The TV That Made Me: True Blood
What is the media that made you?
I think everyone has those pieces of pop culture that defined them beyond pure enjoyment – whether it’s movie, books, TV shows, piece of music, a poem, a picture, there are certain things that we encountered at certain times that have shifted the ways we look at the world. As someone who mostly lives their life through pop culture, that’s certainly true for me – from the Harry Potter books through to Stephen King, by way of Sylvia Plath and Streets of Fire, there are so many things that have touched me in ways that I could never have anticipated when I first came to them. This might not be the best examples of their mediums – hell, even good ones – but sometimes a piece of art just manages to get it’s hooks into you in a fundamental way and there’s nothing you can do to change that.
And that’s what I’m going to be taking a look at over the course of the next five days: the pop culture (in this case, television) that’s defined my life and the way that I look at the world. Not all of these shows are going to be great, and not all of them might make sense in this series at first glance, but I’m going to do my best to explain exactly how these shows changed the way I look at the world. Is this a self-indulgent excuse to plup, head-first, into my own brain? Yes. But it’s going to give me an excuse to write about some shows I totally adore and can’t wait to share with you, and I’d love to hear what the shows that made you are, too.
And so, with that, let’s get started with my first definitive TV show: True Blood.
I still remember specifically what brought me to True Blood. I can picture it exactly: I was fifteen, and, on the crappy old computer my older brother had donated to me a few months before, came across a picture of Anna Paquin, in a bikini, reclined on a sun lounger, as Sookie in True Blood. I was at that desperately horny stage of teenagedom, that time in your life when half an inch of your math’s teachers cleavage is enough to make you want to die of lust, and that image just seared itself on to my brain as soon as I saw it. I couldn’t exactly explain why, but I knew I needed to see more of her, of this. I didn’t care where it came from, how I had to get it, but I was going to find it. I finally discovered that the picture was from Alan Ball’s vampire drama True Blood, a name I had only really heard in reference to the shows that I was certainly too young to watch.
I tracked down episodes online, and spent patient hours waiting for them to buffer on a computer held together mostly with crossed fingers and gaffer tape, and I sat there, in front of that first episode, and discovered sex.
Obviously, I knew about the concept of sex before that moment. I knew that it was something I wanted to do, very much, even though it also slightly terrified me. I knew that people did it and were doing it and that it existed in abstract concept form, mostly in dramatic smooching scenes that always seemed to turn up in every movie we chose for family film night that rendered me senseless with embarrassment at having to watch them with my parents. But I had never seen sex depicted like this before: definitive, important, a little but totally, impossibly hot. Every character was after it, apparently all the time, and most of them got it, graphically, any chance they could, just like I was reasonably sure I wanted to.
Right from that impossibly sexy opening credits sequence, True Blood is a show steeped in this heavy sexuality: the first time we meet Ryan Kwanten’s Jason, he’s going down on a woman. The first season is packed with lusty fantasies, overheated exchanges, and straight-up fuckin’. Sex moved from the abstract to the concrete in my head, and I stole away to watch dozens of episodes, hunched over the computer and hoping nobody would walk in to stick our screaming pet bird in there to shut her up at an inappropriate moment.
I want to take a moment here to say that I also do just love a lot of True Blood as a show. I watched it again out of the confines of my adolescent sexual awakening, and I think the first couple of seasons are just a cracking modern take on Southern Gothic: sexy, gorgeous to look at, more than a little camp, and with wonderful sprawling horror worlds packed with some wonderful performances (Evan Rachel Wood and Denis O’Hare as the head vampires of their various sects stand out, but the main cast was consistently great as well, especially Stephen Moyer as Bill and the late lamented Nelsan Ellis as Lafayette). It goes off the rails in season three and never really gets back on them, and the way that Rutina Wesley’s Tara was treated was honestly pretty fucking abominable (hey, what if we played a rape plot for laughs?), but I still think it’s worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.
Because at the end of the day, True Blood was about more than just the sex to me. I didn’t know it at the time, being a horny teenager too busy with trying to clumsily seduce literally anyone into touching my boob, but it sowed the seeds of a lifelong interest in romance fiction. I went on to read a few of the books the series is based off of, and from there I was led to Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty series, to Outlander, to the vaults of fanfiction, to every erotic romance I could buy cheap at a charity shop while trying not to catch the eye of the woman behind the desk.
And now, of course, I write my own. I spend almost all day every day writing romance and erotica, for other people and for myself, and it’s been such a gift to work a job that I love so much and enjoy so deeply. I’m confident in saying that I never would have come to romance or erotica writing without True Blood, finding something that was both so fucking sexy but also so rich, so dense, so textured. In my mind, before this, romance was swooning heroines in full-to-bursting corsets and bad-haired dudes grabbing chastely at their waists. True Blood showed me, definitively, that there was more to the world of writing romance and sex than I had once believed.
And, you know, I still have a crush on Anna Paquin. That’s pretty important, too.
That’s it for the first part of The TV That Made Me series – it’ll be running from Tuesday to Saturday this week, so please tune in if you enjoyed this and want to read the rest! And, of course, let me know in the comments below or over on Twitter what media made you. Books, TV, movies – what changed your life, and why?
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(header image courtesy of HBO)