It's weird...Judge Gordon Sullivan has a thing for both Sookie and Snookie. Coincidence?
Our reviews of True Blood: The Complete First Season (published May 27th, 2009), True Blood: The Complete First Season (Blu-Ray) (published June 29th, 2009), True Blood: The Complete Second Season (published May 25th, 2010), True Blood: The Complete Second Season (Blu-Ray) (published May 24th, 2010), True Blood: The Complete Third Season (published June 5th, 2011), True Blood: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray) (published May 31st, 2011), and True Blood: The Complete Fourth Season (Blu-ray) (published May 28th, 2012) are also available.
Don't cry. It's back.
The release of True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season coincided roughly with the release of the final book in the Sookie Stackhouse series upon which the show is based. Charlaine Harris wrapped up her series with charm and dignity. Despite all the twists and turns the story took over 12 books, the final installment is revealed to be about its characters who are as human as any of us, even with their supernatural attributes. True Blood has taken some of those same twists and turns—the introduction of fairies, a vampire council—but has lost its focus on character, replacing it with the spectacle of sex and other shenanigans. Though there are some interesting revelations in this fifth season, it will likely only appeal to die-hard fans. Not even HBO's usually impressive Blu-ray presentation can make up for the hollow glitz of it all.
Facts of the Case
When Season Four wrapped, Sookie was in danger, Bill and Eric killed an old vampire, and uber-vamp Russell Edgington escaped from his concrete cell. This season, Sookie has to deal with Tara becoming a vamp, a civil war in the vampire council aka the Authority, and someone hunting shapeshifters, which leaves out numerous subplots and romantic elements the show has been known for. These 12 episodes are chock-full of continuing storylines and new twists, culminating in a huge cliffhanger.
Prior to Season Five, True Blood racked up four years worth of guilty-pleasure vampiric fun. By using their premium-cable allowances, the production team skewed toward the mature side of the melodramatic formula so many supernatural shows rely on. As the years progressed, the show relied on a "go big or go home" approach, with lots of cursing, romance, sex, and violence sprinkled liberally throughout. The series even adds some extra bits to the supernatural world, giving us the usual mix of vampires and werewolves but also throwing in fairies to augment the typical supernatural realm.
This epic tendency comes to a head here. We've been teased with The Authority for a while now, and this time it finally pays off…sort of. But the main issue with Season Five is that it simply has too many pots boiling at once for any one of these storylines to feel all that significant. Prior seasons have done a good job of juggling competing characters, but this time there are simply too many stories and not enough episodes. Even if each major plotline were given its own episode, the 12 included here wouldn't be enough. The combination of these disparate threads blunts the impact that any one of them could have had on their own, or in smaller combinations (which is one of the things the books get right).
On the plus side, each individual episode is still pretty well-made. The acting from the regulars is still top notch. I love watching Anna Paquin (X2: X-Men United) try to navigate her increasingly weird role as Sookie, while Alexander Skarsgård (Battleship) and Stephen Moyer (Quills) play vamps perfectly cool. The rest of the cast are equally enthralling whether human, vamp, werewolf or fae. Individual episodes house moments of character development and plot machinations, even if they don't all add up effectively over 12 episodes. I can't fault the show for swinging for the fences, with a major cliffhanger that will have even waffling fans tuning in for the premiere of Season Six.
I also can't fault this Blu-ray set. HBO has given nearly all their television programming handsome packaging and solid HD presentation. All 12 episodes are included on four discs housed in a tray that folds up into a sturdy cardboard sleeve. That sleeve also houses another, smaller foldout tray that includes two double-sided DVDs that house the show in standard definition and for digital playback. These 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfers are largely excellent. Detail is strong throughout, from the brightest scenes of daylight to the darkest interiors of the various clubs, bars, and brothels the characters find themselves in. Black levels stay deep and consistent throughout, which is crucial for a show like this. Colors are otherwise strong as well, with good saturation and accurate skin tones (despite all the pale characters). The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks are equally strong. Dialogue is always clear and audible, while the surrounds get used for atmosphere and during some of the more action-oriented scenes.
Bonus feature kick off with a picture-in-picture "Enhanced Viewing Mode," giving viewers the chance to digest all kinds of material, from character interviews to flashbacks from previous seasons. It's a lot to process, but helps flesh out the show. Each episode also gets a mini-making-of "Inside the Episode" featurette that aired with it on HBO; a nice way to recreate the broadcast experience. Five episodes get commentary tracks from various members of the cast and crew, spotlighting production info, story background, and a sense of what it's like to work on True Blood. There's also a larger featurette that spends an hour with episode six, giving an in-depth look at its production. On the slightly fluffier side, we get 12 interviews with members of The Authority talking about themselves (in character) and an interactive family tree for those having trouble keeping track of who's who.
True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season heralds some changes. The final episode sets up serious shifts for many of the characters, as well as the production team who will go on without the involvement of creator and showrunner Alan Ball (Six Feet Under). That said, Season Five is sure to appeal to long-time fans of the show, but more casual viewers might be turned off by the sheer number of stories this season is trying to tell.
Not guilty, but lost its bite.
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