It was around this point last season that I was wondering how much longer I could stick with True Blood, Prime's flagship vampire series, given how many different plot threads and characters were being wedged into every new episode. To be honest, I thought Season 4 might've been my final extended stay in Bon Temps.
Yet, here we are at the midway point of Season 5 and I'm enjoying True Blood more than I have since that brilliant first season - and with Sookie (Anna Paquin), Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), Bill (Stephen Moyer) and the gang going off air for a couple of weeks due to the Olympics (returning on August 16), it seems now is the right time to take stock of the fifth season so far.
(Warning: Spoilers from Season 5 of True Blood follow.)
Let's get one thing straight: most of the problems from Season 4 are still present in Season 5.
For a start, there are far too many storylines in play - in six episodes to date, we've seen Eric & Bill hunting down Russell Edgington, politics at the Authority, Sookie & Alcide trying to hook up, Alcide challenging for leadership of the pack, Jason discovering the truth about his parents' death, the introduction of the faerie nightclub, Sam and Luna getting shot by shifter-assassins, Pam taking responsibility for creation Tara, Tara making friends then fighting with Jessica, Lafayette getting weighed down by guilt over Tara's becoming a vampire, Terry and Patrick accidentally finding a fire demon, Terry revealing his Iraq War history to Arlene and leaving town, Andy revealing his naked butt on Facebook, Hoyt becoming a fang-banger ... the list goes on. By the way, I just listed 14 different storylines. I'm sure I missed a few.
The real problem is that most of the characters are extraneous. Does anyone really care about Terry Bellefleur and what he got up to in Iraq? Does anyone have any interest in Alcide beyond Sookie trying to take his shirt off so viewers can get a squiz at Joe Manganiello's six-pack*? I reckon you could reduce Alcide, Jason, Terry, Sam, Luna, Arlene, Hoyt, Jessica and Andy to uber-minor, appear-once-every-two-or-three-weeks roles, and nobody would either notice or care.
But somehow the good is outweighing the bad this season; where Season 4 spent far too much time with Marnie, the wicked witch of the south and a character who was absolutely no fun to be around, Season 5 has changed things up with entertaining character pairings, the return of a fan favourite, and a pair of legitimately interesting stories.
I can't be the only one enjoying Bill & Eric's excellent adventure, can I? From the clean-up scene in the premiere (Bill chatting on the phone while Eric cleans up the remains of Nan Flanagan at 300mph in the background) to their bogus journey to meet the Authority to their discovery of Russell Edgington (one of the greatest television characters ever conceived thanks to Denis O'Hare, and one that I hope plays a bigger part in the second half of the season**), Bill & Eric have been more entertaining, partly thanks to their newfound Sookie-less time together.
For whatever reason, Sookie made the vampire boys about as much fun as a head cold.
Even when Sookie and Alcide joined in the fun last week ("a 3000-year-old vampire wants to suck my blood - must be Thursday!") it didn't dredge up any bad memories of years gone by, since the caught-in-the-act lovers kept to themselves and had a legitimate reason to be there (Sookie using her faerie powers to see Doug's memories).
I also love the pairing of Tara and Pam. Pam (Kristin Bauer Van Straten) has always been a favourite of mine; I was surprised by how emotional it was to see Eric setting her free a couple of weeks ago, since I didn't realise how invested I was in the character. But I'll admit to being a little sceptical of this story at the outset. I've hated Tara (Rutina Wesley) for years and started the season hoping she would be dead and gone after the events of the Season 4 finale.
It's been a pleasant surprise to see how well the maker-progeny relationship between the two has worked: Tara is a much more interesting character now that she has a bit of power behind her (as opposed to being the abused Tara of years past), while Pam's sheer unwillingness to be a maker has been a source of great entertainment.
The Authority stuff has been hit-miss for me but I like the concept, if not the execution, of a kind of shadow government who secretly run the world under the guise of the Vampire Rights Movement, as well as the religious angle the writers took by introducing the idea that vampires pre-date humans. Christopher Meloni has been great in his role, too. Well, I mean, had been great - it was disappointing that Meloni's casting turned out to be a stunt, designed to get us quickly invested in a new character before dispatching him in grand (and gross) fashion.
But that is a minor blip on an otherwise fun season; I haven't felt this good about True Blood, this late in a season, since its first - and as long as Bill & Eric keep up the buddy-cop routine, as long as Pam keeps working on Tara, and as long as everyone else is kept to fairly minimal roles, this might be the best season in years.
What do you think of the fifth season of True Blood, so far?
(*) Even I have to admit: phwoar!
(**) Here's a mandatory link to Russell Edgington interrupting the news, one of the greatest TV scenes ever.
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Coming up in the next week, July 28 to August 3 ...
Olympic Games opening ceremony - Prime, Saturday from 7am (ceremony from 8am)
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Season 12 finale - TV3, Saturday at 8.30pm
The Hidden Side of Sport - BBC Knowledge, Tuesdays at 8.30pm
Olympico, hosted by Leigh Hart - Comedy Central, Wednesdays at 9pm
Bones, Season 7 finale - TV3, Thursday at 8.30pm
Kitchen Nightmares - TV2, Thursdays at 9.30pm
For a more extensive look at the week ahead, click here.
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