Friday, June 11, 2010

True Confessions and True Blood

Let’s call this column “True Confessions” and “True Blood.”

We’ll start with the confessions.

Since I left the Buffalo News on May 1, many people have asked me why someone so young would leave. OK, forget the young part. They asked me why I decided to leave.

There were a few reasons, but one of the primary ones -- besides the enhanced pension -- was being told that I would only cover local TV and local sports and would no longer be covering national television.

Management's feeling was that the internet offers so many ways to get reviews of national shows that my reviews were no longer needed and the paper could use wire reviews.

Obviously, I don’t agree with that philosophy. It was always my feeling that local readers establish a relationship with a local reviewer that can’t be obtained from a national reviewer.

In my view, a newspaper should heavily promote its own reviewers, who provide something distinct from wire service reviews that run in papers days after they are available on the internet. In other words, a local review of a national series still is a local column.

One of my favorite examples of the bond that local readers get with local critics occurred years ago when I took a few days off and the paper ran a review from Tom Shales of the Washington Post.

The next day I got a few unflattering calls about Shales and asked why I couldn’t have written that day. I laughed and told them that Shales is so well-respected that he owns a Pulitzer Prize.

The Buffalo News isn’t the first paper to take the view that it doesn’t need a daily TV critic to review national shows. The reduction in critics in these economically-difficult times is a national trend that also has hit movie and music critics. It might not be too long before there are only 10 newspapers using critics to review national shows.

The networks have seen this disturbing trend and have granted the same access to releases and DVDs to critics-turned-bloggers like myself that they had when they worked for newspapers.

This brings me to a mini-review of “True Blood,” the HBO series about vampires and humans living together in the fictional Louisiana town of Bon Temps. It was reviewed by Robert Philpot of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Thursday’s Buffalo News, a few days after his review first appeared on the internet. It premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday.

Now I know Philpot through my semi-annual trips to Hollywood when I used to cover national TV for The News. But I doubt any Western New Yorkers know who he is or have a clue to whether they should trust the review that ran in The News. A good friend of mine asked me if I agreed with the review in the paper.

To be honest, I didn’t read it Thursday because HBO sent me the first three episodes of the third season and I wanted to look at them without being influenced by any critic. I only had time to watch the first two insanely crazy episodes.

The News’ headline on Philpot’s column said the new episodes “lack bite.” To me, it was more like they lacked focus and didn’t seem to have any discernible deeper meanings underneath all the violence and blood-letting.

But the episodes move too fast to ever get dull. There are Nazi werewolves roaming the Louisiana territory were the series is set, a new plot line about the roots of one shifting character, an unplanned pregnancy and some flashbacks to the days when some of the vampires wore military uniforms.

Of course, there is a lot of biting, too much cursing, a few naked sex scenes that seem obligatory when it comes to pay-cable shows and some philosophy from chef Lafayette (Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

“Life ain’t about not having problems, it is about being able to deal with the ones you’ve got,” says Lafayette at one point.

One of the problems in the early episodes is there aren’t enough scenes between the romantic pairing of telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) and 173-year-old vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer). After all, their romance was at the heart of the first two seasons of this weird concoction.

However, their separation shouldn’t surprise anyone who has read the novels by Charlaine Harris on which the series is based. According to a good friend of mine who has read all of the books, the third book separated Sookie from Bill.

There also isn’t enough telepathy from Sookie and barely enough humor from Sookie’s brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten), who usually comes through with an idiotic moment or two and has seemed to have lost his magic touch with the ladies.

Sookie and Bill have been separated by a kidnapping, which has forced Sookie to spend more time in these two episodes with Bill’s Nordic nemesis Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard). Anyone who has read the books knows where that story is going.

Of course, HBO series often play like good novels, which throw out multiple storylines and take awhile to get on track. In other words, true believers in “True Blood” undoubtedly will enjoy the craziness and won’t be running scared for awhile even if things are initially a bit messy in more ways than one. Rating: 3 stars out of 4

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