[ spoilers from 8/30, you've been warned. ]
I know that Alan Ball is all whacky and amazing and he’s responsible for Six Feet Under and American Beauty and True Blood. But with that in mind, I’d like to kindly ask him to never write True Blood again. Ball’s sporadic appearances on True Blood raise important issues I have with television shows and comic books. They both routinely feature different writers interpreting the same characters. But let’s stick to one issue here. True Blood.
Here’s the first problem with Alan Ball on True Blood. He doesn’t write it every episode, but he acts like he does. The various writers that contribute to True Blood work to create a cohesive universe. They pay respect to the other writers’ work on developing characters, and script their episodes accordingly. And then Alan Ball comes in and he’s all:
OH HAI GUYZ, I CREATES THIS SHOW, I DO WHAT THE FUKK I WANT.
In his episodes, Ball throws the characters’ behaviors and development out the window for his view of how they act. For example, his Jason Stackhouse is a bumbling redneck retard. To the zillionth degree. His Lafayette is uber hood.
Stackhouse is appealing because he’s the idiot kid who may have some cerebral activity, but it’s consistently stifled before it can brim over the top. He’s always the lovable retard, but Ball plays that up to the point of nausea. Jason’s arc and redemption in the L.O.D.I episodes proved him to be a nuanced dumb ass, not some slapstick retard. I love his stupidity as much as anyone, but I love that underneath it all, he’s redeemable. How stoked were you when he capped Steve Newlin in his dumb Bible-Thumping-Face?
And then there’s Lafayette. Lafayette’s arc on the show was really friggin’ interesting at the begin of the season. Tortured and left for dead in a dungeon, Lafayette’s character had been turned inside out. He had seen the darkness, and we got to see a guy wounded emotionally and physically from that sort of serious shit.
Then Ball steps in.
It should be noted that in an episode Ball wrote in the middle of Season 2, Lafayette was given some of Eric’s blood. No longer suffering from an infected stank leg, Lafayette then dances around the room in some absurd mode of ecstasy. It’s hilarious. But it also unravels all the interesting moments he spent in the dungeon. And from there on, the storyline has been dropped. Sure, we get to see him suffering some Post Traumatic Stress, but that’s been sparse. And for the most part, he’s been back to the old Lafayette.
I remember thinking to myself during the Lafayette-Seductively-Sucks-Eric’s-Blood episode that it was as though Ball came into the writer’s room and said something like:
“Yeah, where we were taking Lafayette? Naw dawg, let’s retcon him.”
It’s not that I don’t enjoy Ball’s writing, or his interpretation of the characters. In fact, his take on the cast may be my favorite. They’re over the top, and utterly absurd.
The problem stems from the fact that these episodes are so jarring. You know you’re watching an Alan Ball episode. And in a way, that’s a compliment. Ball’s writing is so utter Ball, that you can’t help but hearing his voice bleed through.
The problem with that though, is that as I said, he doesn’t write the entire series. When he steps in to script the crucial episodes, there’s a serious disconnect. The characters all of a sudden speak differently, and act differently. And as well as Ball writes, I’m sitting there feeling the wrinkles that differentiate Ball from the rest of his crew.
My friend Dave and I were recently discussing Mad Men. It’s a fucking unbelievable show. He’s been watching it since the beginning, though I’ve just entered the fray. When I was foaming at the mouth over it, I commented to him that I couldn’t believe the acting was so superb.
Dave thought about it, and said that he had never noticed it. He elaborated that this was in fact a testament to the acting. There were no discernibly awful moments to remove him from the television show.
What I’m looking for with True Blood’s writing is the same thing I’m looking for in a show’s acting. It should be seamless. I don’t want to be reminded that Don Draper is fictional on Mad Men. And I don’t want to be reminded that the universe of True Blood is being running by multiple people, with multiple ideas.
I realize that there’s the contention that since Alan Ball is responsible for the show, he may write the characters however he pleases. I call foul in two regards.
First, you may be correct. If Alan Ball penned the initial episodes that created the universe, then maybe the dude does have the right to imagine them as he does. If you want to take this approach, then there’s still a system malfunction. Ball is the producer of the show. If he is going to be obstinate enough to insist on writing the characters as he sees fit, the onus is on him, as producer to ensure that there is a cohesion on the behalf of the other writers.
And secondly, it’s just egotistical. If you’re not going to make sure that all the other writers follow your vision, then you should probably respect theirs.
And then there’s his hammer-to-the-face social commentary. What the fuck is going on with his dialogue these days? True Blood is at its best when it’s allegorical. The topics of Homosexual, Equal Rights, Religion and Faith are all examined in the show, and it’s one of the reasons I enjoy it so much.
I just don’t need to be beat about the head with it.
A sample of Alan Ball’s writing from last night:
Sookie: Why are people totally evil, Lafayette?
Lafayette: ‘Cause they are. <Insert ghetto term that only Ball uses>
Sookie: It doesn’t seem right, Lafayette. There isn’t any rhyme or reason.
Lafayette. I know, hooker.
Sookie: I miss Bill. Purity, purity, blah blah blah.
And then there’s his Queen of Louisiana played by Evan Rachel Wood, and her conversation with Bill:
Queen: Gods are imagined.
Queen: Never doubt the ability of imagination, the force of will.
Bill: Ah yes, you’re screaming that humans create faith as a way to escape.
Queen: Imagination is imagining, is imagining. Hey, I’m a lesbian. And then I offer a guy for you to fuck. I’m Alan Ball. I have to cram it down your throat.
Bill: I cannot allow you to do this, Sookie.
Queen: I’m the Queen, not Sookie.
Again, the commentary is so heavy from Ball that I am yanked out of the show. It’s painful pandering. It’s blunt-force critiques and philosophical wanking. Which would be nice if it wasn’t carrying itself with an air of self-satisfaction. People have accused Tarantino to be self-indulgent in the light of Inglourious Basterds. Their heads would explode if they watched True Blood.
I love you Alan Ball, but c’mon bro.