Pilot Watch: True Blood – “Strange Love”

HBO’s True Blood was a fun show. Sure, it was a hot mess at times, but damn what fun. Cory and I started watching it just before the 2nd season started at the recommendation of Cory’s grad school mentor, since Cory was in the process of writing a vampire play.

We watched. We got hooked. We stayed with it til the bloody end. For awhile, we even wrote for truebloodnet.com, a pretty big fan site. We did not read the books. Well, I think I read the first one. Wasn’t really interesting enough for me to keep going.

 

The cast of True Blood at San Diego Comic-Con, 2012
The cast of True Blood at San Diego Comic-Con, 2012

This is the first summer without it, and in honor, we decided to start rewatching the series. Oh, that first episode was a doozy.

First of all, the cold open was pretty genius. It did a great job of getting the tone, the location, and the current social state of vampires and humans across without feeling too expositiony (my favorite pilot word!), even though that’s exactly what it was. The randy, drunk teens stumble into a mini mart just to ask about Tru Blood. The man behind the counter is an aging goth – black clothes, long, black, stringy hair, covered in tattoos – your typical vampire type. He himself plays with the notion, using an Eastern-European accent, taunting the kids, then potentially hooking them up with V, all while a cable news show blares in the background with Nan Flannigan lobbying for vampire rights. Until a redneck in a camo baseball cap comes up with a pack of Tru Blood in hand. The scene plays well on the vampire stereotypes, probably playing on the audience a little bit, too.

From there, we’re inserted into Bon Temps and meticulously introduced to the major players: horn-dog hottie Jason, forever defensive Tara,  and puppyish Sam (get it?). We meet most of the side-characters-to-become-main-players here, too, like Arlene, Hoyt, of course Lafayette. Impressively, most of these characters, with the exception of Hoyt, are well-defined and well-performed right off the bat. Nelsan Ellis is fucking brilliant in his portrayal of Lafayette, a character I miss desperately. Knowing how the series plays out, many of these guys become like their characters on steroids – overstuffed with history and storylines, unable to fully connect them all together in a real way. In fact, watching this episode made me even angrier at how the whole thing played out. More on that later.

And of course, there are our stars – Sookie Stackhouse, a mere mind-reader, and Bill Compton, gentlemanly vampire of ages past.

In this first episode, Sookie makes her virginal attributes crystal clear, chastising the crew at Merlotte’s for their foul language and inappropriate gestures. She just as loudly has no qualms against vampire Bill hanging around, despite everyone’s immediate hatred-slash-fear. Bill plays mysterious and dresses like a zombie. Sookie comes to Bill’s rescue, when a trailer-trash couple try to drain him.

****RANT****

—– So, later in the series, this is all explained as an elaborate set-up to get Sookie to drink Bill’s blood, or something like that. Watching it again, it’s all too obvious that the creative team was just trying to shoehorn that plot point in there later. This wasn’t like a LOST thing, that was planned out years in advance by the crew, whether it was in the books or not. It was portrayed genuinely on all accounts, and the set-up aspect cheapens the whole thing. It feels like that moment in Frozen, when Hans falls out of the boat, and looks on adoringly after Ana walked away. How does that make any sense if his plan was totally different? ——

****END RANT****

The episode ends with Sookie being nearly beaten to death by the trailer-trash duo.

As a pilot, this is actually really good. They leave just enough clues about Sam’s true self and manage to show Tara’s disastrous home life. Yes, some of the dialogue is clunky – a trait that follows the show until the very end. But it’s saved by the actors, who are fully invested in the small town and small lives their characters lead. The additional plot involving the death of a girl Jason just spent a kinky night with is a nice little early breadcrumb for the villain to come.

This episode made me remember why I fell for the show in the first place, and again, only made infuriated me knowing how it all unfolded.

Why I Didn’t Care About No New Footage and Other Comic-Con Thoughts

This was my 5th year at San Diego Comic-Con. And as each year comes, I think to myself, “Maybe this will be the year that I’ll get cynical. Maybe this time, I’ll see what others complain about.” But…

I am still head-over-heels in love with Comic-Con. And it just keeps getting better.

