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STUDIO: HBO Home Video
MSRP: $32.99
RATED: TV-MA
RUNNING TIME: 720 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES:
* The Vampire Report
* Fellowship of the Sun: Reflections of Light
* Commentary

The Pitch
Twilight for grown ups… and people who actually like vampires.

The Humans
Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley

The Nutshell
Bon Temps – worst place to live since Sunnydale. In the sophomore outing of HBO’s spunky Cajun horror-show life continues to get weirder and more dangerous for telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse as she becomes further entrenched in the vampire community; Jason becomes involved with a religious anti-vampire sect; Bill’s new progeny proves to be a handful; Eric investigates the disappearance of his 2,000-year-old maker; and Maryann weaves a web that slowly ensnares the whole town.  

The Lowdown
I am not a big vampire fan. I’m also not a big Alan Ball fan. So it was with great surprise that I found myself a big fan of True Blood. To be totally honest I even went into Season One wanting to dislike it (forgive me, I thought American Beauty was very over-rated), but ended up finding it incredibly fun and more important, surprisingly clever. Season Two is a little uneven and lacks the focus of the first season, but it is still a hell of a lot of fun and continues to mine cleverness as it digs deeper into its mythology. And for those that really want to see Anna Paquin naked (I’m not entirely sure I was one of them), you’re in luck. Someone has been hitting the gym and seems very eager to give HBO subscribers their money’s worth.


Cullen!

After resolving the mystery of Bon Temps’ serial killer (it was red-head Arlene’s fella, Rene, for those with a short memory), Season One left us with several cliffhangers:

* Vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer) killed another vampire to protect Sookie (Anna Paquin), and was forced by the vamp council to sire a new vampire, Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll).
* A suspicious benefactor, Maryann (Michelle Forbes), had taken Tara (Rutina Wesley) under her wing.
* The dead body of Miss Jeanette, the grocery clerk who moonlighted as a shaman and cured Tara’s mother of alcoholism, was found dead in Detective Andy Bellefleur’s (Chris Bauer) car outside of Merlotte’s.
* There was a fairly strong implication that Bill had killed Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis).

I was a little concerned that Miss Jeanette’s murder was going to be the first of many, and that Season Two was going to fall prey to the deadly temptation of simply trying to recreate Season One. Thankfully this was not the case. True Blood made the wise decision to try something completely new. Go big or go home, they say. True Blood Season Two goes big. There’s a lot of shit to talk about here, so let’s just jump into it…

There are about a dozen subplots throughout the season, but they all fall within the scope of three main storylines: Jason Stackhouse’s (Ryan Kwanten) indoctrination into the anti-vampire league Fellowship of the Sun; Maryann’s seductive spell over Bon Temps; and Eric’s (Alexander Skarsgård) quest to find Godric, the missing vampire sheriff of Area 9.


Hmm. You know, Alexander, maybe it was moments like this that lost you Thor.

Though it shares equal time with the other two story arcs, inevitably the Godric mystery feels the most important because it involves Sookie and Bill. Fortunately, it is also the most compelling aspect of the season (nothing kills your show faster than giving your protagonist the boring shit to do). 

Plot-wise the arc concerns the disappearance of Godric, the sheriff of an area that includes Texas. Godric is over 2000-years-old, and since in the True Blood-verse vampires grow more powerful as they get older (a detail I love), the idea that humans might have done something to him greatly disturbs Eric, so Sookie (with Bill as her chaperon) is sent to Dallas in the hops that her power can be of service. But it is the emotional developments and mythology revelations that occur along this arc that are the real driving force.


Fun fact: vampires love Yahtzee.

There are some big wins here, biggest probably being the wise expansion of Eric Northman (including an awesome flashback to his Viking origin). Not just because pretty much everything Alexander Skarsgård does on the show is a delight to watch, but Eric’s growing obsession with Sookie helps keep the Sookie/Bill romance – which so much of Season One relied on – fresh. Without giving too much away I will say that a love triangle forms between the three in a unique way that comes organically from the show’s mythology. And it’s True Blood‘s mythology that really makes the series stand out (it was the detail of vampire blood being used as a recreational drug for humans that first hooked me). Season One I thought was a little pre-occupied with using vampirism for on-the-nose metaphors about gay relations in America, but Season Two, while keeping that allegorical spirit, becomes very interested in the actual vampirism – which is tonally somewhere between Anne Rice’s beautiful people Victorian vamps and the dance-hall Eurotrash vamps from Blade. (I haven’t read the Charlaine Harris books, but presumably a lot is lifted directly from the pages.)

