Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Once again, the 2008-2009 network television season provides us with another year of bland procedurals, “quirky” character hybrid dramas that aren’t that well written—despite the pedigree of the executive producer on board (JJ Abrams—LOST is great, FRINGE-not so much), and the consistent old-timers and ratings “champs” who bring in steady ratings, but not much else in regard to originality, innovation, or quality (Heroes, anyone?).
Yet, there are networks that have been bucking the trend of mediocrity by giving viewers edgy, well-written, and thought provoking fare. HBO is a cable network that is doing this very thing in regard to their scripted comedies and dramas. The net reached out to an “old friend” to develop and run their newest breakout hit, True Blood. A mix of southern gothic drama, horror, suspense, mystery, romance, and comedy, the series is a character driven ensemble piece that chronicles the interactions the citizens are having with vampires in the small community of Bon Temps, Louisiana. Specifically, the series focuses on the relationship between telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) and centuries-old vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer).
One of the unusual characters featured in this ensemble is Lafayette Reynolds, a short order cook at the town bar. He has wit for days and an equally colorful ensemble of fishnets, tight pants, and fabulous makeup. But, there is more to Lafayette than that. He’s quite intelligent and cunning. And, I am enjoying how Ball is peeling away his layers in every episode of the show. Critics haven’t warmed up to the character yet and have accused Ball of writing the black characters on True Blood as one- dimensional stereotypes. Yet, I question what it is they are seeing. Alan Ball has always been a master of creating flawed and original characters for his many film and television projects. Lafayette is a prime example of this. Lafayette more than fits in with the rest of the community and is not a stereotype at all. In every episode, you learn something new about him that makes you rethink and reconsider how you view him on True Blood. And, that’s great about Ball’s new show. The greatest characters are those that keep us wondering what they are going to do next: good or bad.
However, this isn’t enough. People demand that characters that look like us be noble and free of fault. Or, in the case of Black LGBT characters, expect them to be non-threatening or so extremely unrealistic that it was easier to stomach shows that allegedly catered to us but gave us the very stereotypes we abhorred being compared to. Of course, “mainstream” (read: White) gays aren’t that accepting of us either. For all of GLAAD’s and AfterElton.com’s cries for diversity in film and television, any and everything related to LGBT men and women of color was marginalized and relegated to the occasional “expose” every other year (After Elton), or yearly studies on the lack of LGBT characters of color on TV shows and films, yet no real critique or analysis on how to advocate for this needed diversity (GLAAD). Television isn’t perfect, and I don’t need it to be. I need my shows to be complex, ambiguous, messy, and fun. HBO has the corner of the market on this. And, True Blood, and Lafayette Reynolds is no exception.