I love Comic-Con. I love the people. I love the cos-play. I love the long lines and crammed ballrooms. Some people find that surprising, like when they find out I actually love public speaking or theatre and improv. And I get it; I’m an open introvert with social and generalized anxiety. You would think large crowds, tight spaces, and lots of noise would be the last place I would be, since I can’t even make a phone call without breaking into a cold sweat. But the truth is, I’ve always found comfort in crowds. It’s because I can assess and respond in a situation quickly based on others around me. Is that like, a superpower? It should be.

This year, Cory and I actually didn’t know if we would make it until literally 2 days before. But thanks to some inside knowledge and a little luck, we were good to go. But because of the uncertainty, and the whole wedding thing, we did not put in for the hotel lottery. No, instead we decided to rough it and walk from our apartment, which is a little over 1 mile straight up from the convention center. “Up” being the key term there. While a mile walk isn’t bad, at a typical con, we’re each lugging 15-20 lbs worth of stuff. Still, not too bad, right? Except that the way back is uphill. Not steep, but a long, grueling incline that catches up with you. We had to do it, though.

Since we really didn’t know if we were going until the last minute, we didn’t take a lot of time to plan. The one thing we knew we wanted: The Star Wars panel.

Thursday afternoon, after an okay panel on pitching, we decided to check out the line, around 1 pm. And it was massive. For those unfamiliar with the convention center and Hall H, the line weaves in and out of tents alongside the building, then crosses the street and lines the sidewalk all the way around to the back of convention center, where it then goes up the sidewalk along the marina to the Hilton, then back down the gate to the Embarcadero, where it loops up and down the lawn and basketball courts before starting again back on the sidewalk of the marina down toward Seaport Village. It can be literally miles long. When we got in line, it was behind Joe’s Crab Shack on “the island,” or the Embarcardero. All things considered, it was a good spot – soft lawn, shade from the trees, breeze from the bay. Cory and I were kind of at a loss — we weren’t expecting to be in line so early. Luckily, the girl ahead of us and the man behind us offered to watch our things if we left for food or panels. Then, we made friends with the brother and sister nearby. Before we knew it, we were a hearty little group of six, sharing blankets and stories from cons past. We stuck together, taking turns going into the Con, seeing panels, grabbing food, etc. We got our wristbands (the guarantee of entry to a certain point) around 11 pm. One super generous member of our new gang offered to hold our spots for the night. He’s a good guy.

The next morning, after a missed alarm and a mile jog downtown, we found our friends, bought breakfast, and waited. We eventually got into the cavernous Hall H before any panels started, and there, the six of us settled in for a long day to get to ….

The Star Wars Panel —

Yes, it’s true. They didn’t really reveal anything new. They showed some (amazing) behind the scenes footage, and I know it was picked apart on the Internet minutes after its release.

So there seems to be 2 schools of thought here: the panel was either a big fake-out or the greatest experience ever.

As someone who lived it, I’m here to tell you – It was the Greatest. Experience. Ever.

It’s easy to get excited about being the first to see new stuff. And hey, I’ve been there, too. It is great – you feel special. For like, 3 minutes. But it doesn’t take long for the whole world to catch up to where you are. Even this year – they premiered the latest Batman Vs. Superman trailer. I was not there. I WAS, however, on the convention floor, near the DC booth when the stars came over right from Hall H to sign autographs. And they showed the trailer. On a loop.

Now listen, if you’re going to do a panel in one of the big rooms, you gotta bring something. The Game of Thrones panel earlier on Friday was pretty lame-o for several reasons, but mainly because there was literally nothing new to show. Nothing new to talk about. There are no more books. They maybe *just* started filming. They’re still figuring it out. And it was boring.

JJ and Co tantalized us by bringing out a real puppet who walked across the stage. They staggered bringing out the new stars, giving the crowd a chance to ask questions to each group.

They carefully kept Harrison Ford until the very end.

Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford
Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford

And I’ll admit, at this point, I was starting to feel a little disappointed. I had desperately hoped for a truly mind-blowing experience and I just didn’t have it. Even with Harrison. I knew the panel was coming to an end and I wasn’t sure if it was worth it. Until JJ made the big reveal.

A surprise concert, behind the convention center — right where this whole journey began.

During the panel, Mark Hamill mentioned that everyone seems to have a Star Wars story. I mean, he’s right. I wrote about mine. And that, that was the point of being there. In a line with thousands of other people. Sitting on the lawn for twelve hours. Making friends. Saving spots. Bringing coffee and doughnuts. Sharing anticipation and excitement. This is what Comic-Con, at its best, is about. Yes, there’s swag and celebrities and new teasers. And yes there are comics and toys and art and memorabilia.

But this is about sharing your love of something with others who love it just as much as you do. It takes what could be a very isolated feeling and propels it into a universe of those who feel the same way, turning loneliness into acceptance and a sense of belonging. That’s freaking awesome.

So no, I don’t care there wasn’t any “new” footage or trailers. I had an amazing experience with new friends that will forever bond us together. And I can’t wait until next year.

Pilot Watch: The Walking Dead – “Days Gone By”

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I’m afraid of zombies.

I never watched zombie movies growing up. By the time I reached adulthood, I was somewhat indifferent. Until I met Cory. Cory loves zombies. Cory introduced me to the genius of Romero, of Max Brooks, and of course, Shaun of the Dead. Then the nightmares began.

To be fair, I’m pretty prone to nightmares, but zombies were a new threat to my nighttime imagination.

So, I never watched The Walking Dead. It was, what I call, one of my “Read Abouts.” I am only one human being, with a full-time job, a wedding to plan, and a penchant for watching old favorites. Getting fully invested in new series does not come easily, so there are certain series I read about online, keep up with on Twitter, that kind of thing. I can’t watch everything. Of course, the zombies didn’t help.

I have, however, always enjoyed seeing TWD panels at Comic-Con, which usually falls in front of the Game of Thrones panel. TWD panels are always interesting and enjoyable, and they always bring great footage.

Andrew Lincoln on The Walking Dead panel at SDCC, 2014
Andrew Lincoln on The Walking Dead panel at SDCC, 2014

Finally, Cory convinced me. “Just watch the pilot,” he said. “It’s really good.”

I’d be the judge of that.

One gloomy San Diego Saturday (yes, it’s occasionally gloomy here) was the perfect opportunity. And afterward, I could not believe how much I loved it.

It’s a phenomenal set-up. I know this is based on the comic, but since I’m not familiar with it, I can only go off of what I saw.

The cold open was maybe a little too much of a giveaway, though the zombie-girl was kind of scary.

What really stuck with me was the hospital scene. What an incredible way to show both the passage of time and disorientation. Passage of time – something the Game of Thrones pilot also did fairly well, if it is a little too subtle. But those dried flowers – that pretty much says everything we need to know.

Pilots have to do a lot: they have to introduce main characters, get you to like them, and then squeeze a basic story around them that gets the tone across. Here, the story is Rick’s.

The pilot serves as an introduction to Rick, and Rick’s introduction to the new world around him, which conveniently helps us out – so there’s another thing they do really well. It’s a typical writing trope to put a character in the same place as the audience, to give a little more of a “natural” reason to introduce everything. Though cliche, it’s often necessary. And The Walking Dead does it really well.

I do feel like the middle did go on a little long. Quiet moments are always important in horror and drama, but this felt a little too quiet for a little too long; my attention might have wandered a bit here.

Though his riding into Atlanta was brilliantly executed. So was the reveal of Rick’s family and partner. Overall, this was an amazing pilot, probably thanks in part to the comic series

Needless to say, I’ll continue watching, zombies — errr, WALKERS —- be damned.

Originally Aired: October 31, 2010

Network: AMC

Seasons: 5, Season 6 on the way.

Fun Facts: “Days Gone By” was nominated for Creative Arts Emmys for editing, special effects, and won for prosthetic make-up.