Monday, July 6, 2009

Set-Design Drool: True Blood

Are y'all watching True Blood on HBO? I can't get enough of this soapy, Southern-fried vampire series.

In fact, I'm a sucker -- so to speak -- for pretty much any well-done, intelligent vampire tale. Unlike seemingly half of the adult female population, though, I'm utterly immune to the supposed charms of the Twilight saga and its sparkling (non)bloodsuckers. I like my vampire fables complete with sex and blood, thank you very much. (As for what's behind our collective obsession with the undead, this recent New York Times article attempts to psychoanalyze the fang fixation.)

Anyway, there is plenty of sex and blood in Bon Temps, Louisiana -- the fictional setting for the show, which centers around clairvoyant barmaid Sookie Stackhouse; her 170-year-old vampire boyfriend, Bill Compton; Bill's newly undead "daughter," Jessica; shape-shifting roadhouse proprietor Sam; Sookie's formerly demon-possessed BFF, Tara; mysterious Maenad Maryann; vampire head honcho Eric and his tart-tongued sidekick, Pam; gay and fierce short-order cook, hustler, porn-site entrepreneur, and erstwhile drug dealer Lafayette; Sookie's dumb but sexy brother, Jason; and a collection of other odd -- and often oddly lovable -- characters.

Of course, being the design geek that I am, I'm nearly as fascinated by the physical spaces the show's characters inhabit as I am the steamy storylines they become entangled in. Let's take a little tour, shall we? (Warning: Mild spoilers ahead.)

Bill's digs -- no surprise -- are my favorite. Imbued with the sort of dark glamour and crumbling grandeur that makes me go weak in the knees, it's a fitting home for Bon Temps' resident Victorian-era vamp.

Bottom photo from

Bill's home probably looks much the same as it did when he last resided here as a human in the 1860s. It's all florid, peeling wallpaper, dark-stained woodwork, fine-but-threadbare rugs, flickering gaslight, and aged, ornate furnishings. In a word: Yummy. (And yeah, I think I'd find it hard to resist in such lushly Gothic surroundings, too.)

Bill plays the piano like any well-bred Southern gentleman, and doesn't seem terribly interested in current decorating trends. But he is starting to outfit his home with modern amenities like a Wii system, with which he rather heartbreakingly plays virtual golf on a sunlight-dappled course.

Daddy is no fun at all. But his sumptuous red velvet settee is pretty sweet.

Top and bottom photos from TrueBloodNet

This is where the magic happens, people. Though if I were Sookie, I think I'd quietly remove the portrait -- presumably of Bill's Civil War-era bride -- from the mantle. It might put a bit of a damper on their frequent, torrid make-up sex, after all.

Eric the Viking vamp kicks back in Bill's bathtub. Yes, please.

Sookie's family home, by contrast, is all warm, cozy Granny style.

Photo from TrueBloodNet

And I mean that literally. Sookie lived in the pleasantly dilapidated farmhouse with her late grandmother, and from the looks of it, she hasn't made many changes since her beloved Gran was killed in the kitchen during Season One.

Still, the Stackhouse home represents warmth, family, and normalcy in a world that's gone a bit mad. It may not push any design envelopes, but it's homey and welcoming, and that is as it should be.

Eric's bar, Fangtasia, is a redneck roadhouse-turned-tawdry, over-the-top vision of vampire cool.

Blood-red walls, flocked upholstery, and faux-goth accouterments complete a look that seems geared more to satisfying the leering tourists' idea of what an undead hangout should look like than a place that (incredibly hot) thousand-year-old Nordic vampires would call home-away-from-home.

OK, I guess what really completes the look is a floor full of gore from a messily staked vampire bartender. RIP, Longshadow.

Photo by jaded*mystery

Sam's restaurant and bar is the setting for much of the show. It's where the townsfolk meet and where many of the main characters work or play.

Can you smell the beer and burgers?

I can't tell you how despondent I was when it appeared that Lafayette had met his maker in last season's cliffhanger. Love. Him. (Anna Paquin may have won a Golden Globe for her grating, overly accented Sookie, but Nelsan Ellis brings it week after week. The man was robbed, if you ask me.)

Photo from TrueBloodNet

Oh dear, it looks like a thrift store exploded in here. That said, Lafayette always does the best he can with the tools available to him. Not surprisingly, he's turned a dreary little abode furnished with garage sale castoffs into a funky, colorful crash pad with attitude. Who knew that he had a Tiki Fabulous side?

Photo from TrueBloodNet

What is that on the wall -- some sort of Santeria shrine? Oh Lafayette, you are so ... complex.

Given the untamed bacchanalias that take place here, Maryann's stately spread is deceptively buttoned-up.

The classic architecture is accented with touches of exotica that presumably provide clues to Maryann's past and true identity. There's the fresco depicting Pan in the courtyard, for starters, as well as the tribal masks and the ancient fertility statue inside.

Come to think of it, the shape of that statue is oddly reminiscent of the horned, demonic-looking bull creature that attacked Sookie. (Get out of the house now, Sam!)

Overflowing trays of juicy, delectable food are ever-present at Maryann's. (Was that a human heart in the stew her houseboy was preparing for last week's poolside party-turned-orgy?) What is this woman up to -- and is she really a woman at all?

What other clues do you think True Blood's sets reveal about Bon Temps' residents and the town's supernatural goings-on? Any southerners out there with quibbles about how the region's architecture and interiors are depicted on the series? Most importantly, could Eric be any hotter?

