I wanna do real bad things to you...

A somewhat spoiler-free review of the HBO original series

True Blood was an original TV series produced and broadcast by HBO. The basic premise is that vampires (and other supernatural beings) have always existed, but recently (within a year or so of the beginning of the story) have "come out of the coffin", and made their presence known to the world, in an attempt to escape the secrecy and loneliness that comes with immortality. The vampires are able to do this thanks to a product called True Blood, a beverage for vampires that is basically synthetic human blood in various flavors, such as O+, AB, A- and so on. It's sold in what appears to be 24oz glass bottles and is, of course, blood red. A majority of the vampires on the show seem to disdain the stuff and maintain the façade of consuming it to avoid the standard pitchforks-and-torches gang of town residents coming to seek vengeance on that which killed their auntie/turned their daughter/slaughtered their family or simply because humans are bigoted and fearful of that which they do not understand.

The show takes place in the fictional northern Louisiana small town of Bon Temps (pronounced BON tom), located in also-fictional Renard Parish, Louisiana. Bon Temps itself is more or less the middle of nowhere; it's about 20 miles from Shreveport and two hundred miles from Dallas. For a show about vampires in Louisiana, you'd think there'd be an awful lot happening in New Orleans (about three hundred miles away), but, perhaps to avoid painting themselves into a clichéd corner, the writers have used the city quite sparingly.

The first season aired on HBO in June 2008 and a new season appeared every following June, with the seventh and final season started in June 2014. True Blood has garnered critical acclaim as a brilliant example of how much more you can get away with on premium cable than on network TV or basic cable. Nudity, sex, drug use, coarse language, brutal violence and all the rest are the show's forté. The seasons are laid out episodically so that each season contains a series of related storylines that are mostly resolved by each season finale.

The principal cast members include:

  • Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a waitress at a local restaurant/bar who happens to be a telepath. Sookie is indisputably the series' main character. She's also the subject of the terrible Snoop Dogg song "Oh, Sookie!".
  • Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten), Sookie's older brother. He's something of a dimwit and has no supernatural abilities of his own—one of the very few main characters that doesn't—but acts as a sort of anchor to Sookie and is reliable to a fault. Kwanten, an Australian, does one of the most believable Louisiana accents (that is, the accent of northern Louisiana/southern Arkansas) I've ever heard on TV.
  • William "Bill" Compton (Stephen Moyer), a confederate soldier in the American Civil War who was made a vampire about 150 years prior to the storyline. His connection to Sookie is the main impetus for most of the plot twists of each season. He can't seem to decide if he's good at heart or twisted and evil, and frequently flip-flops between the two depending on the demands of the plot.
  • Jessica Hamby (Deborah Ann Woll), a teenage runaway captured by the Vampire Authority (more on them later) and made a vampire against her will by Bill as a criminal punishment laid on him by the Authority. Later seasons give her surprising depth and she is probably the most sensitive vampire we meet on the show. But she's also a bloodthirsty killer and is at constant odds with her equally strong desires to do good and to feed on humans.
  • Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård), a vampire originally from Sweden (like Skarsgård himself) who is about a thousand years old and extraordinarily powerful. During the first few seasons, he's played as an antagonist, but his fan-favorite status elevated him largely to the side fighting for good. Eric and Jessica are likely the most lusted-after characters.
  • Pamela de Beaufort (Kristin Bauer van Straten), Eric's only vampiric progeny for the first six seasons. Pam is sarcastic, aloof and extremely protective of and in love with Eric, though she is otherwise a lesbian. Together they run Fangtasia, a vampire nightclub in Shreveport. She was made a vampire about a hundred years prior to the storyline and due to the power of her master, she's quite powerful in her own right: much more so than vampires of comparable age.
  • Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley), Sookie's best friend stretching back to their childhood together. Her alcoholic mother (Adina Porter) is a constant thorn in her side and she has more than a few run-ins with vampires that have made her despise them. Following season three, Tara leaves Bon Temps for New Orleans in an attempt to build a new life there, but in the world of True Blood, you can leave Bon Temps but it'll never leave you... as you'll see in the later seasons.
  • Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell), owner of Merlotte's Bar and Grill, where Sookie and other characters are employed. Sam is revealed to be a shapeshifter, able to transform into any animal from a housefly to a great ox. He frequently uses the form of an owl to clandestinely observe situations of interest to him personally. One of the more complex characters on the show. He's benevolent and helpful but frequently adopts a "fuck off and die" attitude when things start to go sour.
  • Arlene Fowler (Carrie Preston), a 40ish waitress at Merlotte's. No supernatural powers. Goes through a number of very disturbing situations and seems to be constantly on the verge of freaking out. She ends up pregnant by Jason's friend Rene Lenier (Michael Raymond-James), but later hooks up with...:
  • Terry Bellefleur (Todd Lowe), a cook at Merlotte's. He's a US Marine veteran who served in Iraq and is haunted by post-traumatic stress disorder. We're treated to brief looks at his life in the military and how he was forced to kill unarmed, civilian Iraqis, the spirits of which he must confront if he is to move on with his new life with Arlene and her children.
  • Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis), a flamboyantly gay and utterly fabulous cook at Merlotte's who moonlights as a drug dealer and hustler. He too has been through some serious shit but came out of it mostly unscathed. He is a psychic medium (much to his dismay) and is prone to possession by vengeful spirits. Had a really sweet relationship with a man named Jesús (Kevin Alejandro), a nurse who had been caring for his mentally ill mother (Alfre Woodard).
  • Andy Bellefleur (Chris Bauer), at first the deputy sheriff of Bon Temps, and later the sheriff when the incumbent, Bud Dearborn (William Sanderson), retires in disgust after a series of brutal murders. Andy tries to be a stern, by-the-book police officer, but his general desire to follow his heart at times conflicts with this.

