During the last several months there has been plenty of bad news. The Lakers got beaten in the playoffs, Etta James passed away, Greece was revealed to be on the verge of insolvency, and Home Box Office (HBO) announced that True Blood would be returning for a fifth season.
That HBO would renew a series as creatively bankrupt and played-out as True Blood was a surprise and disappointment. Considering that HBO had stepped up to the plate and dutifully yanked John From Cincinnati and Carnivale (two laughably convoluted stinkers from years past), many of us Sunday night cable mavens assumed they would do the same with this series. After all, just because vampires can't die shouldn't mean a vampire show can't.
How bad is True Blood? Well, it may just be the silliest, most exasperating show currently on television. To illustrate how and why it's so bad, let's use the old Seinfeld series by way of analogy. Clearly, one of the things that made Seinfeld so very successful was its continuity. The show never lost sight of what it was about. But consider for a moment how Seinfeld would have been affected had 10-15 new cast members been added one by one, episode after episode, until the show overflowed with new people.
It's fair to say that for hardcore Seinfeld fans, this influx of new cast members -- this overwhelming clutter -- would've caused major heartburn. Even with Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer still making regular appearances, these new characters would have upset the show's delicate balance, "diluted" all the previously enjoyable stuff that had come before it, and sent the series skittering off in a new direction.
And that's what's happened to True Blood. Not only has the show become cluttered with too many characters and preposterous case histories, it's forgotten what it's supposed to be about. It's like a juggler with too many balls in the air. What you now have is all these grotesque creatures appearing randomly and arbitrarily, all of them snarling and plotting and cursing, earnestly reciting pretentious speeches designed to convince the audience that the outlandishly concocted story lines being presented to us actually make sense. And that ain't right.
In truth, True Blood has devolved into macabre exhibitionism. And the irony, the paradox, is that the crazier and bloodier and scarier and more radical the show tries to get, the more boring it becomes, which is why it's now about as riveting as a rubber mask infomercial. Moreover, with Sookie Stackhouse and Bill Compton having been trivialized, and Eric Northman reduced to a brooding, blinking cipher, there isn't a genuinely sympathetic character within a hundred miles.
Unlike Season One (2008), where you had this charming supernatural narrative -- sprinkled with off-beat humor and rich Louisiana atmosphere -- being driven by the most fascinating array of eccentric Bayou characters ever seen on TV, what you have today is a show hopelessly treading water, clinging to the notion that farfetched contrivances disguised as "twists" is the secret to maintaining an audience.
The fact that the whole thing is based on a book series (Charlaine Harris's The Southern Vampire Mysteries) is no excuse. The message is clear. When the best part of your show is its opening music and visuals, you know it's time to pull the plug.
David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor"), was a former union rep. He can be reached at email@example.com