Did you watch last night's season three premiere of True Blood, HBO's soupy (and soapy) Southern gothic sex series? It picked up immediately where season two left off, meaning we had lots of character business to deal with. Too much.
We had to check in with Tara, Lafayette, Eric, Pam, Andy Bellefleur, Jason, Tara's mom, Hoyt, Jessica, Arlene, the guy Arlene's dating, Sam, and of course Sookie and Bill. These were not just peripheral characters, but all people with their own little plotlines. A busy, large-ensemble show can be fine and work quite well (see The Wire and Mad Men), but for some reason the thinning out of True Blood's focus has left the show feeling, well, a little anemic. I'd like to see a return to a more core group of characters, ones who can have more fully developed arcs. I have no problem with subplots, but add too many and the whole show starts to feel scattered, diffuse.
But then, when considering a more centered show, we run into an interesting problem. The non-central characters are, for the most part, way more interesting than our protagonists. I mean, Sookie and Bill? Who gives a good goddamn, right? Well, at least about Sookie. Bill's wanderings with werewolves last night were fun — the distant sound of a wolf's howl is still so creepy isn't it?? — but all of Sookie's whining and loud-breathing were just as insufferable as always. And poor Rutina Wesley. The Julliard-trained actress is clearly capable, but Tara is just such a grating character. And these are our central women! No wonder Alan Ball and company have felt the need to add the likes of Eric, Pam, Jessica, et al. They're clearly trying to compensate for the central folks' lack of likability.
So how does the problem get fixed? Well unfortunately I don't think that you can get rid of Sookie. (Could we at least maybe hire a different actress?) But Tara could definitely die and maybe Bill — who's fine, just sorta dull — could fade more into the background if (when, honestly) Sookie takes up with Eric. Jason is, y'know, still terrific to look at, but I'm tired of his perpetual fuck-up shtick. It'd be nice to see Jason thrive a little, and not just in a fake Fellowship of the Sun kind of way. Until then, why not just have him stand around in the background shirtless while Pam and Lafayette wackily team up and do fun things in the foreground?
I guess when I say that True Blood has too many characters, that's not really what I mean. Really they just spend slightly more of their time on the wrong people. I get the sense that they know this, but are sort of hand-tied by the nature of the books and the story they set out to tell. Shonda Rhimes clearly felt that same struggle with Meredith on Grey's Anatomy, as did the totally-adrift-in-the-end Lost writers who kept adding characters, promising to do something with them, but were ultimately unable to as they needed to tend to the less-inspiring tale of Jack and Kate. (Poor Miles, huh?) Luckily for True Blood, it's a violent show and death comes frequently to the people of Bon Temps. Let's see if they have the courage to thin the major ranks a bit to leave some room for the star supporting players.
Other than that big problem, I thought the premiere was... just OK. The werewolves (or really just shape-shifters like Sam who happen to turn into wolves) were exciting and the increased presence of Eric & Pam promises good things.
What'd you think?