TV review: HBO comes out of the coffin


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Finally! After one too many depressing snoozers (think: "Tell Me You Love Me" or "In Treatment"), HBO remembers how to attract viewers with "True Blood."

This new drama lands squarely in the B+/A- realm inhabited by HBO's underrated polygamy drama, "Big Love." Like "Big Love," "True Blood" entertains without moody navel-gazing.


'True Blood'
  • When: 9 p.m. Sunday, HBO
  • Starring: Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer

Based on the popular Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris, "True Blood" (9 tonight) is set in a world where vampires walk among us, or, as the series posits, they've "come out of the coffin." Yes, the show sometimes slips into an overly obvious gay allegory, but it's often clever, too. A particularly good scene pits a vampire rights proponent against a disapproving conservative reverend on a cable news shoutfest.

Vamps are gaining mainstream acceptance in "True Blood," thanks to the creation of mass-produced synthetic blood -- no more need for chomping on people.

The story centers on Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), an innocent waitress at Merlotte's bar in Bon Temps, La. A virginal, doe-eyed woman, who, incongruently, wears short-short skirts and lives with her grandmother (Lois Smith), Sookie can read minds, an effect that frequently gives "True Blood" a nice comedic kick to balance its Harlequin meets "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" gothic romance. (Fans of CBS's canceled "Moonlight," this show's for you, too.)

Sookie's good-guy boss, Sam (Sam Trammell), is a liberal Southerner who supports the Vampire Rights Amendment, but he's not wild about Bon Temps' first vamp resident, Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer). Sookie is intrigued by 173-year-old Bill, and distrusting Sam pines for Sookie, setting up a potential love triangle.

Other Bon Temps residents include Sookie's smart-mouthed best friend, Tara (Rutina Wesley), and Tara's cousin, gay cook Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis). There's also Sookie's over-sexed, bad-boy brother, Jason (Ryan Kwanten), who gets in trouble with the law in tonight's premiere.

Unlike so many vampire stories, "True Blood" is not relentlessly bleak. Paquin's Sookie is downright cheerful; she skips the angst that haunted Buffy. That simple twist gives the show a different vibe. It's more rooted in modern reality than many vampire tales.

Created by "Six Feet Under" impresario Alan Ball, who wrote and directed the premiere, "True Blood" is a sexy affair that sets up an entirely believable world where humans and vampires co-exist. It's a soap, to be sure, but a soap with an eye for social commentary.

"True Blood" sports the typical vampire tropes of blood and fangs, but in its first two episodes the show threatens mayhem more often than it depicts anything too gory. But sex is rampant, which suits the show's ridiculously attractive cast. Fans of Goth erotica take note: A video of a vampire having fervent carnal relations with a human is central to an early murder mystery plot.




Contact TV editor Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. First Published September 7, 2008 4:00 AM


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