Friday, June 24, 2011

"True Blood," season four: 'Suck' is in the eye of the beholder

As a fan of both the HBO series "True Blood" and the Charlaine Harris novels the show is based on, it pained me admit that -- following a fun and crazy second season -- the show's third season was a bit of a mess. Yes, there were occasional bright spots, such as Dennis O'Hare's marvelously hambone performance as Russell, the vampire king of Mississippi. But, mostly, the season was a fairly drippy love triangle between telepathic Louisiana waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) and vampires Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) and Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard). Or rather, it was a square, introducing luscious werewolf Alcide (Joseph Manganiello) to the mix.
Whatever -- it was dull. And when a show with this much eye candy manages to be dreary, something it desperately wrong. The season finale was particularly boring, ending in a snoozy cliffhanger that sent Sookie fleeing her romantic troubles for an exile in fairy land.
I had hopes that the fourth season, which starts Sunday at 9 p.m., would clean up some of the mess left in the third season, and go back to being bizarre, silly, and oddly entertaining. Based on the three episodes I've seen so far, my hopes have dimmed.

The first eight minutes of the premiere have been made available for a while, so you've probably seen them. Despite the all-too-brief appearance of the always-welcome Gary Cole, the show's opening is pretty strange and not all that interesting. After that, it gets a bit better, but not much. Suffice it to say that there's a twist early on -- not in Harris's books, mind you -- that actually reminded me of an almost identical twist on another, better show (saying which will spoil it, so I'll wait on that).
That twist provides the opportunity to get rid of some of the show's many, many characters. But that doesn't happen. In fact, even MORE characters are introduced, including witches and a new group of shifters for Sam (Sam Trammell) to hang out with.
Also, we get follow-through on some of last season's more tiresome storylines, including Arlene (Carrie Preston) and her demon baby. I'm sorry -- did ANYONE care about that story?
That's not to say that it's all bad. The later episodes I saw follow the plot of the fourth book (maybe my favorite of the Harris series) about Eric, and they offer Skarsgard ample opportunity to prove that he's the show's best actor. There are also some interesting developments with Bill that surprised me and, if the show doesn't screw them up, could be fun to watch unfold. Also, those who go in for that kind of thing will note that the new characters are played by attractive people who don't mind taking their clothes off, which can also be interpreted as a perk, I guess.
I'm guessing I'll stick with the show throughout this season, though I don't know if I'll do the regular recap (not just because of the quality of the show, but because we're in the process of buying a house and I don't know how much time we'll  have). I'm just rapidly losing interest in the series. It remains one of HBO's more popular offerings, so I'm guessing my opinion is a minority one. Still, one of the show's biggest draws in its early days was that, even when it wasn't successful, it at least avoided being boring. That changed last season, and I'm not sure "True Blood" can come back.

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