How to Get Your Series Back on Top: A Lesson from “True Blood”

It’s very rare that a show is immune to a serious condition called “jumping the shark.” Sometimes, jumping the shark can be fatal. For whatever reason, a show just goes off the deep end. Characters do uncharacteristic things. Storylines take the show into a whole new direction that feels unaligned with the rest of the series. Dialogue gets desperate. In short, a show just begins to suck. Sometimes this lasts for seasons on end, while other times it’s very brief and we can easily forgive the writers for their prolonged brain fart.

So, what do you do when your series starts showing symptoms that it’s jumping the shark? You hire the writers of “True Blood.”

HBO’s “True Blood” was infected with this disease, for sure. Seasons 1 and 2 were brilliant—pure television genius. The show was fresh, exciting, and quite addicting. The characters were sassy, the villains were dangerous, the sex scenes were edgy, the cast was beautiful, the dialogue was witty, and every episode was enveloped in a thick air of mystery. It had been unlike anything we’d ever seen. Then, season 3 introduced the werewolves, and the show started to expand its mythology at a dizzying rate. Luckily, the deliciously evil Russell Edgington kept the season at bay and made it worthwhile. But, season 4 introduced witches and the fairy storyline, and shit just got ridiculous. Marney, the main villain for the season who was supposed to be “hell on wheels,” packed enough boredom to bring us all to the True Death. The exploration of Sookie’s fairy bloodline also warranted several eye rolls, as the show began to pull even further away from the human aspect. Was there anyone left who was just a damn normal human being? Season 5 hit rock bottom when the Vampire Authority and Lillith were front and center. Somewhere along the line, Tara also became a vampire (further alienating the humans from the supernaturals) and there was some ridiculous smoke monster storyline that couldn’t even frighten the viewers of “Dora the Explorer.” Season 6 began a glacially slow crawl from rock bottom with an intriguing storyline that served as an allegory for Nazism and the Holocaust. Season 7, the current and final season, has been solid and steady, taking the show back to its roots and back to the atmosphere of seasons 1 and 2 when it was, to me, the best show on television.

The writers have completely turned the show around and, dare I say, are going to allow the show to go out on top—with dignity and a great sense of poignancy. Gone is the aimless werewolf subplot; unfortunately, Alcide had to take a bullet to the head to completely close out that storyline. Gone is the complex and far-reaching vampire mythology tied to the Authority. Almost gone is the absurd fairyland setting that made the show feel confused and disjointed. What we have seen is season 7 so far is a complete return to form. The setting, for the most part, is limited to Bon Temps, where we get to spend ample time with the true characters—as minor or supporting as they may be—that made the show from episode 1. And these characters are spending lots of time with each other, too—something that was completely lost over the course of the series! We’re also getting a perfect blend of comedy and drama—with Pam, Arlene, Jason, Lafayette, and even Ginger delivering the sharp one-liners we had come to love in the first two seasons. But, most of all, the show is, once again, about the relationship of Sookie and Bill. Now, some viewers may be mumbling and grumbling about this because they got attached to the idea of Sookie and Eric or Sookie and Alcide at later points during the series. I’ll remind those viewers, though, that “True Blood” has always, from the pilot, been about two star-crossed lovers trying to find to find a place in society for their forbidden love.

I have every confidence that the series finale will offer us a sense of closure and some reflections on life, love, and acceptance. That will be a fantastic reward for those of us who have stuck with “True Blood” through the good and the bad. And hopefully, the writers will also be rewarded with future gigs pulling once-glorious-but-now-fading shows out of their endless tailspins and bringing them back to moments of greatness.

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