As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Fall pilots: True Blood & 90210

Posted by Hedwig on September 7, 2008

Ah, it’s that time of the year. There’s a constant drizzle outside my window, and there’s also a steady stream of new shows raining down on us. Some of them will survive for a season or two, some of them will be cancelled and forgotten by this time next year, and somewhere in the bunch there might be one that turns out to be a long-running classic.

I don’t think either of the two shows discussed here will ascend to the classic level, even if one of them is a remake of a show that does kind of fit that moniker. But neither will, I think, suffer a premature death.

True Blood, of course, is lucky that it’s on HBO, and doesn’t have to worry about getting a full season order. I have to say, it doesn’t particularly feel like an HBO show: there’s nudity and plenty of kinky sex, sure, but the show – like its heroine – is chaste and even a little prudish at heart. But HBO is hospitable to things that are just slightly off-key, and they might be the perfect home for it.

The premise? Vampires exist, and because of the invention of synthetic blood (“Tru Blood”) they no longer need to feed on humans. They’ve “come out of the coffin” about two years before the show begins, and have been fighting for equal rights ever since. Meanwhile, the humans use their blood (“V-juice”) as a drug, and some of them have rather fetishistic sex with them (they’re called, yes, “fangbangers”).

The location isn’t some big city or exotic European locale but a small town in Louisiana. Our main character is Sookie Stackhouse, who, despite the name and the short shorts she wears at work, is a true Southern lady. She’s also a telepath. Then one day a mysterious stranger comes into the bar (tall, dark, and handsome, of course), whose thoughts she cannot hear. A vampire, of course, the first the town has ever seen. And naturally, sparks fly.

What the show has speaking for it is a firm grasp of the sweaty, sultry atmosphere, something Moonlight, last year’s now-deceased vampire show, never achieved. I have no doubt Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) is to thank for that. It also has Anna Paquin as Sookie, and while I’m not yet convinced of her co-star, they do have sizzling chemistry. And well, I just have to love a show in which the main vampire is called… Bill.

It’s a delightfully sleazy show with a sense of humor about itself, with plenty of vampire metaphors present but none of them intruding on storytelling. Still, I’m not really interested in the side characters yet, and they get quite a lot of screen time. And while I thought it was extremely refreshing to see Sookie (Vampire Bill pronounces it “sucky”) rescue Bill in a very kick-ass, fearless fashion, she ends the episode as a stereotypical damsel in distress. I’ll keep watching True Blood, absolutely, if only because I have a soft spot for vampires. But it’ll have to prove itself, or it will go the way of Moonlight.

Then: 90210. Apparently, adding “Beverly Hills” was thought to be superfluous. Everybody’s supposed to know “the zip”, after all. I watched reruns of the original when I was in high school. Not religiously, but it was entertaining enough when you were zoning out in front of the TV after school. So I know who Brendon and Brenda are, Kelly, Dylan…after those, my memory gets a bit fuzzy.

Anyway, what about this new installment? Clearly spurred by the success of Gossip Girl, it tries to be more salacious, but it’s actually fairly tame. I mean, the richest guy in school takes the new girl on a date BY JET TO SAN FRANCISCO, and… they don’t even kiss. One guy gets a blow-job in his car, but that’s pretty much how far it goes. I don’t think Gossip Girl needs to fear anything in the OMFG! department.

Again, the premise is a family moving from hick-country (i.e. not L.A.) to Beverly Hills. Dad used to go to school there and will now be the principal, mom’s from Kansas, frighteningly skinny daughter Annie likes to sing and act, (adopted) son Dixon is struggling with being the principal’s son and black in an almost exclusively white school. The other characters are spoiled brat Naomi, ex BFF “Silver”, who makes crude animations for her blog, and Ethan, boyfriend to Naomi, the cheater mentioned before.

So far the show is… okish, I guess. Nothing to get very exited about, but no worse than the original – then again, if it’s not better or at least slightly different, what’s the point? Plot points revolve around such high school tropes as passing someone else’s paper off as your own, pranks on rival Lacrosse teams, people walking in on other people kissing etc. Rob Thomas, of the great Veronica Mars, had a hand in this, but aside from the very Mac-like character of Silver, I’m not seeing it.

The most fun part, in fact, was grandma, played by none other than Jessica Walter aka. Lucille Bluth, her “ice-tea” firmly in hand, her tongue firmly in cheek, and with a colorful past she’s not shy about. She is, despite some meta quotes in the rest, the only indication that there’s any campy fun to be had here. The rest – including the tedious drama with the adults, among them a returning Kelly – seems like it’s only fit for lazy afternoons after school. And unfortunately, I don’t have those any more.

7 Responses to “Fall pilots: True Blood & 90210”

  1. I have wanted to see True Blood since the poster premiered, not sure when it will play in SA though. Soon I hope.

    90210 I have no interest in.

  2. Kaj said

    I agree with Nick Plowman. No interest whatsoever in the latter show, despite the appearance of Lucille Bluth in that picture. Ever since I’ve heard that Alan “Six Feet Under” Ball was making a show about vampires as a minority in the U.S., though, I’ve wanted to see it. What version of the pilot have you seen, by the way? I understand that the pre-air version has several scenes missing, including a key scene and a dream sequence. Which is why I’ve waiting for the official premiere, so I could download it the next day (if only because there’s no guarantee it will ever be broadcasted here).

  3. sarcastig said

    I saw the pre-air, which indeed missed one POV shot and two scenes (they’re clearly indicated). I’ll skip to those once the definitive version becomes downloadable (i.e. tomorrow), but I didn’t feel like I missed much.

  4. Kaj said

    Actually, they recast Tara since recording that pre-air version. The credits have also changed, I read.

    I like the show, by the way. I really like listening to those southern accents, even though they’re all over the place and few, if any, sound like authentic Louisiana accents. Can’t say I’m terribly impressed either, with the weird shifting in tones and some improbable plot developments, but it’s Alan Ball, so I’ll give it a chance to develop for a while.

  5. sarcastig said

    I watched the scenes I missed, and they weren’t really that essential. I did like the credits, which indeed are different (“God hates fangs” is a bit on-the-nose, though, would have been better as a throwaway joke). And yeah, the accents are pretty much all over the place.

    I don’t get the adoration for Alan Ball though. That might be because I haven’t had time to catch up with Six Feet Under, but American Beauty really doesn’t hold up after repeat viewings (I know find it rather smug and obnoxious), and I’ve heard dire things about Towelhead).

  6. Kaj said

    Well, I tend to overlook things like plastic bags floating in the wind and people calling it beautiful, while I loved Six Feet Under (well, except perhaps the 4th season) enough to trust Ball that this new series will develop into more than just sultriness, fangs and funny names.

  7. Alexa said

    I’m in total agreement on True Blood. Those with a weakness for vampires will enjoy the pulpy fun.

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