Alan Ball told The New York Times that after all the doomy gloom of his series Six Feet Under, he was ready to do ''something that was a little more fun.'' Thus True Blood, based on novels by Charlaine Harris that Ball enjoyed for their sardonic take on vampirism. Blood follows Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin, X-Men), a saucy Southern waitress involved with vampire Bill Compton (88 Minutes' Stephen Moyer), who looks at Sookie the way Elvis Presley probably did when he first laid eyes on the 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu.
In the world created by Harris and now Ball, vampires walk among us (at night, anyway) due to the development of Tru Blood, a synthetic liquid that slakes vamps' thirst so they don't need to feed on humans. ''Need'' is the key word: The naughtiest night creatures still enjoy dipping their fangs in the real stuff. Set in a tiny Louisiana town, True Blood is a Southern/absurdist/goth/civil rights horror show: Folks acknowledge that vampires exist; they just don't want 'em moving into their neighborhood.
Juicy stuff, eh? The problem is, on the evidence of Six Feet, his Oscar-winning script for American Beauty, and now Blood, Ball has never seen a comic-dramatic premise he can't flatten with leaden metaphors. He pumps up a tedious subplot about vampires campaigning on TV for antidiscrimination laws. And he makes so many heavy-handed comparisons between vampires and homosexuals that you wonder if he's really never seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The Lost Boys.
Exercising his HBO freedom, Ball also twists author Harris' inverse notion humans drink vampire blood because it improves their sex lives into a lame joke about Sookie's brother (Summerland's Ryan Kwanten) getting a painfully huge erection. In the midst of all this, Paquin (who does a subtler Southern accent than Kyra Sedgwick in The Closer) and Moyer (who conveys Bill's courtly menace perfectly) frequently get lost in a series in which they're the central couple.
Having read Harris' Dead Until Dark, the Sookie book on which Ball says he primarily based True Blood, I'd say that the author is more vivid, subtle, and funny in her portrayal of Southern life; I'll be surprised if her fans aren't disappointed by this adaptation. The best thing about Ball's shows is their opening credits. I loved Six Feet's coursing graphics even after I was so over the series, and I love Jace Everett's theme song for Blood. Singing the refrain ''I wanna do bad things with you'' with swampy lasciviousness, Everett does what Ball cannot: He earns his hokeyness. C
More True Blood: See Lynette Rice’s chat with series creator Alan Ball and stars Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer