Forget all that stuff about sunlight and wooden stakes – vampires, it seems, are unkillable.
The pretentious kind – the ones that like to wear lacy cravats and make existential moan about the loneliness of eternity – might be having a long lie down right now, but they've been very effectively replaced in the popular imagination by next-door neighbour vampires. This kind simply wants a quiet life and a bit more understanding, turning up at high school (as in the hugely successful Twilight series), or in the adjacent council flat (as in the terrific Swedish film Let the Right One In) or even behind you in the queue at the 7-Eleven, as in HBO's True Blood, an unexpected American hit that has just arrived here on the FX Channel. The first vampire we see in True Blood is a power-suited blonde doing an interview on Bill Maher's show. "We just want to be part of mainstream society," she said, going on to explain that now the Japanese have successfully synthesised human blood there's absolutely no reason for the two races not to get along. The vampires have come out of the coffin and they're not going back.
The second vampire we saw wasn't, as we'd prejudicially assumed, the scary-looking goth behind the convenience store cash till. It was the tubby redneck in the camo jacket, who plonked a four-pack of True Blood on to the counter and told the clerk he'd kill him if he ever pretended to be a vampire again. "You have a nice day now," he said, as he took his change. That's the central gag in True Blood, that this is all a minority-rights issue and that the thrill-seeking amorality of white trash non-vampires, endlessly pursuing kinkier sex or a bigger high, might be where wickedness really lies. And the fact that it is a good gag, darkly mischievous in its details, should expand the audience for Alan Ball's series well beyond die-hard adherents of the undead. There's a nice moment in the wonderfully atmospheric credits when the camera catches a roadside church sign – "God hates Fangs" – and you realise this is escapism that doesn't want to escape too far.
The story centres on Sookie, a waitress at the local bar who has the ability to read minds, or rather the inability to prevent people's private thoughts washing across her in an overlapping babel. When Bill turned up in the bar – instantly recognisable by his mortuary pallor and moody look – a frisson of bigotry ran through the other drinkers and a frisson of excitement ran through Sookie. She isn't a "fang-banger", as those who like to have sex with vampires are known, but she is drawn to the strong silent type, and the fact that Bill's mind is a closed channel is almost as appealing as his courtliness. "He was sort of old-fashioned, like from a movie on TCM," she told her grandmother when she got back from work. Sookie's boss – who secretly loves her and disapproves – isn't convinced that Japanese synthetic blood is going to be enough to keep her safe. "Are you willing to pass up all your favourite foods and drink Slimfast for the rest of your life?" he asked at one point. For the moment though, the biggest risk to Sookie comes from the Rattrays, local drug dealers who were thwarted by her in their plan to tap Bill's dry for the v-juice market, vampire's blood apparently being a bigger draw in the backwoods than crystal meth. So far, True Blood isn't deep, it doesn't have the undertow of mortality and loss that made Ball's previous hit, Six Feet Under, such a distinctive addition to the American television landscape. But its take on contemporary gothic does have a knowing connection to a dark side of American life. It's not surprising that HBO's executives declined to drive a stake through its heart after series one.
This week's programme for Revelations – Channel 4's religion-lite series – would probably have appealed to Alan Ball, featuring as it did the work of a professional exhumer. Peter Mitchell has dug up around 30,000 people in his career, having turned himself into an expert in the emotional and legal niceties of moving the dead around. Some of his jobs are corporate affairs, such as the mass removal of two Christian burial sites in Luxor in Egypt, while some are private matters, marked by intense feeling. Nearly 50 years on from the deaths of his parents, Phil Walker is still unable to talk about their separation in death without his voice breaking, just one instance of the almost irrepressible sense that the dead still have feelings that need to be considered. There wasn't, thankfully, too much concentration on the practical side of the work, though one of Peter's colleagues did acknowledge that a strong stomach was helpful: "It only wants one person to start heaving and it sets everybody off," he said pointedly. Well, quite.Reuse content