Public Service Announcement 41 of 2012: The Almighty Johnsons, True Blood

TV is ridiculously unfair sometimes.

Monday night (17th Sept) at 10pm sees the return of two fantasy tv shows, completely different in both quality and fate, to UK tv.  The first, The Almighty Johnsons, is one of the best shows, genre or otherwise, I’ve seen in years – it’s about a young New Zealand man who discovers on his 21st birthday that he’s a Norse god, as are his three big brothers, and they’re not the only ones.  It’s about growing up, family, friendship, love – all the good stuff – and it’s also, a teeny bit, about superpowers.  Most of all, though it’s bawdy, clever, big-hearted and wildly, wildly funny.  

Season 2 premieres in the UK this week and while the first few episodes really miss Dean O’Gorman’s Anders (like every other tv actor I’ve ever loved, O’Gorman was off filming The Hobbit, so his screen time is significantly reduced), the season is still an absolute delight.  A delight tinged with sadness, however, because, despite it being fresh and fabulous, and ending on a fantastic cliffhanger, barring some sort of miracle TAJ is not coming back.

Jed and I have been writing about tv for a few years now and we’ve been talking about it for a lot longer, so we’ve seen scores of shows come and go, but I don’t think a cancellation has ever made me quite as upset as this one did.  The show was at its peak, creatively, the story had taken a spectacular turn, the writers didn’t get a chance to finish it off, and I will genuinely miss the characters.  I’m gutted that I won’t get to see it again, because I watched it and I adored it.  And – as long as you don’t mind a fair amount of skin and swearing – you should too.  Don’t let the cancellation put you off, tune in anyway at 10pm, Syfy, on Monday night for the next ten weeks and watch a superb show’s last hurrah.  And then head along to friend-of-unpopcult kiwigods’s excellent blog for brilliant reviews of each episode.  Meantime, I’ll be back here, with tea and a big box of tissues, if you feel like a good cry about how much it sucks that we won’t get to hang out with Axl, Mike, Ty and my beloved Anders any more.

Sigh.  Of course, as one show is cruelly cut down in its prime, another limps along begging to be put out of its misery.  Yes, I’m talking about True Blood, back for season 5, despite the ludicrous mess that was seasons 3 and 4.  Regular readers will know I have a real soft spot for vampire-related shenanigans, and I stuck with True Blood for a long time, but I just can’t take it any more.  Like the similarly over-hyped Glee, it’s now so over-stuffed with annoying characters, stupid storylines, and ideas that no doubt sounded good in the writers room but are disastrous on screen, that it’s completely unbearable. 

I made it through season 4 by fast-forwarding large parts of every episode, but even my love for Alexander Skarsgård’s Eric isn’t enough to bring me back for more.  I doubt HBO are losing any sleep over my defection however; a sixth season has been ordered, regardless.  So if you’re still a fan of the show, rejoice, and get your next dose of faeries and fangbangers on FX UK from Monday night.  Like I said, at 1opm, the same time as TAJ.  Just to rub it in.

PS – Oh yeah, there’s also another season of something called Downton Abbey on Sunday night on ITV1, apparently.  Can’t imagine anyone’s heard of that….

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I don’t know why it is that no matter what Eric does and how terrible it is, it’s absolutely fine – more than fine – just because it’s Eric.

Take this week’s (otherwise appalling) start to the new season of True Blood.  Sookie comes back from a year with the faeries only to find lots of things have changed, the only one of which I care remotely about is the fact that Eric has bought her house and can therefore visit at will.  Or, as he seems to think, he can show up uninvited, stare menacingly at her and declare he now “owns” her: “Sookie.  You are mine!”

Now, I think most of us can agree this is unacceptable behaviour.  COMPLETELY unacceptable behaviour.  Any other guy on TV, on the bus, on ANYTHING acts like this, I want to punch him in the face and then lecture him at length on why a) he’s wrong and b) he’s an ass.  Even Damon Salvatore would get a stern telling-off.  Eric?  Nah, I just smile indulgently and coo a bit. What is wrong with me?  This dude and his raised eyebrow are like kryptonite.

