'True Blood' returns to HBO with true originality

I hate to admit it. But for quite a long time, I hated HBO's vampire drama, True Blood.

For many episodes, this quirky show about a small Louisiana town filled with publicly known vampires, covert shape shifters, a serial killer and a mind-reading waitress felt like a sloppy collision of pointlessly dysfunctional characters.

Wide-eyed optimist Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) found romance with the only person whose mind she couldn't read in backwoods Bon Temps, 173-year-old vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer). And though creator Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) had developed an amazing concept — Compton and other vampires come out of hiding, claiming to live on a synthetic blood substitute called True Blood — it took him forever to explore the cool supernatural angles.

But as the show kicks off its second season at 9 tonight, a slow start is the last problem at hand. Indeed, tonight starts with a grisly murder — a woman's heart is removed from her body outside the bar where Stackhouse and her pals work. Several crises ensue.

Stackhouse learns her man was forced to turn a human into a vampire and now must mentor her. What other secrets is he keeping? (Fans know that answer centers on the fate of her abusive uncle.) Shape-shifting bar owner Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) has a seriously long history with mysterious party girl Maryanne Forrester (Michelle Forbes); why does he want her to leave town so badly?

And the area's powerful vampire sheriff Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) wants Stackhouse's help in tracking down a missing vampire in Texas, a quest Compton wants no part of. One question I'm still waiting to see answered: Where are all these mind-reading, shape-shifting, ageless people coming from anyway?

True Blood has emerged as an intriguing blend of hothouse Southern drama and backwoods supernatural goings-on. Here's a look at what some of the main characters have in store this season.

• Shaken after just escaping a serial killer last season, Stackhouse asserts herself more this season, demanding Compton share painful truths with her about his past. Her mind reading seems to emerge only in convenient bursts — such as when she's looking for best friend Tara's missing relative.

• Compton finds his anger threatening his relationship with Stackhouse. Still, when she's attacked on a dark road by a mysterious, supernatural being, guess who leaps into action to save her life? Again.

• Turns out Merlotte met party girl Maryanne 20 years ago when he was a teenager and she looked the same. As Maryanne begins throwing wild, orgiastic parties for the town folks — and feeding on the hedonistic energy they create — questions arise about who, or what, this woman really is. And what did Merlotte do with her, back when he was a young pup?

TiVo

Saving Grace, returns at 10 p.m. Tuesday on TNT: For two seasons I've wailed about the ham-handed way TNT has crunched together a spiritual show about a guardian angel with a crime drama about a tomboyish police detective in Oklahoma. But producers have found their best balance between these two maddening poles yet this season, offering F. Murray Abraham as another angel competing for the attention of Holly Hunter's Grace Hanadarko and a maddening case centered on a home invasion, rape and murder.

Ti-NO

Hammertime, debuts at 10 tonight on A&E: What could be more boring than watching a reality show based on the home life of a rap artist? A reality show based on the home life of a rap artist who hasn't been on the charts in a decade. M.C. Hammer's show about his family of eight comes at the end of a long line behind Snoop Dogg, Coolio and Run D.M.C.'s Joseph "Rev. Run" Simmons. The biggest surprise here is that a guy who squandered more than $30 million still lives in a house bigger than yours or mine.

the list

Odd as it is to find myself thinking of vampires and ghouls in June — wouldn't it make more sense for HBO's True Blood to air in October? — the advent of TV's coolest vampire drama got me thinking about the vampires I love most.

Here's a short list, which will not include Twilight hunk Robert Pattinson (right) or the English guy playing Southern, True Blood's Stephen Moyer:

Nosferatu (1929)

The granddaddy of them all, this German ripoff film of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula showcased the vampire as a monstrous other.

Barnabas Collins,

Dark Shadows (1966)

Decades before NBC's mind-bending Passions, this soap opera about a lovelorn vampire broke serious ground.

Frank Langella, Dracula (1979)

Tall with wavy hair and a sensual manner, Langella offered the only watchable moments in this film of a stage play.

Kiefer Sutherland,

The Lost Boys (1987)

Since punk rockers looked like vampires anyway, Sutherland didn't have far to go, playing a magnetic delinquent-turned-bloodsucker.

David Boreanaz,

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997)

The ultimate cool kid with a dark past, Boreanaz's Angel was the only bloodsucker Buffy couldn't dispatch.

Wesley Snipes, Blade (1998)

A perfect parable for modern-day race issues, Blade was the black, half-human, half-vampire who never fully fit in either world.

'True Blood' returns to HBO with true originality 06/13/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 13, 2009 4:30am]

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