Category Archives: True Blood

TV Round-up: Big Brother, True Blood, Mad Men

Big Brother 12's Brendon and Rachel

All this love. All this pain. All my TV shows, or at least a bunch of them, have these characters suffering the slings and arrows of love affairs dying or being broken up or just coming to sad, centuries-old ends. On True Blood, Eric’s revenge murder has broken the thousand-year relationship between Russell, the Vampire King of Mississippi and his consort Talbot. On Big Brother, the houseguests evicted Rachel, the Vegas barmaid/chemist who made fire-engine red hair extensions famous, breaking up her alliance with swim coach/physicist Brendon, and temporarily putting a halt on their blossoming affair, by far the fastest-starting showmance in the history of my TV viewing. And on Mad Men, Don Draper’s not ending a love affair, but he’s learning a lesson about using women and the emotional fall-out of taking them for granted.

The thing is this, though: Why does the end of a vampire love affair resonate more strongly for me than the one between the “real people” on Big Brother? Why did I feel more moved by Russell’s howl of pain and fury than I did Rachel’s tears and Brendon’s pouts? Might it have something to do with the fact that, apparently, competitive reality shows and the showmances that drive them have run their course with me? From day one of this new season of Big Brother—the first season I’ve closely followed in about two years—I knew I wasn’t going to get too emotionally involved with this cast of characters. Why? Because there was something too knowing about each of them, too ready-for-the camera without being ready, it seemed, for the world. Is this what’s happened to society since the advent of reality tv? Have we created a nation of wannabe stars with personalities that seem dipped in acid and lizard spit? I don’t mean to be mean—or maybe I was just raised with a certain amount of decorum and politeness—but these people don’t seem merely dumb, they’re so cavalier about the feelings of others that they all seem like they’ve forsaken their humanity in the pursuit of half a million bucks. The things these people say about each other! The love affairs that begin three days into captivity! The breathless rushes to judgments and alliance-building, based on nothing more than shared commitments to clichéd notions of heteronormative masculinity!

I’m beginning to think this season of Big Brother might be the last one I can watch with any dignity. I find myself thinking the worst things about these people, wondering how they even function in the real world when they seem like such babies and monsters on TV. You know something’s very wrong when even the queer guy, Ragan (who seems like he might a cool dude), is one of the biggest dupes in the cast. Then again, perhaps he’s just laying the groundwork for a career in Internet porn like one of the last queer guys to appear on BB, so blind trust might be a quality he’s trying to cultivate before a national audience. (And I have a question about Ragan: what sorta PhD has 300 grand in student loans to pay back? Wow.) I will say this, however: the truly creepiest moment on Big Brother this season (and clearly, there have been many) was when CBS took a camera to Brendon’s ex-fiancee‘s house, where she detailed how she’d dropped him, calling him all kinds of names as she “watched” an episode with her family. If he was such a bad guy that you killed the engagement, why appear on his reality show to bad-mouth him—and let your mother add to the dissing? It felt so exploitative and nasty I couldn’t pull my eyes from the screen to finish my bowl of pasta. Apparently one doesn’t have to get “cast” on a reality show these days to show your true wannabe colors. Sometimes the easiest thing to say is, “No.” I think.

As for Mr. Don Draper: poor thing’s about to lose his best friend to cancer just as he seems to be swirling around the bowl in a mucous-y blend of whiskey and hooker hook-ups. I’m glad he’s away from Betty, but what has he gained in the process? An ugly apartment in the Village? I’m hoping this season of Mad Men gives Don a real good professional challenge to overcome, because his personal life is getting increasingly hard to watch, almost as bad as poor Joan and her Vietnam-bound hubby.  (Side note: Can’t the casting directors of these shows start finding some new actors for parts? Maybe I just watch too much TV—quite possible, at least until school starts!—but seeing Sam Page as Joan’s husband so soon after seeing him play Bree’s dead husband’s long-lost son on Desperate Housewives starts to confuse me after a while; I keep mistaking back-stories and mixing up character motivations.) Hmmm, now that I think about it, yes, I’m probably watching too much TV. But hell, at least it beats going to the movies for inception, I mean, “entertainment.”

Vive l’amour! Vive le Television! (I’m not being pretentious, I just have all this French in my brain as I’m studying to pass a language exam in two weeks. Pray for a brotha.)

