Dropping the Ball: Why it’s time to bury ‘True Blood’ six feet under

sixtrue.jpg


“I liked their early stuff better.” It’s easy to feel suspicious of this sentiment, so often leveled at musicians, filmmakers, novelists and doughnut shop owners alike, considering the increasing speed with which the digitally empowered masses seem to move from unexpected delight towards vague dissatisfaction these days.

Yet, in the case of Alan Ball, it’s hard not to agree: How did the creator of Six Feet Under, one of the most original, thoughtful, understated dramas on television, go on to create True Blood, one of the flashiest, emptiest, most repetitive dramas ever to haunt the small screen?


While Six Feet Under came to a (moving and unforgettable) close after five seasons, True Blood is like a vampire version of Fonzie, jumping the shark every single week without any sign of stopping. On Monday, HBO announced that True Blood was renewed for its seventh season, which takes the show through 2014. And if ratings hold up, Vampire Fonzie might never die.

Does Alan Ball recognize the monster he’s created? Apparently not. “True Blood has been, and will continue to be, a highlight of not only my career but my life,” Ball said when he departed the show at the end of its fifth season. Ball’s flair for the dramatic should come as no surprise, considering how he milked maximum drama from a less-than-promising concept about a funeral home and squeezed a hit show out of a pulpy gaggle of vampire books whose literary merits are roughly on par with Fifty Shades. Still, could these two shows be any different? Because every single thing that’s good about Six Feet Under is bad about True Blood. More specifically…

1. Who’s driving this thing? Six Feet Under, pretty much the definition of a character-driven drama, featured some of the most nuanced, intelligent, unique protagonists on TV. In contrast, True Blood is action-driven (if you can really call shouting, F-bombs and giant buckets of fake blood “action”), and features some of the flattest, most cartoonish characters around. When Claire Fisher got a new boyfriend, we worried about her. When Sookie gets a new boyfriend, we shrug and assume he’s about to eat the flesh off her face. “What’s wrong with that?” I can hear you asking. Well…

2. Dramatic conflict vs. bickering: The fights on Six Feet Under were at once realistic and engrossing. When Claire and her mother, Ruth, had an argument or Nate and Rachel considered breaking up, the conversation took unexpected turns, from humor to tension, from rage to regret. The conflicts that welled up always felt familiar, relatable, and entertaining. On True Blood, the characters quarrel and shout and drop F-bombs constantly, but there are no clever or poignant turns in the road. Whichever mood begins the scene, that’s usually the mood that ends the scene, demonstrating that all that talk adds up to nothing. Likewise…

3. Substance vs. emptiness: While on Six Feet Under, dialogue usually had several layers of meaning — married life vs. freedom, safety vs. adventure, honesty vs. lies, fear vs. open-hearted living, the arguments on True Blood boil down to the same thing: “What should we do about this [person, enemy, faction] that’s out to get us?” Watching True Blood is like attending a town meeting packed with paranoiac individuals… if, you know, those meetings usually end in gory violence. And even when characters on True Blood have huge differences of opinion, they’re typically forgotten by the next episode. No amount of swearing or yelling makes a difference. Jason cuts ties with Sookie then forgets all about it in the next episode; Sam’s girlfriend dies and he shakes it off and makes eyes at a pretty activist a few hours later. Do the writers really think that a splash of blood and a little nudity can erase every dead end plot? Maybe, but even so…

4. Gimmick swallows story whole: Six Feet Under’s central gimmick is that someone dies at the start of each episode, and then the Fisher family handles the funeral. Although that sounds Love Boat-silly on the page, Ball and the other writers used each death to propel the story forward. By thrusting the Fishers into a weekly existential crisis, we learned more about them. The theme of the show — that we can only truly live once we’ve learned to accept our eventual deaths — dovetailed beautifully with the show’s central gimmick. True Blood’s gimmick — that vampires are a drowntrodden minority — not only upstages the plot, the characters, and the larger series arc, but it never feels quite right. Unlike, say, the peaceful aliens in the Apartheid allegory District 9, vampires actually murder people. Often. When rednecks talk about hating “fang bangers” and activists show up and talk empowerment, it’s all so hopelessly on-the-nose, and so sloppy and unsound. Unlike Six Feet Under, True Blood has no wisdom to offer and no mysteries to unfold. Furthermore…

5. Cliffhangers: People sometimes referred to Six Feet Under as a soap opera simply because it didn’t concern the same old homicide detectives and ER surgeons we’d all seen a trillion times before. On the other hand, during the cliffhanger episodes, Six Feet Under did get pretty soapy. Lisa disappears! Rachel leaves! Nate falls down! Mostly these were juicy twists to otherwise solid, realistic storylines, and each twist was often the extreme outcome of a character making reckless choices. On True Blood, the cliffhangers are packed into every episode, without any plot or ideas to hold them together. Andy suddenly has a bunch of babies. A wolf pack devours some young activists. Bill is horribly burned. A herd of fairies are slaughtered. You could tell me that, in the next episode, Sookie’s head is eaten off by a ten-foot-tall lion, and I would yawn. Which leads us to…

6. Death becomes us: On Six Feet Under, the threat of death always haunted the show’s characters, making them reconsider their bad decisions and forcing them to figure out what they really wanted from their balance of days on earth. The specter of death allowed Six Feet Under to tackle heavy concepts and emotions directly instead of tapping into that heaviness using criminals and cops and hospital beds. On True Blood, death is meaningless. People die and then get brought back to life so often that it’s hardly even notable when someone gets shot (Tara) or collapses and dies unexpectedly (Jason) or is reduced to a pile of blood and guts (Bill). We only wonder how long it’ll take Sookie to clean up the mess.

7. Suspense and horror! vs. meh: How is it possible that Six Feet Under had far more suspense and horror than True Blood does? When Nate fell ill or Rachel slept with some scary frat boys or David was tortured by a stranger, those scenes were far more chilling than the most terrifying vampire showdown on True Blood. It takes about five minutes of watching The Walking Dead to understand its visceral appeal as a pulse-raiser. But on True Blood, frightening scenes are filmed without any flair or creativity, like it’s forty years ago and Alfred Hitchcock never existed. Why?

8. Laughter and forgetting: Six Feet Under had a sly, odd sense of humor that infused every scene. When Nate’s wife, Lisa, got a job working for a high-maintenance rich woman who was more like an awful adult-sized baby, the scenes between them were pure comedy gold. Some of Claire’s boyfriends seemed to be formed straight from the nightmares of actual parents. And almost any fight between David and Keith was deeply entertaining, like watching friends you love quarrel harmlessly, from a safe distance. True Blood, on the other hand, is supposed to campy and comical, but it lost its ability to amuse long ago. When Andy looks at his rapidly aging preteens and says for the fourth time, “They just grow up so fast!”? Well, it wasn’t so funny the first time. Two characters have been genuinely amusing on True Blood: Jason Stackhouse and Russell Edgington. Everyone else? Not. (Eric Northman dressed up as a nerd, for example? No.)

Basically, every other scene on True Blood is groan-inducing, from the painfully bad dialogue to the flat acting to the bad jokes. At this point, the show is pretty terrible all around. So why do so many of us keep watching? Are we hoping that it’s about to turn a corner? Or that Vampire Fonzie might finally fall straight into the shark’s mouth?

Personally, I’m just trying to fill the time until Alan Ball writes another whip-smart, heart-wrenching domestic drama, and leaves the supernatural fang-banging (and the gory soapiness of his Cinemax show Banshee, for that matter) far behind once and for all.
Source

Not over SFU tbh