Widgets Magazine

Remote Nomad: Bloody Hell

There are 30 days until the return of the Grey Goose of media vampires, “True Blood” (“Twilight” is Svedka because of the badvertising, and “Vampires Diaries” is something akin to rubbing alcohol). Despite my excitement and alcohol metaphors, I’m distraught by what seems to be an HBO crackdown on illegal Internet outlets such as Megavideo, and by my resulting inability to relive seasons one and two 72 minutes at a time. Fortunately, creator Alan Ball and the cast of “True Blood” are creating six “minisodes” to hype up the June 13 premiere. Three of the six have aired, featuring, respectively: Eric and Pam; Jessica and Sookie; and Tara and Lafayette.

When HBO announced the “minisodes,” the reaction was surprisingly epic. The history of the “webisode,” arguably the precursor to or cousin of the “minisode,” proves rather lackluster and unsuccessful. The premise, to manipulate an audience’s love for the characters and nothing else, violates my primary expectation of television shows, that the narrative will not waste my time. For example, “Glee” fails at this because its episodic approach to storytelling deprives me of any continuity. I love characters like Liz Lemon and Michael Scott, but only within a familiar context with stakes that mean something to me. The ostensible objective of the “True Blood” minisodes is to bridge the gap between seasons two and three. Fair enough.

But then I thought about “Mad Men.” Imagine if minisodes had punctuated the wait between seasons one and two, when the show jumped from 1960 to 1962; the surprise and the ambiguity that define the show would have been lost. “True Blood” is not “Mad Men,” but the former traditionally relies on mystery and hokey back-stories to introduce new characters such as Maryann from season two. In the Sookie, Tara and Lafayette minisode, the action of which occurs the morning after Bill saves Sam and orchestrates Maryann’s death, I couldn’t bring myself to care about Sookie and Tara’s bickering, because their conversation is so unrelated to the cliffhangers from season two. These more “straight” (unintentional pun for Lafayette…) characters may inherently be less fun to watch three minutes at a time than Eric and Pam or Jessica.

My greater objection to the minisodes relates to tone and oeuvre. The first minisode shows Eric and Pam casting dancers for Fangtasia, Eric’s vampire nightclub. For half of the few minutes, the tone is completely wrong–one blogger praised it with a comparison to “American Idol,” but that simile embodies all that bothered me about it. The dumb humor of bad dancers, fat men and ugly women is so beneath the commentary and witticisms I have come to expect from “True Blood.” Because Eric and Pam reacted the way I would have to these performers, they lost some of their magic. Fortunately, the scene got its groove back with the entrance of an Eastern European hottie whom both characters vied for, with Eric ultimately pushing Pam out of the way with a velour sleeve (metaphorically, of course). Obliquely, the minisodes hint at the core values of the series: sexuality (Eric and Pam), religion (Jessica), race and discrimination (Sookie and Tara).

Not only was the humor universally unimaginative, but the production quality seemed unusually low. Not every scene can reach the heights of the “True Blood” title sequence, which establishes gothic themes in a modern American South context so brilliantly, artistically and efficiently. However, in these webisodes, the lighting was flat and harsh, the camera didn’t move and the scripts were predictable. At this point, “True Blood” doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone, yet I wish they had tried harder, particularly with a character as juicy as Jessica.

Television advertising tactics never cease to fascinate me, but at the end of the day, I’m happy that summer is nearly upon us, and that I can apply my newfound academic understanding of Gothic literature to material as dense and rich as “True Blood.”