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Threesome From Hell?: Rolling Stone’s True(ly) Blood(y) Cover…

Later today I’m posting a TV piece, mainly about True Blood, Big Brother and Mad Men. But I just had to post this cover shot from the new issue of Rolling Stone magazine. What do you make of it? You can go to RollingStone.com to get more info about it (and more pics, too…)

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On True Blood: Long Live the King

I never ever thought I’d ever say this again, after pretty much writing off the show after one of the confusing and awful Maryanne-as-slave master episodes last season, but: I’m starting to really enjoy True Blood. It’s not that it’s gotten any better to me; it just feels more entertaining. And my reasons for enjoying it can be summed up in two words: Denis O’Hare.

I’ve been a fan of O’Hare’s work ever since I saw him in the original Public Theatre production of Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out. I loved the play and O’Hare’s expertly-rendered, heartbreaking performance as the gay accountant of a recently-out baseball star so much that I saw it again on Broadway.  So, to be blunt, I was sorta nervous when I heard he was subjecting himself to the trainwreck of over-acting and bad writing that was True Blood, a show that somehow managed to make otherwise good smart actors (cf. Michelle Forbes, Evan Rachel Wood, Lois Smith, Adina Porter) into screeching, unappealing cartoons.

Well, maybe O’Hare’s too good or too smart. Because his work as Russell, the King of Mississippi is nothing but funny and engaging. He plays the blend of put-upon husband and petulant royal to the hilt, as if he knows it’s all one big joke anyway, so why not invest it with a little heart and humor and, as my buddy Al, calls it delicious evil? Perhaps his lover Talbot put it perfectly when he told the King, “You’re acting like a century-old child.”

O’Hare’s presence has given me something to pay attention to when I’m looking away from the dubious racial imagery True Blood has been playing with all season. Ever since the overly-symbolic representation of Maryanne as slave master last season, it seems as if Alan Ball and his staff of writers have decided to just go full-out with all the master-and-slave shenanigans, most often putting Tara (and regular readers know how I feel about that particular disaster) into some of the most stereotypical slave images I’ve seen in a piece of American pop culture since Mandingo—and that movie was about antebellum times (and, believe it or not, in some ways smarter than True Blood; see it if you haven’t)! Tara chained to the bed in the southern plantation in a Victorian era-looking (white!) cotton dress, held down to the whims of her white “owner.” Tara escaping the chains, and fleeing barefoot across the plantation, dogs snapping at her heels. Then, after one of the dogs catches her, it transforms into a nude white guy mounting her in a very sexual way.  I know bodies (and the various ways of queering of them through dress, behavior and, well, death) play an important part in the True Blood ethos, but when you’re dealing with the black female body, in an overwhelmingly white, Southern, (over)sexualized context, perhaps you’d wanna re-think some of the visual tropes you’re trotting out for your upscale, liberal HBO audience. The sad part is this: I’m not even sure that Ball and co. actually realize the power of playing so indiscriminately with such overdetermined imagery. Do they think they’re making some statement about race and gender? Or are they just trying to push the envelope? Either way it’s coming off in a rather distasteful and disturbing way. It’s not Great TV. It’s racism.

Anyway, it has been interesting to observe the more explicitly queer aspects of the show take root, starting with Sam Merlotte’s dream in which Vampire Bill glamoured him into a shower sex romp. Of course we didn’t see it happen—Sam was saved, literally, by the bell (the ringing of his phone)—but it woulda been good; seemed to be more chemistry between the shape-shifter and the Vampire than I’ve ever witnessed between Bill and Sookie. I was happy to see Lafayette get some loving—well, at least a kiss—from the only other dude-of-color to ever appear in Bon Temps since Eggs got shot. And how about sly old Eric Northman? (I love that character’s name even though up until last night the man himself didn’t do much for me.) If there’s one thing Alan Ball’s characters know how to do it’s to use sex as a weapon. Too bad Talbot had to be on the, um, receiving end of Eric’s revenge scenario. But only True Blood could make the prelude to murder into sexy freaking foreplay—with a striptease, natch! I loved the convo before they got down in the groove: Eric “It’s been a long time since I’ve done this.” Talbot “A man.” Eric “No, a vampire.” Funny, sexy, piquant with expectation.

For a second there I thought I was watching an episode from the first season!

