Supernatural stories were a dime a dozen in early 2000’s pop culture — but even so, HBO’s gloriously pulpy True Blood stood out from the pack. NBC’s new show Midnight, Texas, which debuts tonight, is its spiritual successor. And not just because it’s also based on books by True Blood author Charlaine Harris.
There are two kinds of supernatural shows: The kind that takes themselves seriously (The X-Files, The Vampire Diaries, Heroes) and the kind that proceed with tongue firmly in cheek (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Ash vs Evil Dead). True Blood stood out because it was in the latter category — and yet it was charmingly unaware of it.
Sure, it had delightfully absurd moments like vampires attending a Ted Cruz rally, or memorable lines like Pam’s “I’m so over Sookie and her precious fairy vagina and her unbelievably stupid name.” But beneath all the sex and blood and dramatic heart-ripping, True Blood was surprisingly earnest. It was a story set in a southern small town filled with a colorful mixture of humans, vampires, werewolves, and fairies. In one scene, vampire Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard) hammed it up in a magic vampire sex dream; in the next he had a serious sad moment with his vampire-dad Godric. And at no point did the show attempt any tonal distinction between these two scenes.
This grey area of camp and seriousness enabled True Blood to balance on the fence. It was a soap opera that gestured towards being a prestige drama.
Because Midnight, Texas is not a premium cable show, it has significantly less sex, blood-geysers, and references to fairy vaginas. But it skirts the same odd line of the absurd and the earnest. Scenes that could easily be supernatural punchlines — a man sprouting giant feathery wings and suddenly taking flight; protagonist Manfred fighting with ghosts — are played straight.
Like True Blood, it’s set in supernatural small town America, and features a colorful cast of vampires, angels, psychics, and witches. The Sookie stand-in is Manfred (François Arnaud) a guy with an equally “stupid name,” as True Blood’s Pam would say. He’s psychic instead of telepathic but just like Sookie, his powers make him a constant outsider. And like True Blood’s setting of Bon Temps, Louisiana, Midnight, Texas is supposedly a sleepy, dusty little town that — shockingly — isn’t as sleepy as it seems.
It remains to be seen whether a show like this needs sex and blood spatter or if it can thrive on network TV, too. But for now, if you still miss True Blood, Midnight, Texas is a diluted mixture of the same ingredients.
Midnight, Texas premieres July 24 on NBC.