HBO // 2009 // 720 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // May 25th, 2010
"You're either on the dark side or you're on the side of the light!" -- Jason Stackhouse
True Blood's second season kept all the high styled sexiness of the first year and added heaps of gore and camp fun to bring the tone up to an orgiastic fever pitch. Series creator Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) took the framework of the second book by Charlaine Harris (Living Dead in Dallas) and constructed plotlines that could further explore his satire of sex and religion using vampires in a sleepy Louisiana town. The show delved into themes of loyalty, leaders, and how far people will go blindly following flawed ideals created by beings with power. Whether it was an old vampire, fundamentalist Christian leaders, or a supernatural demigod, people got in trouble bowing down to the wrong things thinking it was the right thing to do. Heck, a whole town almost got lost in a haze of sex and violence right after a Christian church sought to enact Armageddon. Blind faith became the big bad, and nobody could escape the disease of having too much of it. Caught in the middle is a simple girl who can read minds and her vampire, just trying to get people to accept their love.
The season opens up with the discovery of a dead body in the back of a police car in front of Merlotte's bar. The little town of Bon Temps has seen a lot of death lately, but this murder seems especially cruel with a heart ripped out of the victim. Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin, X-Men) and Tara (Rutina Wesley, How She Move) commiserate, but they aren't together long as vampire Eric (Alexander Skarsgård, Never Be Mine) has asked to send telepathic Sookie to Dallas in order to help find his missing maker, Godric. Of course vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer, 88 Minutes) has to accompany her on the journey, yet wherever Bill goes so does his new vampire ward, Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll, Mother's Day). In an ironic twist Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten, Don't Fade Away) joins a fundamentalist Christian "vampire hating" church called the Fellowship of the Sun who sends him to Dallas for a leadership conference. Strangely enough this spiritual retreat includes paramilitary training on how to take down the undead. No fair guessing there might be a connection between a missing vampire and Bible beaters building a militia for a holy war. Meanwhile back in Bon Temps, a larger than life bohemian woman named Maryann (Michelle Forbes, Battlestar Galactica: Razor) has shown up and taken an interest in Tara. She also has an unclear design on shape shifter Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem). Can Sookie use her telepathic powers to find Godric? Can Tara, Sam, and all of Bon Temps survive a run-in with Maryann?
True Blood has easily become a breakaway hit for HBO, a channel that lucked into having a vampire series right when fangs are all the rage thanks to the Twilight phenomenon. It has become the cable network's most-watched show since The Sopranos. This one's obviously for adults -- with all the sex, gore, and violence -- so, fittingly, all those aging Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans now have something more mature to sink their teeth into. Creator Alan Ball has made what started off as a line of vampire, bodice-ripping romance novels into an "oh so topical" debate on gay rights and other cultural matters. He's injected a lot of depth as well as his own camp sensibility into the material to produce a vampire soap opera which can contend easily with the likes of Dark Shadows for letting the supernatural define an era.
The show does extremely well with eroticism, and in this second year makes the most of the real life coupling of leads Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer, who decided to announce an intention to be married. Their love scenes together have a much more daring feel than any seen in recent television history. This was all made even more intriguing with Anna Paquin's out-of-left-field proclamation that she was proud to consider herself bisexual. It also doesn't hurt that most of the hunky male stars are willing to take off their clothes, and that there is plenty of incidental nudity with all the shape shifting and demonic orgies. I imagine the gym training must be one of the highest expenses of the series if we could factor that in. The show is a sexy pulp fiction that is incredibly fun to watch for its supernatural satire. It's pure adult escapist fun, and easily one of the most addictive series out there, thanks to the irresistable mix of comedy, sex, and violence.
The DVD set is well-appointed with plenty of extras and a beautiful transfer. I can't imagine fans will be disappointed to get these discs even if they don't have the expanded episodes of the Blu-Ray or the higher definition. The image certainly holds up well enough with incredibly rendered black levels and natural flesh tones. There are sequences with a wash of grain, but that may be a directorial choice to give a filmic feel. Outside of the grain there are no digital artifacts that mar the experience. Surround sound engages all five speakers and does fine with dialogue and music. The extras concentrate on seven audio commentaries and then two rather cheeky features. We get a news show about vampire life with some very funny bits as well as some promotional spots from the Fellowship of the Sun telling us how to handle hell-bound demons.
Commentaries included in the DVD set:
* Episode Two -- actor Nelsan Ellis (Lafayette) and director Michael Lehmann
* Episode Seven -- writer Raelle Tucker and director Michael Ruscio
* Episode Eight -- actors Stephen Moyer (Bill), Alexander Skarsgård (Eric), and director John Dahl
* Episode Ten -- actors Ryan Kwanten (Jason) and Sam Trammell (Sam)
* Episode Eleven -- actress Rutina Wesley (Tara), writer/creator Alan Ball, and director Daniel Minahan
* Episode Twelve -- actresses Anna Paquin (Sookie) and Michelle Forbes (Maryonn)
* Episode Twelve -- writer Alexander Woo and director Michael Cuesta
True Blood Season Two is not entirely pitch perfect from start to finish, and there's plenty to pick apart if you look hard enough below the surface. Sometimes the show missteps, like with the nearly comical "I have to head back" lines from Tara in regards to her fatal attraction to Maryann. That whole plot seems to wear thin near the end of the season, although Michelle Forbes never lets down her campy, excellent, scene-chewing turn in the middle of all of it. Also Sookie's torment of being torn between Bill and Eric is extremely lopsided here in the televised series when contrasted with her literary counterpart. In the books Bill treats her badly enough now and then to make the reader pull equally for both vampires, but Ball and his writers keep Bill almost saint-like in his devotion to Sookie.
The second year of True Blood offers viewers a lurid cautionary tale of how blind faith can lead to the brink of insanity. Religion and sex mix together to almost take down an entire Louisiana town, and even the vampires seem to fall prey to the misgivings of having belief in the wrong things. This season provided a more technical look at how vampire society works and how human society falls apart. All of this social commentary is injected with an over-the-top mix of sex and blood. It's lurid fun, and continues to be one of the best on television right now. HBO's DVD set presents the series with just enough extras to be fine by fans not quite ready for the Blu-Ray format. The transfer is striking and the set is packaged in a very nice cardboard slip case that handsomely matches season one.
True Blood is not guilty of sucking...well, at least not figuratively.
Review content copyright © 2010 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* Portuguese (Brazilian)
Running Time: 720 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Official Site