When I first started watching True Blood, it was at the recommendation of a friend while attending school in Savannah, Georgia. If the timing hadn’t been so specific, I doubt I would have been beguiled into tuning in, but living under a garnish of Spanish moss that bedecks the lantern-lit, cobblestoned deep south in a magical humid haze made watching a show about Louisiana juju irresistible. My lifelong fascination with cryptozoology didn’t hurt either.
So I watched on while sitting in friends’ freshman dorm rooms where the closest thing to a couch was a thin mattress whose springs all but emerged from the upholstery; under the covers in bed both out of fear of the lurking, bicorned monster in season 2 and to keep from waking Michelle, the first of many nightmarish college roommates; and back home in Portland (in a real bed), where I introduced the show to my sister and giddily critiqued the episodes away, Moon sister style. Soon, my eager engagement with the show morphed into an enjoyable hobby, and then into a mere outlet for expelling stress. Today, I only watch the show as an homage to the nostalgia of new beginnings in a reputably mystical city that now resides on the opposite side of the country.
But why have I steadily deviated from the crux of the show’s target market, gradually exhibiting less interest in watching at the same rate that the expanding tour bus industry is causing Savannah’s quaint charm to diminish?
The answer’s quite straightforward actually: the show went bad like milk that sours before the sell-by date in any state south of the Mason-Dixon line. Not that True Blood was ever phenomenal television with the same notoriety attributed to programs like Breaking Bad and The Wire, but after season 2’s mythological shenanigans, the quality of each season spiraled faster and faster down your standard concrete drain. Fortunately for the show’s ratings, True Blood hosts a horde of vampires, werewolves, fairies, shape-shifters, were-panthers (…?), and HBO’s signature obsession with boobs: everything Pavlov would employ to have a contemporary pop culture groupie salivating at the mouth in seconds. And although the plot has grown increasingly convoluted, one can’t deny that the show is ever lacking in excitement–even if we caustic viewers find the excitement incredibly ridiculous.
But what gets my goat is the writing. Having dated a screenwriter for the past year and a quarter (and having met nothing but screenwriters and Michael Sheen’s next assistant since moving out to L.A.), I feel just in saying that a major responsibility involved in developing a script is manifesting characters through their dialogue. In the first couple seasons of True Blood, the dialogue served just that purpose: defining the wholesome, southern belle-with-a-strange-ability archetype of Sookie Stackhouse as an entirely different character than the traumatically inured Tara Thorton–both of whom are extremely different than the endearing, distinctively idiomatic Lafayette.
As the seasons progressed, however, the action began to take precedence over the characters (possibly because the writers had all that aforementioned convolution to try and weave into coherence), and all the individual attributes that typified one personality from the next began to dissipate until, come season 6, we seem to have been left with one overarching character. And that character likes to say “fuck” in response to absolutely everything.
Somehow, this character-melding phenomenon merely spritzed the male ensemble before emptying its whole crop-dusting load on the female line up. For instance, even though their dialogue wasn’t spared from the show’s new favorite word, gargantuan wolfman Alcide is at least decipherable from backwater sheriff Andy Bellefleur, even if Alcide has diminished to nothing more than Batman-esque rasping and growling and a completely useless subplot. The ladies on the other hand are a catastrophe of incessant cursing as a means of normal conversation, perpetual reduction to tears (both of the saline and sanguine variety), and snidely defensive retorts that ooze with melodrama.
For example, the once child-like Sookie whose outcries used to involve phrases like “tits on a turtle” and “you no-account backwoods trash!,” recently replaced Grandma Adele’s polite influence with the truncated, adult argot of seasoned vampires like the ever brazen Pam De Beaufort. Even Pam, however, who didn’t have to change a smidgeon of her dialogue to fit into the “upgraded” ensemble, lost her luster when she catalyzed the next chapter in Tara’s storyline and tears and endless expletives ensued. Unfortunately, the writers didn’t stop there, combining Jessica Hamby, Luna the shifter, Nora the surprise sister, Willa the girl who clearly doesn’t curse in reality, Sarah Newlin the zealot, Nicole the activist, those masculine, huffy werewolf chicks, and almost all the other female characters into this steadily amassing, tear-strewn, “fuck”-fixated conglomerate with the most limited vocabulary I’ve seen since Stephenie Meyer books were big.
From a writer’s perspective, one of the greatest things about the art form is the ability to imagine up individualistic characters driven by backgrounds sui generis in nature and complete with their own relevant vernaculars. Even though the author’s voice will always be preeminent, designing a narrative with multiple characters creates the opportunity to personally inhabit different psyches and explore the various memories, motives, and reactions that create a versatile cast of individuals in reality.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh and ignoring the possibility that the writers puppeteering these True Blood characters are slaves to the f-word themselves and thus take their dialogue seriously, but coming from a network that brought us the linguistic poetry of shows like Boardwalk Empire, Sex and the City, and Game of Thrones, can I be blamed for expecting dialogue that transcends fuck?