I feel sorry for Alan Ball.
After John From Cincinnati got the offstage hook last year, everything seemed a little frownyface emoticon for the kids down at HBO. Sopranos was spluttering to an end, Entourage had lost the plot and even the most hardcore fellows among us were getting pre-emptively emotional about the conclusion of The Wire.
And here comes Fox, smirking and casually lifting up its skirt so we can have a look-see. What's under those sexy frillies, then? Fringe. Hm. New 24. Oh. House. Yes. A new Joss Whedon show? Jesus!
HBO, meanwhile, must be pinning all their hopes on new shows like True Blood. Don't they have every reason to? An Alan Ball (Six Feet Under, American Beauty) creation, the source material centres around Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress living in the deep south. She can read minds (which are often full of supernatural secrets) and comes under the employ of a local group of politically-minded vampires. Oh yeah, this is a vampire show.
I watched the pilot last night and while it wasn't anywhere near "Bad TV", it had some pretty serious problems. To be fair, it wasn't a final cut and I'm already hearing some pretty major parts have been re-cast. Casting (although often strange in places) wasn't a particular problem of mine, with Ryan Kwanten (Dead Silence) being a damn-near perfect embodiment of the kind of glassy-eyed grit needed to keep the character of Jason Stackhouse a Question Mark.
No, the main problem here is tone. Whilst the books are jam-packed full of surprising violence and sex (ideal for Alan Ball) he's chosen to not to centre the pilot around the main protagonist. Whils this is perfectly normal for a show, it doesn't work here. Sookie is dreamy, naiive and inexplicably brave, with an "Oh mah stars!" perspective (the perfect foil for making violence and sex intriguing - as a further-down-the-line jaded and cynical Sookie can attest to), Jason is shown sticking his dick and tongue in anything that moves. These two storylines don't mesh well, with Sookie looking like kind of a retard up against Jason's horndog fuckfest, and his horndog fuckfest jarring with her romantic slow-motion fantasies.
At this stage, I wouldn't like to be in Alan Ball's shoes; an awful lot of people surrounding him with the same begging question: "How can we change this so it works? It HAS to work!"
Somewhere there is a stack of teleplays six feet under that used to be a tree.