Other characters have come and gone, and some have stayed for a number of seasons, but above are the actors comprising the core cast.

A brief summary of seasons 1-7 is as follows:

  1. (2008) Vampires emerge into human society. Humans and vampires must learn to live together. The core group of the main characters all begin their story arcs during this season. Sookie and Bill first meet in what is later revealed to be a staged attempt to attract her to the Vampire Authority.
  2. (2009) A maenad (Michelle Forbes) infiltrates Bon Temps under the guise of a benevolent mother figure, but has ulterior motives involving Sam; the core cast (detailed above) must find a way to defeat her. The politics of the vampire social caste system are explored and we find that each US state has a king or queen and that each state is separated into a number of areas, each governed by a sheriff. Season two also introduces us to werewolves via the local pack in Shreveport, led by Alcide Herveaux (Joe Manganiello).
  3. (2010) The king of Mississippi, the 3000-year-old vampire Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare), is introduced and is the main antagonist of season three. Eric seeks vengeance against him for the slaughter of his family in Sweden centuries prior. But at 3000 years old, he's a tough nut to crack. Jason becomes involved with a pack of trashy werepanthers he was initially attempting to protect. Sookie learns more about what exactly she is from her honest-to-goodness faerie godmother, Claudine.
  4. (2011) Bill is named king of Louisiana and gains much power in the political world of the Vampire Authority. A powerful witch named Marnie Stonebrook (Fiona Shaw) establishes a coven in Bon Temps—with disastrous consequences for the local vampires. She casts a spell on Eric that gives him total amnesia. As Sookie attempts to care for him until his memory is regained, they develop a somewhat clumsy love affair. A villain from the past returns to Bon Temps.
  5. (2012) The Vampire Authority, up until this point no more than a bureaucratic figurehead organization, gains immense power in the form of Russell Edgington, for whom they had been searching. Bill and Eric are captured by the VA. Bill gradually is assimilated into the VA's philosophy that humans are merely food while Eric plays along until he can escape the VA compound and warn others. Bill kills his way to the top of the VA and drinks the last remaining drops of the blood of Lilith (Jessica Clark), the first vampire. At first, this seems to kill him, but he is reformed and is immeasurably more powerful, able to command any vampire since he is Lilith reincarnated (but also Bill, at the same time).
  6. (2013) The (human) governor of Louisiana has put together a program to develop a virus fatal to vampires, coloquially known as Hepatitis V or "Hep V". When it is perfected and tested on Eric's vampire sister Nora Gainesborough (Lucy Griffiths), both of whom were made by Godric (Allan Hyde), he is determined to find out the truth of what's happening and to stop it. Vampires are rounded up by specialist SWAT teams armed with ultraviolet light-emitting bullets, which can disable a vampire long enough for them to be wrapped in silver netting (all vampires share a severe skin allergy to silver) and taken to what is basically a prison camp run by the state of Louisiana. There, a True Blood production facility is established, and each bottle is intentionally contaminated with Hep V. Bill must overcome his visions of Lilith to save vampire-kind. A mysterious figure from Sookie and Jason's back-story, a vampire/faerie hybrid named Warlow (Robert Kazinsky), reappears to claim Sookie under the terms of a 300-year-old contract signed by a distant Stackhouse ancestor. Oh, and Rutger Hauer shows up, too, because... well, why not?
  7. (2014) I'm not going to give much away about the final season other than to say it ended well, just at the right time.

One of the main complaints against True Blood is that if 90% of the characters are supernatural in one way or another, then everyone is normal and boring. I disagree with this as I find the show to be a refreshing change from typical vampire fiction. The show's plot twists are at times stupidly obvious and at others totally shocking. Creator Alan Ball left the show after season five and the general consensus has been that it's suffered in his absence, with the storyline getting weaker and less plausible with each new season. Following the conclusion of season six, it was announced that season seven was to be the final run of True Blood.

True Blood is loosely based upon the Sookie Stackhouse novels by author Charlaine Harris. The general consensus as to the faithfulness of the show towards the books is fairly divided. Not having read the books myself, I won't weigh in here.

In any case, True Blood has been a shining star in the crown of the HBO original series lineup, which also includes the smash hits Boardwalk Empire, Girls, Game of Thrones, The Newsroom, Veep, Treme and The Wire. And as each season of True Blood is ten or twelve episodes, each running approximately 55 minutes, it doesn't take too long to get caught up on past seasons. It's available via HBO streaming and all the seasons have been released on DVD. To date, it has not been shown on Netflix or Hulu.

My broad brush-stroke take on True Blood is that it's a fun, sexy, thrilling TV series and those who enjoy vampire mythos or other supernaturally-themed stories and characters would enjoy it. I'd definitely recommend it to fans of any of the other HBO original series I mentioned in the previous paragraph. I think they're ending the series at just the right time, before they well and truly run out of good ideas and end up on that most cynical of TV-writing paths: jumping the shark.

Some see the show as allegory for the struggle for LGBT rights around the world, and I must agree: that's not too far off the mark. Not that LGBT characters are lacking on True Blood (in fact there are many), but it is the vampires' struggle for mainstream acceptance that resonates loudly with LGBT rights advocates.

The title theme, by the way, is "Bad Things" by Jace Everett. It was not written specifically for the show but appeared on his 2005 debut album. Hearing it play over footage of religious fanaticism, strippers, bar brawls, swamps, decaying animals, bigotry and bayou folk is very fitting.

Some resources:

True Blood Wiki
IMDb: "True Blood" (2008)
WP: True Blood