Saturday, July 24, 2010

True Blood Vs. Mad Men: A Rebuttal

Earlier today, while visiting my parents, I saw this article in the Globe & Mail and it made me angry. Not because I think Mad Men sucks and "OMG TRUEBLOOD 4EVA!" but because I think the author gave True Blood short shrift. In fact, I wonder if the author has actually ever watched True Blood. So I present to you, people of the internet, my rebuttal.

I won't go into nitpicky things about TV 'pedigree' or 'awards' because those are established.

Let's start with Cash in potential:


* True Blood – The show’s success has bumped up sales of the book series it’s based on (The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris), but nobody is racing out to buy True Blood lunchboxes. Earlier this week, the series was launched as a comic book, in both print and digital formats.
* Mad Men – Quite a little cash cow, the series has spawned Mad Men edition Barbie and Ken dolls, a Banana Republic clothing line and several pop-culture tomes, including Mad Men Unbuttoned: A Romp Through 1960s America.

Advantage: Mad Men, by far. But why no Pete Campbell doll?

No one may be racing out to buy True Blood lunchboxes, but they are buying Tru:Blood blood orange soda, and of course the requisite 'Team Bill' or 'Team Eric' t-shirts. And these are only the official licensed goods. Looking up True Blood on garners 1853 results; everything from rip-offs of official shirts to favourite lines from the latest episode.


* True Blood – The show has yet to reach the mainstream level attained by The Sopranos, but its profile should rise now that the first two seasons are syndicated (the first season currently airs on Space in Canada). Probably worth noting that Mad magazine has done its parody treatment on Twilight, but not True Blood.
* Mad Men – Firmly entrenched in the American zeitgeist. Magazine covers on People, Vanity Fair, Esquire, et al. Support player Crista Flanagan graces the current issue of Playboy (and appears sixties-style naked inside). And it has been parodied on both The Simpsons and Sesame Street.

Advantage: Mad Men. No contest

Allow me to point you to the wonderful Snoop Dogg tribute video he did for True Blood:

True Blood also appeared in the pages of a recent Playboy to promote season 3 and some new apparel. Plus, the fact is that True Blood really cannot be parodied on Sesame Street: it's an intensely violent and sexual show. Not suitable for tots.


* True Blood – Telepathic waitress Sookie (Anna Paquin) is one tough cookie. She was the rescuer of her eventual vampire beau Bill in the first season and has done so again since. This season has brought more screen time for Sookie’s teen vampire charge Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), which is a good thing.
* Mad Men – For a show set in the early sixties, the Mad Men ladies are corkers. Once-naive Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) had a baby out of wedlock, but continues to mount her ad career; Don Draper’s trophy wife Betty (January Jones) walked away from her philandering husband; and watch and see if zaftig secretary Joan (Christina Hendricks) doesn’t do the same with her chauvinist hubby.

Advantage: Mad Men. You think it was easy being a woman in the 60s?

This one really bothered me because the author completely ignored one of the best characters on the show. Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley) is a smart, savvy woman who has to deal with being a black woman in a town where they still raise the Southern Cross flag. She's taken care of her abusive, alcoholic mother and been best friends with a telepath her whole life which can't have been easy. And that's not even touching her relationships! Tara creates a lot of walls and she can be frustrating and abrasive but she's a wonderfully complex character that shouldn't be overlooked.

There are other great women on the show too. Look at Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten), Eric's second in command who just loves being a vampire. There's Maryann Forester (Michelle Forbes), the maenad who gradually takes over Bon Temps in season two. The women of True Blood are just as complex and nuanced as their compatriots on Mad Men.


* True Blood – A continuing carp against is the show is that the central male character of Bill (Stephen Moyer) is a wuss. It certainly doesn’t help a vampire’s rep when your fiancĂ©e has to repeatedly come to your rescue. Bloodsucker sheriff Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) is a stronger dramatic figure, as is bar owner - and shapeshifter - Sam (Sam Trammell).
* Mad Men – The full spectrum of sixties alpha males. Handsome Don Draper (Jon Hamm) shifts between charming and detestable - his entire life is a lie, we’re learning; aristocratic ad veteran Roger (John Slattery) is ruthless in business and weak in his desires; ambitious account executive Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) is the most obnoxious, though occasionally pitiable; and art director Sal (Bryan Batt), who will reappear later this season, is a portrait in closeted gay angst.

Advantage: Mad Men. You may not like these fellas, but they’re never boring.

One of the things I love about True Blood is the different masculinities presented in its characters. There's Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten): a ladies' man who was cruelly but somewhat accurately described as being 'as dumb as a box of hair' in season one. His hypermasculinity is contrasted with his feelings of guilt and grief over the deaths of the women in his life in season one and his desire for a life of meaning, which he's explored in the past season and a half.

There's the aforementioned Bill, who isn't a wuss exactly; he's a vampire living in a small, conservative town who is trying to 'mainstream'. This means he doesn't have the sexiness of Sheriff Eric. He is, basically, a big ol' undead dweeb. And there's nothing wrong with that.


* True Blood – The show exists on a fantasy plane, with casual story nods to synthetic blood and nobody really taking much notice of vampires and shapeshifters wandering among normal folk. The entry point was the murder investigation involving Sookie’s brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten), but the story has since ambled off into several directions, with creator Ball simultaneously balancing several plotlines.
* Mad Men – Over three seasons, Weiner has stuck rigidly to juxtaposing his characters against a timeline of real-life events. His stories are rife with references to Bob Dylan, Richard Nixon, Allen Ginsberg and the like. Last season closed in November, 1963, paralleling the takeover of Sterling-Cooper by aggressive Brits with the blanketing gloom that came over America following the assassination of president John F. Kennedy. The new season picks up one year later.

Advantage: Mad Men, if only for period detail. Then and now, those beehive hairdos defy physics.

Actually, what Ball is doing is using the books as a guide for plotlines and storypoints. Not all of them, but most. So yes, there's a method to the madness.


Mad Men, though not for the usual populist reasons. Yes, True Blood wades into deliciously dark territory -- this is not Twilight, kids -- but Mad Men is more stylized, and gets right into the skin of the people who virtually spawned the advertising industry. To older viewers, it feels real, and younger viewers should realize this was exactly what North American culture was like only a half-century ago. As happened with Six Feet Under, people will forget about True Blood the moment it stops airing. Mad Men is the sizzle, and the steak, and will be analyzed by TV historians for years.

See, I completely disagree. What the author fails to grasp is that True Blood already has a cult following. It will continue to have a cult following 30 years down the line. New generations of readers will find Harris' books and they'll find the show. Genre doesn't die, folks. Good or bad, genre lives on and I am absolutely certain that True Blood will still be around long after it goes off the air.

Which is the better show? It's a draw for me. I like them both for different reasons. And I think that they are too different to be compared on a simple listing basis, especially if one show is given short shrift. All I know is that I'm going to be watching both shows for years to come.

1 comment:

  1. To me the whole article is forced. Why would you compare the two? They're completely different.