A Brit, a Kiwi and a Swede walk into a bar in Louisiana…and the best game of “any southern dialect you can do, I can do better” takes place since Vivien Leigh and Leslie Howard learned to say “Tara” without lying back and thinking of Ireland. (To varying degrees of authenticity, of course, we’re not talking Meryl Streep here, but oh, so much better than Luke Perry in “8 Seconds” and he actually has American on his curriculum vitae.)
We get our first glimpse of Bon Temps, LA via a down home hottie in a popped-collar Polo and a puka shell necklace. The synthetic plasma ‘TruBlood’ has been on the market for two years, allowing vampires to come out of the mausoleums and the Pacific Northwest to live among humans. And while the vampires are methadoning on TruBlood (it is to O-Pos what Snackwells are to Ho-Hos) Puka Shells and his squeeze-of-the-moment have heard tell that vampire blood (or V, if you’re gonna hip it up with the abreves) has psychotropic performance enhancing properties for humans (much like frat boys have heard that Viagra will turn them into Tommy Lee) and are eager to try it out. So of course they pop into the first Pic’n’Save they find to get a Slurpee, a scratch-off and find out where they can score some V.
Puka Shells, however, doesn’t really believe that there are vampires anywhere near Bon Temps and is shocked to learn from the sneering clerk at the Pic’n’Save that Louisiana, New Orleans in particular, is a vampire mecca. (Puka Shells didn’t read Anne Rice in high school – he had sex in high school.)
Speaking of the Pic’n’Save clerk, it’s time to check out the True Blood world-building on vampire lore and see what kind of creature of the night we’re dealing with here (Gary Oldman butt-head? Tom Cruise Aryan ringlets?) Well, the clerk certainly seems to fit the Homeland Security profile: 90s Marilyn Manson hair, paler than most people and you just know he has a Bauhaus 8-track under the register. However, in a bit of misdirection so obvious that it’s biting (but not sucking), the first vampire on screen is actually a rotund feller in camo with his 4-pack of TruBlood tucked under his arm. He is, in fact, so trucker hat redneck that Puka Shells (Puka Shells! Who’s so “Yee-haw, motherfucker!” that he might as well have “All right, all right, all right” tattooed on his bare chest) dubs him Billy Bob.
Billy Bob vamps out for the camera and…two sharp fangs descend with a discreet click. Well. It’s no Buffyverse morph with a big-cat growl, but the fangs do detract nicely from Billy Bob’s acid-washed mom jeans. Meanwhile, his otherwise normality (well, for small southern towns) and ability to hide in plain sight scares the sheeyit out of Puka Shells and the clerk, and Billy Bob gives a big neck-eatin’ grin and southern accents it up as the teaser fades out. These ain’t your Twi-Mom’s vampires.
The title sequence starts up to the tune of Jace Everett’s “Bad Things” and, well, it’s disturbing. Overt religiosity! Gratuitous sexualization! Civil rights archival footage! Small children smearing overripe strawberries over their mouths in what might possibly be a visual metaphor! Louisiana…has vampires in it! (Lord have mercy on our souls!) Speaking as a self-appointed representative from the south, I watch it and simply think, “Valid.” (I mean, if we wanted subtlety, we’d be watching Bravo in the 90s, not HBO Original Programming, aka Sex, Blood and Swears.)
Oscar winner Anna Paquin is Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress at Merlotte’s Bar in Bon Temps, who happens to be a telepath. Sookie is slinging étouffée at Merlotte’s along with fellow waitress and single-mom Arlene, bar owner and snap-front western shirt enthusiast Sam Merlotte and short order cook/gay hustler/small-time drug dealer Lafayette Reynolds (he has a five year plan).
Working at Merlotte’s keeps Sookie flush in halter tops and babydoll dresses and helps tune out the incessant deluge of thought bubbles from everyone she meets (muttering “Extra fried pickles, remoulade on the side” under her breath cuts through the din). Having a constant window into men’s souls has caused Sookie to distance herself from everyone but the grandmother who raised her, her brother Jason Stackhouse and her best friend Tara (Sookie can read Tara’s thoughts, but Tara says everything she’s thinking anyway, so it doesn’t matter).
Still, there’s only so many times you can ask, “Y’all want frog legs with that?” and get back a mind grope of, “Girl, you look so good, somebody ought to put you on a plate and sop you with a biscuit!” before it starts to get skeevy. So the night Sookie meets her first vampire, Bill Compton, a former Bon Temps land owner from waaaay back, in for his TruBlood aperitif, and reads nothing from his mind but peaceful silence, let’s say she’s intrigued.
Sookie can’t read Bill’s thoughts, but she can read the Rattrays, a pair of trailer park opportunists who have also twigged to Bill’s inability to tan and plan to drain him and sell his V on the black market. Sookie saves Bill when the Rattrays attack him behind Merlotte’s and Bill repays the favor a few nights later when the Rattrays return for retribution and almost beat Sookie to death. Bill kills them and heals Sookie with his blood and magic vampire healing spit and she looks deep into his eyes and asks him to…be the keynote speaker at her Gran’s Descendents of the Glorious Dead civil war memorial meeting. Southern mating rituals are intricate, yo.
Tara gets a job at Merlotte’s alongside her cousin Lafayette and her BFF Sookie and assuages her inexplicable yet unrequited love for pretty-but-dumb Jason Stackhouse and her at times poignant grief over her alcoholic mama by occasionally helping Sam to ease his explicable and unrequited love for Sookie by setting his travel trailer to rockin’. Jason hooks up with an endless stream of fangbangers (girls who love vampires because their daddies didn’t love them) and is confused more than usual when several of these young ladies turn up dead with two neat little holes in their necks shortly after Jason loves them up. Even lovelorn waitress Arlene finds someone to kiss her grits when she starts dating Rene, a Cajun buddy of Jason’s from his roadwork crew.
Jason is arrested by detective Andy Bellefleur on suspicion of murder (and dicey decision making skills). Things start going really fangy and grr! around Bon Temps and Sookie turns to Bill for help, only to discover that while he may be on the human blood patch, his vampire friends Malcolm, Diane and Liam (those names are not striking the right tone of fear) are still all about getting their 98.6 jones on. Bill warns them off by growling, “Sookeh is mine!” which freaks her out more than finding out that Bill still has vamp friends with lame vamp names.
Sookie turns her energies to clearing her brother’s murder charge by attempting to read the minds of everyone in Bon Temps, but there’s only so much she can intuit about how many people think her brother’s sex on legs, how hot she herself looks in her Merlotte’s uniform and how Sam might be hiding something before she calls it a loss and asks Bill to take her to the vampire bar Fangtasia, which happens to be located in Shreveport (because something has to be).
At Fangtasia she meets Eric Northman, a vampire to whom Bill owes allegiance, who must be a very old and powerful vampire because he has rockin’ Malfoy hair and an accent that is less magnolias in the air and more pining for the fjords.
Although Eric and his smokin’ hot lieutenant, Pam, glance over the glamour shots of dead chicks Sookie provides and identify them as fangbangers, they are dismissive of Bill’s affection for Sookie due to her pulse-having qualities. Sookie quickly redeems herself, however, by warning them that somebody has flipped the sign on the ladies’ to “Occupied” and there’s a human being drained by one of their vamps and allowing Eric and Pam to clear out before the Five-Oh show up.
Bill gets pulled over on the way back to Bon Temps for driving-while-vampire and he thralls the cop to the point of almost suicide, freaking Sookie out again, which causes her to ditch him and take a gleeful Sam as her date to the Descendents of the Glorious Dead meeting. The date is a bit lackluster, however, since Sam lacks the sanguine qualities Sookie looks for in a man and because he’s obviously hiding something, Sookie, damn! No one owns that many yoke-front shirts without having a dark past.
Jason gets released from jail due to lack of evidence and the fact that being young, dumb and full of come is not actually a crime. In order to keep up with his fangbanger backlog, Jason goes to Lafayette to score some Viagra. Lafayette comes across with a different sort of V and warns Jason to only take one or two drops. Jason, of course, slams it like Cuervo and ends up with a nasty case of priapism (or in Latin terms, dongus erectus maximus). Tara comes to the rescue and gets him medical help. Under the influence of V, Jason professes his love for Tara. Tara decides to wait and see if he will love her tomorrow, and sadly once the V wears off, Jason returns to his previous medical condition of “mindlessly humping anything that isn’t Tara” by hooking up with yet another of Merlotte’s waitresses.
Tara’s mom, Lettie Mae, blames her hooch addiction on demons (other than rum) and convinces Tara to pay for a backroad exorcism from a witch doctress named Miss Jeanette. Lettie Mae lets Miss Jeanette give her the full ‘ting tang wallawalla bingbang’ and emerges the next day the flower of sober southern propriety, complete with floweredy church hat. Tara is pleased with her mother’s transformation and starts to think that she might need an exorcism intervention herself, given how often she’s pissed at Sam for not being Jason, at Sookie for having telepathy and not empathy and at Lafayette for having cuter tops.
