Monday, June 27, 2011

Random Rants: Drained and left for dead

In my review of Charlaine Harris’ latest novel, “Dead Reckoning,” I said that, despite the liberties taken by the series, I had enjoyed “True Blood” recently more than the last few books. When I wrote that, I had only watched the first two seasons. After catching up on season three and watching the first episode of season four, I’d like to retract that statement.

WARNING: If you haven’t read all of the novels or watched the series, and you plan to, you will want to stop reading here. There are spoilers below.

I understand that Hollywood has to make changes, and I understand the reasons for some of those changes. So, I went into “True Blood” trying really hard to view the show and the books as two different entities. I managed to do that for the first two seasons despite a lot of divergence from the story. Among those:
  • They made Tara black and made her a bigger part of the story. I understand that, but I think they undermined their reasons for the change by making her so screechy, abrasive and annoying.
  • They didn’t kill Lafayette. I actually like that decision. The Lafayette of the show is a great character, and I’m glad he’s still around.
  • They created Jessica, a sheltered and immature vampire that Bill was forced to make. OK. I kind of liked that angle, too.
  • They made Godric Eric’s maker, rather than Appius, who we meet much, much later in the story. I still don’t like that, but I got past it.
  • They took the maenad who was barely in the books and turned her into a major story line for the first two seasons. Fine. You can create your own alternate story lines all you want, as long as the primary story of the books gets where it needs to go.
But along comes the third season, and things go completely awry. Through the course of the third season and the first episode of the fourth, it has become clear that Alan Ball has absolutely no respect whatsoever for the source material that he’s working from – or, in most cases, not working from.

What bothers me most about what Ball has done is the fact that he has completely destroyed some of the characters. Calvin Norris is the most blatant example. No, Calvin was not the most likeable person in the world, but there was a certain honor about him in the books. In the series, he’s a complete piece of trash with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Ball assassinates his character, then, literally, assassinates him.

Then, there’s Sophie Anne Leclerq, the vampire queen of Louisiana. Sure, she’s flighty and a bit eccentric, but she’s not a twit as “True Blood” portrayed her. And Sam Merlotte – who knows where the real Sam is in all of this, but he’s definitely not on screen.

I don’t have the time and you don’t have the patience for me to get started on the ways that he’s screwed up Bill and Eric. At this point in the books, Bill’s more of an afterthought than anything else, while in Sunday night’s episode he’s ordering Eric around, and we learn that he is now a king. Bill Compton? A vampire king? You’ve got to be kidding, right? He’s nowhere near ruthless enough to hang on to that position for more than a minute. Instead of waning as he should be, Bill’s role seems to be expanding, and Eric’s character, already much maligned in the series, will likely suffer for it.

More than anything, though, Ball has taken away one of my favorite elements of the books, and that’s the sense of fun. Those early books didn’t take themselves too seriously, and no matter how hairy things got in the story line, they were still a blast. There are flashes of that fun here and there, mostly through the comic relief of Lafayette, but occasionally elsewhere. The genially insane portrayal of Russell Edgington by Denis O’Hare helped matters (though the trumped up werewolf army bent on taking over the world angle was annoying), and the sadly underutilized Pam gets a moment here or there. But then it gets bogged down in attempts at heavy-handed family drama or soap-opera style schlock.

I’ll be the first to admit that Harris’ books aren’t high art. They are what they are – quick, fun reads that, perhaps, connect a little more with me because they’re set in my own back yard. They’re not Shakespeare, or even Stoker, but they’re not trying to be. And the characters and stories she’s created deserve a little respect. I laughed in the early going at the credits that said “Created by Alan Ball,” since these characters had a long history before he ever got involved. At this point, I’m not laughing. In fact, I’m wondering why Ball didn’t just create his own vampire series, as he obviously wanted to do, instead of spoiling one that already existed.

The most recent episode of “True Blood” was, most likely, the last one that I’ll watch. As the series has gone on, I’ve gotten more and more annoyed with the drastic changes that Ball has made, and with this episode, I was far more annoyed than entertained. In fact, I was barely entertained (Eric’s promo for the AVL was pretty good), and I was aggravated for most of the hour. Following my philosophy of avoiding things that tick me off unnecessarily, that means it’s time to move on.

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