, and often literally. The dark season just ended, however, in which the vampires were herded into a concentration camp and subjected to fang extractions and gruesome experiments, has been much less enjoyable.

In last week's penultimate episode, putative Vampire King Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), supposedly a gracious Southern gentleman among bloodsuckers, delivered a crunchy head-stomping as grisly as the one in Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive." It was one of those moments -- like the little girl watching her father burn to death at the end of "Kick-Ass" -- in which it becomes clear that a group of creators has become so comfortable with violence as pure spectacle that viewers with even vestigial humane feelings get shut out.

The second half of Sunday's finale was a nice coda that jumped ahead six months to introduce some major narrative changes as faits accomplis. Sookie is now with Alcide, Sam has been elected Mayor, the roadhouse is now called Bellefleur's and Arlene is running it. All cool and promising, offering the kind of pleasure we can only get from deftly executed storytelling, which has been in short supply, recently. This was a house-cleaning, gear-shifting episode that suggested an impulse to clear away some of the clutter, to give the show a fresh start.

But a fresh start as what, exactly? The show's final image was alarmingly reminiscent of a standard zombie apocalypse invasion, with the approaching hoard of Hep-V infected vamps reduced to lumbering, slavering bestiality. If what the showrunners have in mind is transforming "True Blood" into a "Walking Dead"-style pitched battle with the flesheaters, recent history suggests they might be on to something, at least financially. Creatively, though, the zombie angle has been overdrawn to the point of bankruptcy.

For old time's sake we will keep our fingers crossed, trusting that the crafty "True Blood" crew has something else in mind entirely.

This article is related to: HBO, True Blood, TV, TV Reviews, TV Features, TV IS THE NEW CINEMA


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.