An article about the recent vampire revival by Alex Israel on The Phoenix
Vampires have been enjoying special pop-culture status since before the publication of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” but in recent years vampire lore has undergone a surge in popularity that shows no signs of subsiding. Interest in vampires spiked in 1997 when a mediocre movie called “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” became the now-classic TV teen drama of the same name. “Buffy” gave teenagers identifiable characters and a complex mythology, but the series’ most important cultural contribution may have been David Boreanaz’s Angel, a vampire heartthrob so delicious that he was given his own TV series. Vampire frenzy recently reached fever pitch with Stephanie Meyer’s vampire romance novel “Twilight” and its three sequels, each more hotly anticipated than the last. Although the last novel, “Breaking Dawn,” was considered disappointing by many critics and fans, the buzz that surrounds this winter’s release of a “Twilight” movie hasn’t diminished in the slightest. It looks like Angel might have to fight the film’s resident bloodsucker Edward (Robert Pattinson) to retain his throne as supremely sexy vampire-candy.
If you ask me, however, both Edward and Angel should be bracing themselves for a fight with Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), the enigmatic vampire at the heart of HBO’s newest original series, “True Blood.” Bill is part Southern gentleman (the show is set in the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, where the Civil War is still called The War of Northern Aggression), part out-of-control predator and all angsty sexuality. I dare you not to smile at the adorable way Bill (who was “turned” just after the war and thus still speaks like the characters in “Gone With the Wind”) asks a girl’s permission to “call” on her at her home, then turns around and viciously destroys her would-be murderers with the ferocity of a natural disaster. Bill is attractive because he is mysterious; his near-translucent skin and unfailing politeness hide a vicious nature with which he is constantly in conflict.
Attraction to mystery is brilliantly (and, this being HBO, steamily) showcased in Bill’s relationship with the show’s sassy Southern protagonist, waitress and mind reader Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin). Sookie’s cheery and slightly oblivious façade masks an unwanted ability to hear other people’s thoughts (once again, this being HBO, most people are thinking about sex). Paquin, in a charming and utterly believable performance, shows Sookie’s frustration with her so-called “gift” as she struggles not to listen to the inner dialogues of the other characters, including her boss Sam, (Sam Trammell) and her best friend Tara, a character who could have been just another angry-black-woman cliché were it not for the feisty, scene-stealing performance of Rutina Wesley.
When Sookie meets Bill, she is attracted to him both because his vampirism marks him as even more of an outsider than she is and because he is the one man she’s met whose thoughts she can’t read. Sookie’s attraction proves stronger than the warnings of her friends, and at the end of the pilot episode she steps in to save him from the hands of a vicious white-trash couple who had planned on draining him of his blood, vampire blood being a highly sought-after drug known on the show as “V.”
It is really the strength of the Bill-Sookie coupling that holds the show together, as several of the more peripheral plot elements occasionally threaten the storytelling. The most distracting subplot is one involving Sookie’s brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten), a womanizer with rock-hard abs and empty space in his skull. Another distraction is the show’s element of social commentary: vampires are presented as a group of outsiders whose struggles are meant to parallel those of the homosexual community, with evangelical preachers referring to their kind as “ungodly” and prejudiced Southerners wanting them segregated from the rest of the community. When these two subplots are pushed aside, however, the show returns to being a soapy, enthralling tale based around two intriguing characters and the love they share for each other. Ultimately, it is Sookie’s and Bill’s humanity (albeit, in his case, a conflicted humanity) that holds the show together.
Alex is a sophomore. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.