I’ve watched every episode of HBO’s True Blood, which is about to kick off its fourth season, and I’ve read every one of the Sookie Stackhouse novels on which it's based. An eternity is not enough time to express my gratitude to Ms. Charlaine Harris for the best premise in Southern Gothic mythology in these United States. But True Blood creator Alan Ball has refined her story into something with more insight and intensity than the complete works of Charles Dickens, and the HBO drama has the notable honor of being a TV adaptation that’s even better than its very addictive source material.
This is not just my opinion, it's a science fact, and here are ten reasons why.
10. Eric’s hair
In the books, Vampire Sheriff Eric Northman’s hair is frequently described as being bound up in intricate braids. Seriously? Who would even do the braiding? Pam?
9. Sookie is not the narrator
Sookie Stackhouse narrates each one of the books in the first person, with a mix of charming naivete and sass. Anna Paquin’s Sookie is definitely the center of True Blood, but we aren’t tied to her perspective. We don’t stay shut up with her in the FOTS basement in Season 2, we go aboveground, check out Jason getting it on with the Preacher’s wife, go to Bon Temps and watch the town have orgies under the influence of the maenad. Basically any time you see someone onscreen and they’re not directly across from Sookie, it didn’t happen in the books, or they told her about it over coffee several weeks later.
8. There's no Bubba
The vampire Bubba appears in the first couple of books, and Charlaine has to take pains to introduce him because for legal reasons she can't explicitly state that he’s a vampirized Elvis.
But that's what he is. Alternately called the King or the Man from Memphis, he eats cats (just like Alf) and is almost crucified by the King of Louisiana. I know, I know.
Charlaine Harris created Lafayette’s character, gave him about two lines, and then killed him off in the first chapter of the second book. The True Blood Lafayette, played masterfully by Nelsan Ellis, is a main character and maybe the most compelling one on the show. An intensely masculine line cook who wears makeup to work could easily be written as a caricature, but Lafayette is a layered, three-dimensional person who’s survived torture, supported his demented mother and suicidal cousin, and begun a romance without any inconsistency of character or tone, a real feat for the TB writers.
6. We actually get to see things
Look, we all have powerful imaginations. I love to read, I really do. But there’s something to be said for this:
...versus, like, “Alcide was possessed of rough good looks.” AND True Blood films on location, AND it puts a lot of artistry and budget into its special effects. There's a visual joke or indelible image in every episode. Sorry books, Eyes have reported to Brain and TV takes the prize for best imagery.
From the first gritty notes of that bluesy twang, the opening sequence locks down the world of the show in a way a thousand-thousand books never could. Hold that book up to your ear. What's that sound? Pages flipping? FAIL.
Every episode is named for a song, too. I care about TV that cares about music.
4. Alan Ball’s original characters
Some of the most engrossing characters, the ones who show us the most perspective on important story points, were created specifically for the show. Jessica Hamby, Bill’s forced vampire child, shows us what it means to become a modern vampire. Then there's Amy Burley, Jason’s V-addict girlfriend (who's played by the irresistible Lizzy Caplan); Eggs, Tara’s murdered fiancee; and the swamp witch from Season 1, just to name a few.
3. Charlaine Harris’s original characters are better on the show
Charlaine, I love you, but in your books Tara is a boring nobody who runs a store called Tara’s Togs, and she only shows up when Sookie wants discount clothes. At no point is she kidnapped by a vampire, tied to a toilet, dressed in an Old South gown, and then served flowers for dinner. Tara’s arc is so beyond surreal that if you’re not screaming at the television, you’re not paying enough attention. Which leads me to...
At no point in any of the books did we get to see a woman in a long lace nightgown knocked over by a werewolf on the lawn of a sprawling Southern estate. Like, what?
1. Bill loves Sookie more on TV
In the books, Bill Compton is dispassionate. When Sookie is being chased through the graveyard by Rene in Dead Until Dark, Bill is caught up in an exciting computer project and hears about her attempted murder in the hospital. On the show, Bill wakes up, drawn to her panic, and walks through the daylight, bursting into flames, to try to save her.
That was a powerful moment in the series, and it really gave their relationship the kind of credibility that carried them through the brutal third season. In the books, Bill runs off to join Lorena—he isn’t compelled. He’s kind of a butthole, he’s kind of heartless, he’s kind of a monster. I want to see the kind of romantic, death-defying love that an affair with the undead implies. I can get invested and deeply care about these fantastical creatures with crazy mythologies because Alan Ball grounds them in a bone-deep core of pure emotion. And that makes for some of the most humanistic writing and most three-dimensional characters outside of great literature, except they happen to be on TV. And half naked.
True Blood Season 4 premieres this Sunday, June 26 at 9pm on HBO.
Those of you who've read the books: Do you agree? Or do you like the source material better than the show?