Which is fortunate, or unfortunate depending on how you look at it, because it means that despite the most ridiculous excuse for a season-opener I have seen in a long time, I’m probably going to keep watching True Blood.

The Faerie sequence at the start was incomprehensibly, woefully silly; when even Gary Cole can’t save something, you know it’s a lost cause.   I grow more and more tired of Lafayette and the Witches by the second (Kevin Alejandro left Southland for this?).  The Catpeople are still about as interesting as grey paint.  And Tara as a cage-fighter?  What the O-Neg are the writers thinking?!?

I don’t actually want to know.  But, thanks to Alexander Skarsgård’s Eric and his eyebrow, I think I might be doomed to find out.  Given the amount of tv coming back next week that I actually like, I don’t plan to review another episode of True Blood – I don’t want to keep boring you by repeating “Eric awesome, rest rubbish” – but comments are welcome on this thread for the rest of the season.  I’ll let you know if I make it to the end….

Public Service Announcement 8 of 2012: Being Human, True Blood

Stakes at the ready, everyone and welcome to vampire weekend here at unpopcult!

Yes, the undead are taking over Sunday nights as of tomorrow with the return of arguably the two most adult supernatural shows around, even if “adult” in the Being Human context means intelligent, dark and brave, while” adult” in the True Blood context means people taking their clothes off all the time.  Each to their own…

Being Human’s up first at 9 PM on BBC3, and, frankly, I’m worried about how it’s going to go.  It may seem strange to both look forward to and dread a new run of your favourite show, but so many people have been so deeply invested in the characters over the past three years that I won’t be the only one approaching the fourth season with both hope and trepidation.  Last season was brilliant but devastating, and I still haven’t recovered from the loss of Mitchell – can the show? Especially now George is going too. (Yes, I know Nina is already away, but she was only part of the story because of George, rather than in her own right, so her absence won’t make that much of a difference.)

Given we had to lose the boys – and as I’ve said before – I would have preferred a clean break: if Annie, much as I love her, had gone too, we could have just started afresh with Becoming Human, but instead, we’re hanging onto our ghost and giving her another awkward werewolf, Tom from last year, and another tall, dark vampire, Hal to share Honolulu Heights with.  Will it work?  I don’t know.  But I’ll be watching and reviewing avidly, so let’s find out together.

Hot on Being Human’s heels, True Blood also starts its fourth season on Sunday, this time at 10 PM on FX.  True Blood is a different beast entirely, though, in the sense that, unlike Being Human, True Blood is quite often awful.  Ridiculously so.  Frustratingly, though, it can also be very clever and very entertaining but scenes and characters of merit were too often dragged down by utter rubbish in season three and you’ll have seen from my reviews that I got incredibly fed up with it.  So much so that I’d have no problem never seeing it again, especially given how badly this new season has been received elsewhere.  Hint: It’s not sounding good.

However, you guys know I’m a creature of habit when it comes to tv, and there are still a few characters I like hanging around Bon Temps – Hi Eric, Pam, Alcide, Jessica and Terry! – so I’ll check out the first episode at least.  Whether I’ll have the heart for weekly reviews or even to stick out the season is another matter entirely.

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This damp squib of a season finale was probably fitting for a season that’s been mostly preparation and set-up (whether for this year’s storylines or next’s), rather than anything much of substance.

We had the usual mix of histrionics and soporifics, as the writers continued to confuse garish and ugly with interesting and compelling; regular readers will know by now what I’m about to say about what was good and what was not. 

Eric (rocking the cement-in-hair look) and Russell’s story was entertaining if macabre and mad, Hoyt and Jessica’s brief scene was very sweet, and hurrah for the return of Alcide (although boo for him disappearing after about a minute.  Come back, Alcide!)  But Crystal and Jason’s star-crossed love continues to drag the show down, with the poor guy now saddled with an entire tribe of her appalling relatives to look after, and just when it looked like Sam and Tara might have a second of happiness, of course it all had to go to hell again.  Even I feel sorry for them now. 

