True Blood: The Complete First Season

True Blood: The Complete First Season
Based on its seemingly campy premise — vampires "come out" of the coffin to reveal that they've been living among us for centuries — and its over-the-top fake commercials for products like synthetic Tru Blood, this Alan Ball-created HBO series at first seemed too clever by half. The series follows Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), who befriends vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), who's "mainstreaming": attempting to live among humans. Stackhouse's world teems with overheated Southern weirdoes, from the too-freaky gay line cook to the bar owner who might have his own supernatural side to the customers who've taken to sexually fetishizing vampire culture. And the series itself is almost overwhelmed by darkness, fog and a spooky gothic vibe that threatens to sink it early on under the weight of its mannerisms. But within just a few episodes of Sookie being wooed by the 173-year-old Bill, of her brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) engaging in ill-advised but hilarious bouts of sexual spelunking and of tough but vulnerable best friend Tara (Rutina Wesley, who steals many scenes), True Blood establishes its tone and pedigree. It's exactly the sort of overheated Southern narrative that it appears to be, fully embracing its soapy extravagances and narrative swoops, all while being overly stylish. It's the very richness of it all that turns True Blood into a tasty indulgence. The commercials and wink-y/clever sales pitch before the series began made it seem like another self-aware "deconstruction" of vampires-as-metaphors. The reality turns out to be much more fun and deliciously sexy: a full-on gothic horror in the pulpy tradition of Anne Rice (without her overwrought characterizations). When the series moves toward the revelation of an entire unseen vampire community, one with a strict hierarchy unimpressed with Bill's dalliances with human Sookie, it opens up to a wealth of season two possibilities. Given the fact that almost every episode starts immediately after the last one ends, it's absolutely perfect for hardcore DVD binging. The extras are dominated by those clever "deconstructions" that gave such a false first impression: vampire dating service ads, a mockumentary about vampire culture, pro- and anti-vampire rights PSAs, plus a handful of episode commentaries. (Warner)