A lot of new elements are added to the world: we learn what happens if vampires try and stay awake during the day (“the bleeds”), that some vamps can fly, and a bellhop named Barry proves a life-altering discovery for Sookie. But the bond between vampire maker and progeny is the facet most thoroughly explored in Season Two and I really dug it. The relationship between Bill and his unruly noob, Jessica, is given more context when we meet Bill’s maker, Lorena (Mariana Klaveno). Even though Bill hasn’t seen Lorena in 70 years, it turns out that it is nearly impossible for a vampire to overpower their maker. In true Angel/Angelis style, we are treated to some flashbacks of Bill back when he was evil, cavorting with Lorena through Prohibition era America. Those who are really into the Sookie/Bill romance should eat this subplot up, as Bill is constantly professing his love of Sookie to Loreena. (me – I’m just a nerdy dude; I got greater pleasure seeing more about the complex governing system the vampires have.)


Attacked by: A) a vampire? B) Wolverine? C) a minotaur?

There is such a long build up to Godric and how badass he is that when we finally saw him last year I think I was a bit disappointed. Rewatching the series again, I now love the casting of Allan Hyde. (fun fact – Hyde provids the voice dubbing for Ron Weasley in the Danish releases of the Harry Potter films.) Godric is probably my favorite single component of Season Two. I don’t want to spoil too much about him, but there is a very Dr. Manhattan vibe about him, like when he stoically and with total sincerity says to a cowering Christian, “I am actually older than your Jesus. I wish I could have known him. But I missed it.” And there is, I believe, a season defining scene between Eric and Godric and Sookie on a rooftop – I won’t say about what – that really solidified for me that I love how True Blood is handling vampires.

Okay, enough with the gushing. Season Two has plenty of problems too. The biggest one: Sookie gets buried by the season. Though Paquin’s performance can get on my nerves sometimes, Sookie is a great character and the heart of the show. Her Dallas adventure is exciting but her prolonged absence takes its toll on Bon Temps, where certain characters and storylines really need her.


Oh, hello, Dr. Flox. Good to see you.


The Fellowship of the Sun is run by right-wing blondie Sarah Newlin (Anna Camp) and her smarmy husband, Rev. Steve Newlin (Michael McMillian), who channel their hatred for vampires through their Christian beliefs. All their talk of Jebus proves an alluring draw to dim-bulb ladies’ man, Jason Stackhouse, who is still emotionally reeling from the death of Lizzy Caplan last season (who wouldn’t?).

FOTS clearly presented a gloves-off satire opportunity for the writers, and they really go for it. Everything about the FOTS is played for broad laughs – the characters are practically cartoons – which is both good and bad. The initial proceedings of Jason’s journey are great: hokey anti-vampire school bus sing-a-longs, honesty rings, horrible playacting, and the most truly inspired bit, “Jesus Asked Me Out Today,” a fantastically spot on skewering of mixed message Christian pop music. Unfortunately, after a while the jokes start to wear thin and the plotline becomes a little one-note; not to mention, making the FOTS such cartoons ultimately serves to make them poor villains when the time comes. And the inevitability of an affair between sex machine Jason and the repressed hottie Sarah Newlin is so predictable that it never feels interesting once it happens.


Dang. HBO really skimped on the FX budget for Season 2.

Jason Stackhouse is an entertaining character, excellently played by Kwanten, but removing him from the rest of the Bon Temps crew really tries the resilience of the character. Seeing his feeble brain rattled by the murder of his sexual conquests in Season One was great. Seeing him get rattled by the other idiots at FOTS gets old. What’s really missing though is his relationship with Sookie. They are kept apart for most of the season, and when they finally have a scene together in ep 10, it is so nice and sweet, that you realize how much the character of Jason needs Sookie.