Sookie returns home from a hard day of tuning out Tara, Sam and even Arlene’s disapproval of her pining over Bill (She’s written 65 songs…65. They’re all about Bill. They’re all about pain!) to find her beloved Gran murdered on the kitchen floor. Sookie reels with the fallout: Andy Bellefleur’s ineffectual detecting, her brother blaming her for Gran’s death and sucker slapping her, her own “shut the fuck up!” outburst at the funeral due to telepathic overload and where in God’s name to put all the tomato aspic and bundt cakes the neighbors keep bringing over. She locks herself in the house and finally deals with her grandmother’s death the only way she can: by tearfully eating the last pie Gran ever made (over bickering and confusion, Sookie will take pie).
It must have been Better Than Sex Pie, though, because Sookie takes off across the lawn and runs all the way to Bill’s mausoleum, that is to say antebellum manse, to test that theory. She offers her throat to the wolf with the red roses (I bet she says that to all the boys) and trades Bill some of his homegrown V for her V-card (you mean she’s…? Uh-huh).
Since Jason doesn’t have a cool vampire boyfriend with V-on-tap, he goes to Lafayette for another vamp juice hook-up. Lafayette refuses to sell Jason more V, calling him irresponsible. (When a hustler/dime-bag dealer who’s banging anti-gay/anti-vamp Senators on the down low calls you irresponsible, you may have issues.) Jason heads to Fangtasia instead, where he meets Amy. She’s sexy, she exudes danger, she’s exotic…that’s right: she’s a Yankee! Jason and Amy share a love…a love of V. Where Jason’s experiences with V have thus far vacillated from mighty peen to ‘roid rage, Amy has V that’s like absinthe on literal crack. Tripping together, they see the Green Fairy, the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Tooth Fairy, hell, I think at one point even Maleficent shows up.
Bill’s lame named vampire friends get burned out by some het-up rednecks pissed off about the all the lousy vampires ‘round these parts, and Sookie is afraid Bill is dead (or more dead), too. Instead, Bill is busy discovering Eric Northman having a Calgon-take-me-away moment in Bill’s bathtub (like you do). There’s a bit of vampire HoYay! (oxymoron?) and then Eric commands, as the Sheriff of Area 5, that Bill bring Sookie ‘round to Fangtasia so that she can work some of her mind freak abilities for him.
Sookie is reluctant, but goes to Fangtasia to fulfill Eric’s dastardly plan of…finding out which of his employees is embezzling from him. Embezzlement, really? First world problems, Eric, first world problems. Sookie reads the human employees’ minds and discovers that the vampire bartender, Longshadow, has the sticky fingers. Longshadow attacks Sookie, and Bill stakes him to save her life.
Eric puts on his sheriff’s hat and rounds up his posse of…Pam…to take Bill before the vampire tribunal. Bill fears being buried alive or having to kiss the sunrise or never tasting Sookie’s sweet, sweet telepath blood again (tastes so good make a dead man cry) but finds that his sentence is siring a teenage girl named Jessica. Ugh. Teenagers!
Despite his pledge to never drink deep from the sweet neck chalice of life again (other than Sookie, on account of how that’s consensual), Bill does the deed and then spends days holed up in Fangtasia with Eric listening to Jessica whinge and moan about the loss of her humanity and her Bieber mp3s.
Lafayette continues to refuse to sell to Jason, so Jason and Amy kidnap Lafayette’s gay vampire V-connection, Eddie. Amy keeps Eddie locked in Jason’s basement and forbids Jason to interact with him, but there are only so many rounds of Madden Jason can play before he’s down in the basement with Eddie, bonding over some TruBlood, Swingline staplers and immortality. Amy realizes that Jason is treating Eddie like he’s people and stakes him right in front of Jason, ‘cause she’s hardcore like that. Jason bitches to his road crew buddies Hoyt and Rene that that Amy only wants him for his vamp juice (he thinks he needs to cut her loose, cut her loose…).
Bill tells detective Andy Belleflour (who’s still in hot pursuit!) that a vampire is not responsible for the murders since the bodies were not exsanguinated, so Andy turns his attention to Sam who is obviously hiding something. Andy’s aware of Sam’s propensity to run naked in the moonlight, and when Sam tells Andy that he comes from a long line of naturalists, Andy does some real detective work and learns that that’s untrue (how, exactly? Personally, I’m picturing Andy Bellefleur, naked save for his farmer’s tan, at Hedonism II, showing pictures of Sam and chugging down a mai tai). With Andy on his tail (heh) Sam bolts from the bar and suddenly a border collie sprints by Det. Bellefleur and makes his way to Bill’s, where Sookie is keeping vigil until Bill comes back from his stint in the vampire pokey.
Sookie names the dog Dean and lets him crawl in bed with her. She wakes up the next morning in bed with a naked Sam (ah-hah!), smacks him on the nose with a newspaper and accuses him of the murders because he’s a dirty, dirty dog. Or possibly a Shaggy DA. Sam confesses to being a shapeshifter but innocent of anything else (other than a predictable wardrobe).