Being True Blood, though, no matter how many characters and storylines they ram in, we always have to come back to Sookie – she’s “basically vampire crack”.  Laughing maniacally when disposing of vampire entrails, crying hysterically when kicking Bill out; no wonder by the end she was literally away with the faeries.  So long, Sook-eh.  You’ll no doubt return to Bon Temps next season but will I?  I don’t know so much.  We’ll see.

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Penultimate episode of the season and suddenly it’s meaningful tête-à-tête time; Sookie and Bill talk in the car, Hoyt and Jessica talk in between make-out sessions, Tara and Andy talk at Merlotte’s, Maxine and Summer talk on the front porch, Jason and Crystal talk about nothing I care about….I could go on, but you get the picture.  Lots of one-on-one chats.  LOTS of them.

All this deep conversation made for a pretty slow episode, and the time wasted on scenes like Jason arguing with the new football player didn’t speed it up any; there are so many storylines already, please don’t let this be a new one.

But it wasn’t without its highlights – Hoyt and Jessica, for instance, remain delightful, against all the odds, and their scene was far more sensual than anything Bill and Sookie have come up with in 3 seasons.  Terry is still wonderful too, in the face of extreme provocation from all around him.  The episode belonged to Eric yet again though; his temptation of Russell, his moment with Pam, the way he stroked Sookie’s face……….and don’t even start me on the stunt at the end.  Now that was ace.

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Catpeople and fairies?  “How fucking lame,” indeed.

Just about everybody in Bon Temps is a supernatural these days (including that new waitress in Merlotte’s, then?), but some are infinitely cooler than others.  I’m with Sookie – fairies are lame.  And catpeople are even lamer.  As are both these wretched storylines.  Can’t Crystal and her horrific kith and kin die already?

And take Lafayette and Jesus with them too?  Their V-induced trip was possibly the longest and lamest scene this week.  Which is saying something.

Thank goodness for Eric, then, who is so far from lame I can’t even quantify it.  He had a brilliant episode, being resigned and sad and handsome and stuff.  I used to think the writers hated Sookie given all the awful things they put the woman through, but they must actually love her to bits and pieces.  I mean, they gave her ERIC; all smouldering, self-sacrificing, snogging six-plus feet of him.  Swoon. 

No, it’s clearly Tara they actually hate.  Already not coping with the aftermath of her abduction, rape and torture by psychotic Franklin, this week she found out WHAT JASON DID.   Ouch.  She’s annoying, sure, but this is just too much pain to heap on one character.  Even Tommy, who totally bites.  (In both senses of the word.)  Leave Hoyt and Jessica alone, Tommy.  Go annoy Sam again instead.

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Part of the True Blood problem we’ve discussed on Unpopcult is its focus on certain (rubbishy) characters and storylines, instead of other (ace) ones. That (rubbishy/ace) dichotomy was beautifully illustrated this week with what seemed like two different episodes; one good, one really not.

The good episode had poignancy with Eric and Pam bonding, intrigue with Nan Flanagan and the Authority and grotesque comedy with Russell Edgington reading the news in his own inimitable fashion – “Now time for the weather. Tiffany?” Hee.

And – bonus! – it had Hoyt admitting he misses Jessica and hates his new girlfriend. Aw, Hoyt. Don’t we all?

Sadly, the really-not-good episode gave us Bill crashing Sookie’s fantasy dreamscape, more of the wretched Crystal business and the increasingly dull Lafayette love story, and also some downright weirdness involving Sam’s appalling brother. The less said about any of that, the better.

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Roll up, roll up!

It’s my very great pleasure to introduce a guest review this week from unpopculter Tim. Not only does Tim have two great blogs of his own, but his comments are always entertaining and witty, and this review is in that same spirit.  So, without further ado, take it away, Tim…..


Up to this point, this season of True Blood has been frustratingly long on set-up and short on actual forward momentum. But with just four episodes after this one, there is finally some light appearing at the end of the tunnel. Whether that will lead to a huge train wreck is still to be determined, but we did finally get some progress here.