One-note is the line the Maryann plotline dangerously skirts too. Between this and Battlestar, Michelle Forbes seems to be trying to corner the market on second season Big Bad’s for popular genre shows. She is perfect for the part too, giving Maryann an effortless air of cool bitchy power. Alas, it feels like there just wasn’t enough material for Maryann to fill up the entire season, and the storyline starts treading water, waiting for Sookie to return. Then when Sookie finally does return, it’s not quite as explosive as I think it needed to be to stick the landing after 10 episodes of build-up (in a 12 ep season).


“Come on gals… group hug!”

Personally I think it was a mistake to make Maryann the season ending villain because she was a problem for Tara and Sam*, not Sookie and Bill. Sookie’s Godric storyline leads organically into the FOTS storyline,
and has such a fantastic resolution that the season felt over for me,
emotionally. Then there are four more episodes with Maryann, which
frankly contained about one and a half episodes worth of story. And
I’ve heard a lot of differying opinions both ways, but for me the
events of these final episodes were too goofy. True Blood is a funny show, for sure, but the citizens under
Maryann’s spell are so ridiculous that nothing feels very dangerous –
the tone more  Zombieland than Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I think the season would’ve had more overall emotional impact if it had ended on the Godric stuff. That’s just me.

*Sam gets some solid backstory
expansion, but Tara really bored me this season. I realized I only like Tara because of her relationships with her surrounding
characters, specifically her tumultuous relationship with her reformed
boozer mother, Lettie Mae (the disturbingly amazing and realistic Adina
Porter); a relationship which is almost non-existent for most of the
season. Instead we’re following her dull romance with the walking abbs, Eggs (Mehcad Brooks). With Sookie gone, Tara’s best
moments are with her cousin Lafeyette. I can’t imagine I’m spoiling
anything by revealing he isn’t dead. He was in the advertising for
Season Two and Three, not to mention he’s one of the best characters
currently on TV – he makes every scene he is in better; his scenes with
Eggs even make Eggs interesting – obviously they weren’t gonna kill him off-screen. But even these Lafeyette scenes are too few and far between.


Jesus Christ, dude. Eat a salad. Do some sit-ups. Get some self-respect, you fat piece of shit.

The most relevant new, permanent character is Bill “Even More Ernest Than Angel” Compton’s progeny, Jessica. Bratty and confused at first, she strikes up a bumble-love courtship with Jason’s nice guy friend Hoyt (Jim Parrack). I found this subplot mostly uninteresting, but I should note that the lady I originally watched Season Two with said this was her favorite part of the season. So there you have it.

Last year the big hyped new character for Season Two was vampire Queen of Louisiana, Sophie-Anne LeClerq, played by Evan Rachel “punch me in the face” Wood with the flippant attitude of a bratty celebutante. This seems like brilliant casting on paper, but for whatever reason Woods just doesn’t work. She feels like a kid pretending to be a grown-up, saying all the words but lacking the implied agelessness required for the role. They should have locked her in a room with Michelle Forbes for a few hours.

Just like with a movie, you always want to end your TV season on a good note. Last year I probably would’ve given Season Two a much poorer review, but rewatching it on DVD I was reminded of how amazing parts of the first 2/3 are. It’s just the final four episodes that don’t deliver. All-in-all, I think the show is still going places. Well worth the watch.


A sneak peak from Season 3’s crossover with Roots.

The Package
Thumbs down on the standard unfolding disc holder, which is always cumbersome to leave lying around and makes lending individual discs to friends tricky. Thumbs up on the overall packaging. This sounds weird and creepy to say, but the DVD case feels good to touch. I found myself stroking it like an E-tard when I first got it in the mail. Smoke pot around it with discretion.

The picture quality is what you would expect from HBO and the special features are genius. “Fellowship of the Sun: Reflections of Light” is a spot-on parody of church propaganda videos that has some nice laughs, but the real star here is “The Vampire Report,” a 20-minute impressively deadpan segment on the fake infotainment show, “The Perspective with Victoria Davis,” which contains ads for boner pills, a PSA for vamp STD Hepatitis D, and an eerily realistic cooking segment. I almost think True Blood Season Two is worth getting just to see “The Vampire Report.” At least Netflix the final disc of the set. 

8 out 10



I have a very similar chart I like to give girls on a first date.