In the words of a comedic band I didn’t want to admit were aging as I beheld their greying, mutton chop-less visages at the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival, “The city is alive, the city is expanding, living in the city can be demanding.” I’m sure having travelled from the sheep-shearing, Hobbit-roving bliss of New Zealand to all the major cities of the United States, Flight of the Conchords delivers this message with the same heartfelt sincerity that every city dweller employs when they stick their head out a bedroom window and yell, “SHUT UP!” It’s such a commonplace notion that it’s hardly worth stating, but cities are loud and generally don’t come equipped with James Stewart’s euphonic pianist and soprano neighbors in Rear Window. On top of this corroboratory fact, city noise always amalgamates into the same nerve-wracking din no matter how disparate the individual components nor how varied the population size.
At 8 o’clock this morning, I was jostled from a sickbed completely surrounded by flu remedies (including DayQuil, NyQuil, Ricola, Emergen-C, and Sex and the City season 6) by a mariachi album set to full blast, a barbershop quartet of dogs who might have been hyperventilating through their barks, and a car alarm that could easily alert its owner from the middle of the sea. This early symphony–coupled with a daily opus of ever-celebratory fireworks, 2am basketball games, and rival ice cream trucks distinguishable only by their repeated children’s song of choice as they circle the block at least eight times a day–may be specific to my new neighborhood, but downtown Los Angeles is not alone in its incessant emanation of sound. Nor are LA’s outer boroughs, such as Culver City where my boyfriend’s next-door neighbors are constantly regaling the whole neighborhood with drunken arguments at the nightly parties they seem to throw and the entire family downstairs might be diagnosed with Tourette’s.
In a much smaller city on the opposite side of the country, the noise may come in a different flavor but barrages your eardrums with the same torrential force. During my last year in Savannah, Georgia, I moved from a quiet, woodside dormitory where the introverted inhabitants avoided eye contact at all costs, let alone uttered a peep, into an apartment that might as well have doubled as a palace compared to the cubby hole I occupy today. The only downside to Heaven on Montgomery was that it was on Montgomery–one of the busiest streets in town, especially when your block resided in “downtown.” Rather than illegal fireworks and ever-festive mariachi bands, this corner of Montgomery and Alice hosted a cast of noise makers that verify the zaniness John Berendt immortalized in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
First, there was the “Ey” Man, an older gentleman consistently dressed in what the 1960s would have deemed “the nines” who walked down Montgomery looking pleasantly dapper and intermittently calling, “Ey… Ey… Ey…” Then there was the late night serenader: a young man prone to slowly pacing up and down the street after dark, singing the latest R&B hits at the top of his lungs as if wooing the city itself or simply shouting to hear his voice over headphones. Along with these and several other vocal individuals like an infamously impolite mother, there was a weekly congregation of people who spent hours cackling at the tops of their lungs like a coven of witches while ironically mingling in a church parking lot. And we can’t forget the honk-happy populace eager to lay their entire body weight on the horn at the slightest hint of inconvenience, a far cry from the Oregonians who take extreme offense if you timidly tap the horn by accident.
Immersion in this incessant cacophony from the east to the west can make a girl miss her childhood home in the mountains, where yards that contemporary suburban developers couldn’t fathom separated everyone from even the slightest noises their neighbors might make and any hillbillies keen on disrupting the peace with a blaring horn were hindered by the shoddiness of their rusting trucks. After leaving this quiet respite at the age of nine, you’d think spending the majority of my life amidst the endless hubbub of sirens, babbling passerby, screeching tires, and Savannah’s garrulous night birds, I’d have grown fond or at least accustomed to the soundtrack of city life. But lately if there’s no Enya playlist to drown out the racket, all I can do refrain from leering out my window at the ice cream man is wistfully dream about pattering rain showers, ocean tides, or a future ranch in Montana complete with a team of middle aged corgis to keep me quiet company.
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?