Amy and Jason have what they swear is one last round with V (they should have rented “Sid and Nancy”) and Jason wakes up to a dead Amy in his bed. He turns himself into the authorities, aw, let’s be honest, to Andy Bellefleur, to keep him locked away from further possible victims (waitresses in three parishes rend their hot pants in despair). Sookie sets her matchless powers of being able to read any minds but the suspicious ones to exonerating Jason, and Sam agrees to help her, because border collies are loyal and will take any bone thrown them.
Tara gets her own exorcism by Miss Jeanette, and the ‘ooo eee ooo ah ahs’ are barely faded from her ears when she discovers Miss Jeanette working at the Pic’n’Save and looking like anything but a practitioner of the dark arts. Reeling from being hoodwinked, she hides the truth from her mom and goes on a bender, almost running down a lady taking her pet pig for a walk down the center line of the highway. (The hazards of driving on southern roads – as anyone who’s gotten stuck behind a combine on a dirt road with washed out ditches can tell you, amirite?)
Tara is arrested (for driving kosher) and Lettie Mae, despite having become a pillar of the First Congregational Bon Temps Church, refuses to bail her out. Filled with gloom, despair and agony at her family turning their backs on her (and Sookie being too busy with her creatures of the night) Tara accepts help from Maryann, a social worker of a sort, who sets Tara up in her McMansion and introduces her to Eggs, another inmate of Mysterious Maryann’s Home for Recalcitrant Southern Youth. Eggs has the benefit of neither being nor being in love with a Stackhouse, so Tara’s instantly intrigued.
Sookie gets a vision of a young woman being murdered in the same vein (heh) as the Bon Temps killings, and she and Sam track her down. They learn that the young woman was a fangbanger whose brother subsequently left town under suspicious circumstances. Sookie asks the local sheriff to fax a picture of the brother to Bon Temps law enforcement (aka Andy) and she and Sam head back home to air their sexual tension and share a kiss…just in time for Bill to show up! Bill attacks Sam and Sookie rescinds his invitation to her home.
Jason gets a visit in jail from the he-man vampire haters church, Fellowship of the Sun, who just want to leave him with some reading material and pray for his soul. While Jason’s in the cell getting the “Jesus is just all right” spiel, Andy’s off chasing his (and Sam’s) tail and the jail receptionist is gossiping about that hot-ass Jason Stackhouse being all locked up and tortured on her watch, the fax of the suspiciously absconding brother arrives unseen and it’s Arlene’s Cajun fiancé Rene! “I gar-on-tee!”
Sookie gets fed up at work with her brain live-streaming the clientele’s “Jason Stackhouse is a killer! And kind of hot!” thoughts non-stop, so she asks Sam if she can leave her shift early. Her car won’t start, so Rene offers to drive her home. Sookie, of course, is getting nothing from Rene’s brainwaves except, evidently, “Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou!” and agrees.
Back at Merlotte’s, Sam sniffs out a connection between Rene and the murders via Rene’s no doubt pungent road crew safety vest and takes off after Sookie. Sookie has finally managed to sort through the chorus of “Jambalaya” in Rene’s mind to get to the vampire bigot/serial killer he became after his sister started chasing vamp tail (he kept her off the pole, but not the undead) and tries to shoot him. He’s unloaded her gun, so she makes a run for it into the handy nearby cemetery (makes clean-up quicker).
Bill shows up to rescue Sookie but forgot about his severe sunlight allergy and collapses in a crispy heap, “Sookeh is mine!” still stretching his smoking lips. Sam shows up in dog form and bites Rene, distracting him, and allowing Sookie to give us the best “Buffy” homage ever as she literally beats Rene to death (well, decapitates) with a shovel!
Sookie and Sam quickly bury Bill, Jason is released from jail and reconciles with Sookie, and Tara is oblivious because she’s got a plate full of Eggs and crazy. Bill shows up healed and whole and he and Sookie continue their whirligig of dysfunction in relative peace.
Back at Merlotte’s, Lafayette goes to take out the trash and is attacked! People who have read the Sookie Stackhouse books gasp and look smug! Andy Bellefleur drowns his sorrows at not having solved the case (he would have figured it out, too, if it hadn’t been for that darn telepath and her wacky dog sidekick!). As Andy’s being poured into his car by the few remaining Merlotte’s employees who haven’t been killed for vamp and/or Jason Stackhouse loving, they discover a corpse! Could it be fan favorite Lafayette? Or worse…a long HBO hiatus?
I wanna watch bad things with you.
Ready for Season Two? Here ya go.