Final Thoughts: True Blood

It seems that I’ve done little more than bitch about True Blood this moth and so it’s difficult to think of anything more worth saying in a “Final Thoughts.”  Clearly, I hated this show and my various reviews offer an extensive (though not exhaustive) catalogue of why.  The only point of contention I can really think of is whether this is merely my opinion or if the show is “bad” in an objective sense.  Some might claim that this is an absurd notion when talking about art, that how one reacts is inherently subjective and that you cannot make an objective assessment of quality.  I would counter that we need shared standards to have any meaningful discussions about art.  Efforts to articulate why something is good or bad presuppose some common ground in our understanding.  I say that True Blood’s failings are not merely offenses against my sensibility, but actual sins against narrative.  With that in mind, I submit Ten Commandments of television storytelling and this series’ most egregious violations of them.

  1. Events shall be relevant to the plot.  Arguably the most basic, essential part of narrative.  That which happens on screen should be a consequence of what has happened before and, in turn, be a cause of what happens later.  There were countless examples to choose from, but I’ll take the death of Sookie’s cat as the most obvious one.  The killer hadn’t done anything in a while, so for some reason he… kills and mutilates a pet?
  2. Characters shall exist outside the story.  Commonly referred to as “depth,” we should get a sense that characters have thoughts and emotions beyond what’s portrayed on screen, that their actions are a consequence of some underlying identity.  What, exactly, were Sam’s core characteristics?
  3. Visuals shall be engaging.  Television is a visual medium and what we see needs to draw us into the story, not push us out of it.  The sex scenes that dominate the first few episodes do nothing to pull the audience into the story.  Whether you enjoy these scenes or not, there’s nothing about them to either ask or answer the question “Who are these people?”
  4. The acting shall be “up to” the emotion.  Bad acting is, obviously, bad, but competence just isn’t enough when conveying heavy emotion.  The extensive melodrama between Tara and her mother just seemed absurd coming from two actresses of such limited range.
  5. Plot devices shall at least be consistent.  Generally not a good thing, the plot device shouldn’t change from moment to moment.  V: cure-all, aphrodisiac, habit-forming, steroid, spiritual experience, whatever else the writers need it to be.
  6. Emotional payoffs shall be proportional to time requirements.  We don’t need to care about everything that happens.  However, the more time we spend with an event, the more we need to care about it.  Gran’s death gave us a whole episode of mourning.  Did anyone care about her enough to be sad for a minute, let alone an hour?
  7. If we’ve seen it before, we don’t need to see it again.  Clichés are bad.  Duh.  True Blood does nothing to expand the vampire subgenre.  Why should we watch it as opposed to any other vampire story out there?
  8. Events shall be consistently relevant.  Don’t ask the audience to be outraged one moment and ambivalent the next.  Sookie’s child abuse is a perfect example, going from completely unknown, to worth killing over, to completely forgotten in the space of two episodes.
  9. The setting shall have an internal logic.  It’s not necessary that what’s on screen be “realistic,” just that it makes sense in itself.  Sookie’s telepathic powers developed and shed limits from episode to episode.  How, exactly, was Rene able to “lie” with his thoughts?
  10. Hmm, can’t think of a tenth right now.  True Blood sucks.
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