Growing up, I always gravitated toward male friends, assimilating into dude-dominated cliques that might have hosted one other girl, if that. For some strange adolescent reason that may have burgeoned into existence after watching one too many football games with my dad, I always felt I could relate more to men: I abhorred drama, my favorite hobby was laughing raucously at trivialities for hours on end, I could withstand a shopping mall for maybe an hour before my head started to swim, and I preferred, in male patois, to just “chill.”
I wasn’t a tomboy by any stretch of the imagination though. Sure, a Ukrainian woman with an indiscernible accent completely ignored my reference image and cut my hair so short it barely met my ears, producing a masculine visage that one of my fifth grade peers mistook for the ragged coiffure of a bully. And yes, there was that identical incident freshman year of high school when a Laotian hairstylist repeatedly asked me, “Dis sha?” until I succumbed to her brandished scissors, only to discover seconds later when fourteen inches of my hair lay in a frizzy heap on the floor that she’d been repeating, “This short?” But traumatic haircuts aside, my femininity always burst from the regrettably low-cut V-necks I naïvely wore throughout middle school; my brief but ferocious stint as a fashionista who persistently strutted the halls of Sunset High School in six-inch heels with no concern for the future stiletto-repellence I was steadily instigating; and my tendency to hyper-obsess over male celebrities (specifically the cast of Lord of the Rings and one particularly deified actor from the mediocrely received Holes), a once ceaseless pastime that only just recently dissipated with a college girl crush on Tom Hardy.
Proof of femininity aside, the great rapport I always felt with my male peers didn’t mean I was ostracized from female companionship. In fact, my whole middle school table–which had conveniently gone unnamed when we decided to create a map of all the cafeteria cliques (preps, jocks, Martha Stewarts, and so forth), despite the fact that it quite frankly seated of a bunch of band kids and the token choir chick (me)–consisted of ten girls and half as many guys, one of whom kept being recycled in the bizarre phenomenon of middle school dating.
In fact, my best friend of of the past, present, and forecasted future is a kid called Willy Jazz, or Beans, or any number of monikers older sisters can’t help but ascribe to their closest DNA double helix. And close, she is. In a family of two sisters spaced two years apart, it’s as if she was developed in vivo to be my twin, complete with the added benefit of (in her opinion) not actually being my twin. In a similar vein, my former life partner à la Spongebob and Patrick and my lone female counterpart in one of those male-driven coteries was a girl who shared my embarrassing fervor for celebrity worship and helped me maintain the concrete abs of my youth just by falling prey to hysteria every time we were in the same vicinity (including that eighth grade English class where a boy named Casey Griswald turned around and snapped, “Will you two stop laughing for Christ’s sake!?“).
Beyond that, I had great times with my girlfriends forming one-hit-wonder cover bands complete with promotional materials and costumed music videos; exchanging inappropriately unpolitical delegate notes during Model United Nations conferences where we were supposed to be discussing the fate of Luxembourg’s debt sustainability; terrorizing the IMDB message boards with the fictitious “Legface,” before we knew what the verb “to troll” even meant; spending hours in front of a mirror primping for a night of lychee cocktails 15 floors above the Portland cityscape at Departure; and even achieving the coveted Sex and the City foursome all girls dream of during one magical year of college.
But in my experience, little things always seem to come between gal pals, be it the petty life mistakes that one party refuses to forget or simply 2,844 miles of United States soil and disparate schedules that handicap the relationship. However, in a gigantic city like Los Angeles where the list of entertainment, events, boutiques, clubs, bars, drag shows, and tans just waiting to be garnered at our many beaches is endless and the handful of people I’ve met thus far pardonably need to devote the majority of their time to their burgeoning careers, I can’t help but reminisce about all the benefits of having girlfriends in your life. All the fashion ogling, all the amateur restaurant critiquing, all the club hopping in dresses we’ll consider passé shortly after breaking them in, all the exotic flavors Bartini has to offer, all the inevitable man talk that spans the gamut from congratulations to commiseration, and all the laughter that can’t resist emission in one another’s presence.
Thus, even with all its endless distractions, L.A. has yet to distract me from the one glaring thing it’s missing: all my amazing girls.