See the scene below:

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Links and Hijinks: Mad Men “origins”, “new” James Baldwin, True Blood’s Lafayette, & More Mel…

{Just a few tidbits til tomorrow…}

  • Mad Mad Mad Mad (Men) World: Next Sunday’s the day we find out what’s up with Don Draper and the gang on Mad Men…I certainly cannot wait to see what’s up a year after last year’s stunning finale. So, in honor of that return, here’s a question: is the hit show based on a 60s comic strip that no one remembers? Vanity Fair seems, jokingly,  to think so
  • New Blood: Does Nelsan Ellis, the great young, Julliard-trained actor who plays the incredible and ground-breaking character Lafayette on the terribly retrogressive (yet oddly compelling) True Blood, suffer from the typical “scared-to-play-gay” syndrome? Sure seems that way in this otherwise cute conversation between him and the crazy hot Kevin Alejandro (who I’m sorta, um, gaga for—you see what I did there?) on the set of the HBO show:

  • Sweet Baby James: And last but TRULY not least: At coffee with the calm, crazy-cool Tufts professor Christina Sharpe the other day, we agreed on the greatness that is Mr James Baldwin, chatting about his famous response to Norman Mailer with the brilliant essay “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy”—read it YESTERDAY if you’ve never done so; you can find it in this book or this one. I walked away from that coffee date not even knowing that there’s a new collection of James’ uncollected writings, The Cross of Redemption, edited and with an intro by author Randall Kenan, being published in August! (I won’t tell you about the cartwheels I was doing about this when the guys showed up to put in my air conditioner the other day; but it was more fun than embarrassing.) If you’re a Baldwin compleatist like me, this is like Manna from wherever Heaven is, and I can’t wait to get my copy. It’ll go on the shelf next to the French import of Harlem Quartet, the final Baldwin “novel” Professor Gates gave me (which has only been published in France—hopefully that’ll see the light of an American day soon…more on that in a later post…)

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The ORIGINAL True Blood Tara

After reading my earlier blog post about the True Blood character  Tara Thornton, a friend dug up this clip of the actress Brook Kerr, originally cast to play the role. It’s clear from the video below that Kerr took a slightly different approach to the part. As someone says in the comments section of the video, this actress doesn’t have enough “attitude.”

Hmm, yes, “attitude.” I fear the current Tara practically oozes “attitude,” and I fear that’s it’s what I like least about her and also makes me wonder if I was right in my earlier blog. Maybe Rutina Wesley’s being directed to be the way she is—especially considering that in the Sookie Stackhouse novels, the character Tara is a white woman.

Attitude is the one trait I actually DON’T need in those sistas I talked about loving so much earlier. “Attitude,” in fact, is one of the worst cliches ever you could ask a black actress to play, in my opinion. Partly because it’s so stereotypical and partly because it rarely ever plays on screen the way real, signifying, clever “black girl attitude” plays in real life. (As an aside: if you wanna see “black girl attitude” played with finesse, charm, and subtlety? Watch Regina King’s shaded, underrated performance in John Singleton’s Poetic Justice. Netflix it tonight.)

So how does the original Tara work for you? Watch below:

****And by the way, here’s a cute interview with Rutina Wesley, where she sorta addresses the casting change: click here.

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On True Blood and the Sad, Dizzy Falseness of Tara

First off, just let me say this. I love black women. There is nothing in this world, to me, as interesting, complex, beautiful or off-the-chart engaging as a black woman who knows what she wants and knows how to make it happen. Maybe it’s cause I’m a Mama’s Boy with one great Mama, who had a great Mama, has some great sisters, and also raised a great daughter.

Let’s just put that out there first.

Secondly, I love black women on TV. Maybe it’s because they have to make so much with—so often—so little, but it’s true: nothing gets me more excited pop culture-wise than a sista on TV commanding space, emoting well, turning a phrase and just doing the damn thing. Just some names, so you know where I’m coming from, cause I’m not just talking the Grand Diva, World-famous Diahann Carrolls of the world (though, anyone who knows me knows I worship the ground that Lady walks on, if ONLY because of a lil movie called Claudine, but I digress…) or my future wife Regina King; no I’m talking about sistas like Nicki Micheaux and Lorraine Toussaint and S. Epatha Merkerson and Aisha Hinds and Aunjanue Ellis and Adina Porter, just to name a few, these sistas who you might find as readily on the New York stage as you might guest-starring on a TV show. (Guest-starring being the operative word. Other than Regina King—who’s working it over on Southland—there are unfortunately only a handful of sistas playing leads or co-leads on TV shows: sadly Law & Order is no more but there’s Jada Pinkett Smith (Hawthorne), Chandra Wilson on Grey’s Anatomy, and JJ Abrams has cast a black couple at the center of Undercovers, his upcoming sexy new spy show, with British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw starring opposite Boris Kodjoe.)

But this isn’t so much about the numbers today. I’ll leave that to the NAACP and their racist greeting cards, it’s about how I can usually find something to love and vibe about a sista on TV. Well, except one: She’s a character on True Blood, and her name is Tara.

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