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Catching up on True Blood and Mad Men

Posted by The TV Critic on 24 August 2010 | 0 Comments

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Hey everyone,

It's good to be back. Obviously I will be checking out lots of new shows and trying to catch one or two I missed from last season. But for now I have just been watching three of my old friends "Entourage", "Mad Men" and "True Blood."

Entourage is lucky to get the full review treatment from me and so you can see my full thoughts on their seventh season elsewhere.

Mad Men, Season 4, Episodes 1 - 3

So far the new season has been heavily Don focussed and I have enjoyed it a lot. Single, alcoholic, desperate and now in an underdog company, I have never found Don more easy to sympathise with. Of course the dark side of him is still very apparent but without his marriage around he seems like a more relatable character. His behaviour is more transparent perhaps and he attempts to gratify his own needs and escape loneliness while also bearing the creative weight of a whole company.

What Mad Men does really well is bring out emotionally poignant moments in office interactions. Don's seduction of Alison was so sad and such a bad idea for both. It shows how lonely Don is becoming that he would make such a foolish decision. It goes against his own past behaviour where he turned down Peggy's advances and became furious at Roger for sleeping with Jane. Then there was Lane Pryce letting his hair down and being silly with Don. The poignancy came not just from his marital breakdown but his admission that no one at work really liked him. He's an irresistibly sympathetic figure to me (as a fellow Brit) and his drunken exclamation while watching Godzilla was hilarious - "This movie's very good!"

But best of all in a way was Lucky Strike's Lee Garner Jr humiliating Roger for his own amusement. Roger was once a semi-equal. A fellow rich boy running a big company. But now Roger is hopelessly dependent on Garner and they both know it. So Garner forces him to dress up as Santa and metaphorically dance around for his pleasure. It was such a simple idea but which brought out so many thoughts and feelings about life, business, power and dignity both in the 1960s and today. Another of Mad Men's great strengths is that ability to make the viewer look at their own world and see how far or how little things have come in fifty years.

True Blood, Season 3, Episodes 1 - 6

I tweeted that "True Blood sucks" upon my return. That is of course an over simplification. Many TV critics found themselves writing pages and pages about Glee last season. Many of those critics didn't like the show that much but found the need to comment extensively on its cultural impact. True Blood is a bit like that for me. I am constantly surprised by how such a wasteful, inconsistent and poorly characterised show can have so many admirers.

This season has been full of stuff I don't like.

- Last season's town-wide orgy has been quickly forgotten and ignored despite so much destruction and disturbing immoral behaviour.

- The show continues to introduce new contextless characters for each of the main characters to interact with. In other words Sam, Jason, Tara, Sookie and Lafayette all have new love interests \ kidnappers \ protectors \ families to deal with within one or two episodes. As I have said repeatedly, what bothers me is the obviously temporary nature of these characters. They are given flimsy introductions and character development, making it clear that like Eggs, Maryann and Daphne they will be gone by the season's end.

- The obsession with gore, violence and sex continues. I have no problem with any of it if it serves a purpose. But having just seen some kind of torture porn scene where two were-wolves feed on a tortured Bill I am as convinced as ever that the gore doesn't serve a purpose. Bill isn't going to die and so his grotesque makeup job feels more like an attempt to suck in viewers who enjoy the shock factor.

As you may know my real problem with True Blood is that I don't care about the characters. Even if she weren't so endlessly annoying Sookie continues to sound self righteous and walk straight into vampire-related danger without a hint of a plan. Jason is moral one week and selfishly corrupt another. Sam never gets to play a scene where he smiles and conversely Tara never plays a scene where she isn't screaming at someone. The show just assumes the viewer will automatically care about these characters yet we are given precious little to cling to.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of all is how little the show explores vampire mythology. As Lorena kills him, Bill gives a fascinating speech about the human she used to be and indeed the vampire who turned her into an instrument of misery. It's doubtful whether we will learn much more than that but the relationship between the humanity a vampire once had and their new nature is one which the show threatens to uncover but never does time and again. Eric remains one of the show's best characters because he behaves consistently. That consistency is his selfishness of course. This season it would seem he is destined to murder the King of Mississippi and save Bill and Sookie. But he has no love for them, it is his family's quest for vengeance which is driving him. The story which would be fascinating to explore is how much of Eric's humanity remained once he became a vampire. Similarly the other enjoyable story is seeing baby vamp Jessica glamour and feed on her customers. Her naivety and battle between being responsible and evil is interesting to watch. But I am left wondering if her story will just head toward mindless sex and gore rather than a genuine exploration of fantasy psychology.

The King himself has been a reassuring presence so far this season: reasonable but evil. His introduction as a character has been pure True Blood. He appeared with no explanation and no introduction yet as time has gone on more and more nuances and details have appeared. Perhaps that is one of the keys to True Blood's success, it does manage to keep hinting that bigger mysteries and answers will appear as time passes.

The final word goes to the star of the show Lafayette. He remains the most likeable and authentic character on the show. And in a show featuring endless perversions his flirtation with his mom's carer Jesus felt like the most believable interaction all season. 

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