Actually, an awful lot happens here. And rarely have the words of the series’ theme song – “But before the night is through, I wanna do bad things with you” – rung more true than in this episode.

And on that musical thought, let’s do this recap in song titles, shall we?

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do. The episode is book-ended by Sookie and Bill breaking up and then making up again. She cries tears. He cries blood. She says he loves him. He says he loves her. It’s like a game of verbal snap. Later, they seem to enjoy making up rather more – we’ll come back to that.

Words. Eric, as usual, gets all the best lines. “Forgive me, your majesty. There’s a were-bitch in your study.” Why do I never get the chance to say stuff like that?

Release Me. Bill releases Jessica, but she doesn’t want to go because she wants to learn more about being a vampire. This leads on to a nifty bit of … 

Kung Fu Fighting. In which Bill teaches Jessica how to fight, in a nod to The Matrix.

All I Have To Do Is Dream. Arlene dreams of Rene reminding her that her unborn baby contains his blood. Tara’s shower fantasy is invaded by Franklin. It’s a toss-up as to which is more disturbing.

I Want Your Sex. As Russell sets off to track down Sookie, Eric offers to “entertain” Talbot. And then he impales him with a stake. That’s not a sex metaphor. He actually stakes him. Which is just as well, because …

Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting. Russell has arrived at the Stackhouse residence, where Sookie, Bill and Jessica have been fighting off Debbie and her werewolf pack. Russell is just about to kill Bill (boom! boom!) when he feels Talbot’s death and flies off into the night sky. That must be really useful for avoiding traffic jams.

Let’s Get It On. While Jessica is off drinking a pint of Gus, Bill and Sookie get on with the serious business of making up and having torrid sex on the floor. Er, splinters?

In other news on yet another quiet night in Bon Temps, Eric gets all protective about his father’s crown but his ultimate plan remains elusive. Sookie and Alcide nearly have a “moment”. (But what would shippers call them? Sookicide? Alkie?) Sam sees off Ma and Pa Mickens, although I fear they will resurface to bore us some more later on. Jason beds Crystal without getting visions of her with a bullet in her head and confronts her meth-head father, who seems to know that Sam and Tommy are both shifters. Arlene interviews a new waitress, Holly, who senses she is pregnant. Lafayette’s mother escapes from hospital, bringing him together with Jesus again, who mutters some prescient stuff about Lafayette being powerful and the danger of him being drawn to the dark side. (What is he, a Sith Lord?) And Eric sends Hadley to her cousin Sookie with a message not to trust Bill.

Now I’m not sure how much of this will be resolved in the season finale and how much is set-up for season four, but I’m feeling happier that we are finally heading somewhere. Ideally, it would be somewhere with a whole lot more Jessica, Arlene, Terry and Pam and a whole lot less Tara, Sookie and Bill, but any progress is good progress for now.

And one final thought: does anyone else think Russell looks like an evil, more elderly David Tennant? Now that’s scary!

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At least Alcide and Sam kept their heads.  And Eric had a tender moment with Pam.  But, aside from that, this was yet another mish-mash of the grim and the ridiculous as Tara and Alcide rescued a shrieking (and stupid) Sookie and a very bloody Bill, Jason droned on about Crystal some more, and the vamps continued to fight over who gets to be in charge.  Whatevs.

This was not as horrific as last week, not as boring as the week before, but still not actually any good.  Which made the tv continuity announcer’s enthusiastic “Not too shabby, eh?  It just gets better!” over the final credits all the more bizarre.  But, seeing as we still have 5 episodes to go, I really hope he turns out to be half right, or True Blood and I will be parting company at the end of the season.

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It’s entirely possible for a supernatural show to be dark, scary and absolutely fantastic all at the same time.  Unfortunately, True Blood is not that show.

This was abhorrent.  Aside from the intriguing interaction between Russell and Sookie, and Eric playing the long game, it was more or less an hour of torture porn, with the incredibly dull love lives of Jason and Lafayette providing the only respite from the ugliness.  Ugh.  Much more like this, and I’m off.