If you have theories, thoughts, or opinions on the show, its set design, and/or Eric's hotness quotient, please post a comment and share them!

P.S. Tell me these opening credits aren't awesome.


Kymy said...

Oh, Leah, I agree with every single word you just wrote. This show is by far the best thing on TV right now. Finally something to satisfy the longing in my heart since Buffy/Angel left us...

Kris Johnson said...

Love me some Lafayette! And bring on some more Eric.

Yansy said...

Thanks Leah for posting about the best thing on TV. All week I wait impatiently for Sunday nights to arrive.

Kira said...

The sets on this show are stunning! Did you see the set visit pics from

Gran's kitchen is my favorite part of the set, although Merlotte's is pretty cool.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes. Can you please tell me where I can find a bathtub with an incredibly hot viking like that!

Kelly said...

Wow, not much of a vampire person at all, but these sets have me so intrigued with the show -- I'm a sucker for Southern Gothic.

That Gram's kitchen stops my heart a little, it's so perfect. I want to be in there, all humid and glowy, baking a pie.

Design Esquire said...

Great post! This is currently my favorite TV show (along with Wipeout, I'm a dork, I know). I completely agree that the Civil War bride needs to come off the bedroom mantel, that's more than a little creepy. And Lafayette is the best character on the show, he steals every scene.

Leah said...

Kira -- I hadn't seen those pix. Thanks so much for sharing! I added a couple to the post.

OK, who wants to talk about the show?

What do you think Maryann's deal is?

Did you know that my second husband Alexander Skarsgard, who plays Eric, is Stellan Skarsgard's son?

I just read that Evan Rachel Wood is joining the cast as a vampire this season, and that Lorena (Bill's maker) will enter the present-day story as well. I'm excited for more focus on the vamps, and a bit less on the townies. And I am OVER Bill and Sookie -- bring on the Jessica and Hoyt romance!

Also, who freakin' LOVES Pam? My favorite lines from last week were when she asked Eric "Can I kick him?" after tossing Lafayette on the floor, and "But these are my favorite pumps" when protesting Eric's order to tramp through the woods in her kick-ass high heels.

Hey Lady! said...

Thanks for the post on the design of Alan Ball's version of Bon Temps! I particularly love Merlotte's! It's very much how I always pictured it from the books! Sookie/Gran's house is pretty similar too (that granny chic is all the rage in the South, I've heard).

I have heard that some people from the South find the portrayal of Southerners in small towns is sort of offensive... I have a friend from Georgia who thinks so. I think it's quaint and cool, but I'm originally from California, so my idea of small towns is limited to books and television...

Anonymous said...

No, Eric can not get any hotter!

Charlotte said...

You forgot to mention the adorable porch glider on Sookie's front porch--I am OBSESSED with finding one just like it!

Anonymous said...

Just a little info, Fangtasia is actually Alex's Bar in Long Beach, CA.

Leah said...

Ah ha -- indeed it is!

Cat said...

I want more detail on Eric's office. (He could NOT be hotter btw)
I think there are a lot of little details about Eric's long past hidden in there.
What's with the bottle of hot sauce on the desk?

Unknown said...

As a former resident of Shreveport, they did a pretty good job of depicting some areas. But, like most places, it varies. There are tons of developments, and a lot of wealthy people. I did grow up with a lot of friends who had sookie-like homes (though kept up). But who cares how off they are! Eric is super hot, and I'm loving Pam more and more each epi!

Rae said...

Love the the show...however I see this terrain being a little more like further south...Terrebonne Parish almost. they stuck a little too much with the swamp theme when the book is set much farther north. Being from Louisiana myself and a life long's liking watching your entire life unfold on tv sans the vampires.

Anonymous said...

I love this show and I love your blog. And Eric, well he could park his shoes under my bed anytime.

Marieke said...

So far I didn't get around to watching True Blood, but now I can't resist anymore, gorgeous sets!! I actually started taking screenshots of great movie and tv sets quite a while ago. Good to know that I'm not the only one drooling over such things.

Shannon said...

Newly obsessed! Can't wait to finish season 1.

MODERnestS said...

I can't wait to see it now!

Hatching new ideas for a warm, attainable modern home every day.

Dawn said...

This post is FAN-tastic!

I heart True Blood! I loved the first season so much I read 6 of the 9 Sookie Stackhouse books for which the series is based on. Although the HBO series is different I love it all!

The opening credits rock and for those that thought it was Chris Isaak singing the intro. It's not. It's Jace Everett.

Jesselyn said...

So I think that Maryann is a succubus. Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Does anyone knows the color used to paint Lafayette's apartment? I loved that kind of blue...

Leah said...

Jesselyn -- interesting theory! The only thing is that Maryann herself doesn't seem to be gettin' any, just feeding (so to speak) off of others' couplings. But I always thought there was something a bit demonic about her ...

Anon. -- I don't know what the color is, exactly, but it looks like a sort of purple-y, periwinkle blue. Very dramatic.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this! I have recreated the entire town of Bon Temps in The Sims, using your site as reference. It's come out really great, so thanks again :)

Ron V. F. said...

Wow! What great pics of the details on the set of True Blood. I do hope you take the opportunity to look at the article in the Los Angeles Times july 30 Set Pieces describing the redecoration of Bill Compton's House. Thans for paying attention to what we do.
Thank You!
Ron V. Franco Set Decorator "True Blood"


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