Producers of HBO's "True Blood" have found a way to fix what ails the vampire drama, now entering its second season: Take the focus off its uninteresting lead characters and spread more stories around to the ensemble.
This approach makes it easy to generally ignore scenes of vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer) and telepath Sookie (Anna Paquin), the show's ostensible leads, and invest more in the stories of anyone and everyone else.
- When: 9 p.m. Sunday, HBO
The big question looming from the end of season one is whether Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) was the body found in the backseat of a car. "True Blood" (9 p.m. Sunday) resolves that mystery up front and quickly gets on with new business:
• Mysterious Maryann (Michelle Forbes), who has a history with Merlotte's owner Sam (Sam Trammell), makes her presence known to more denizens of Bon Temps, La. She's also ensnared Tara (Rutina Wesley), Sookie's best friend, who is living at Maryann's house and begins a relationship with another boarder, Eggs (Mehcad Brooks).
• Sookie's lunkhead brother, Jason (Ryan Kwanten), joins the Fellowship of the Sun church (imagine the National Organization for Marriage, but hating on vampires instead of gays), allowing others to do his thinking for him.
• Vampire sheriff Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) devises a new task for Sookie, much to Bill's annoyance.
"Blood" also makes the Bill-Sookie romance more palatable by adding a third wheel: Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), a newbie vampire Bill made last season to save Sookie's life (long story). Jessica is an impetuous, rule-breaking teenager who sometimes bonds with Sookie and frustrates Bill with her disobedience. (She also does a spot-on Bill imitation.)
The addition of Jessica adds a much-needed infusion of drama to the Sookie-Bill story because without it they are one dull couple. Bill is all righteous indignation and Sookie too often comes off like a dumb blonde from horror films of yore, wandering through the woods at night just asking to be attacked by an escapee from "Pan's Labyrinth.
Not only do the other stories save "True Blood" -- before you can get sick of Sookie and Bill, "Blood" shifts its focus to more interesting characters -- wbut the show's persistent humor breaks through with enough frequency to have an impact.
The funniest moments come in the Jason story when he's interacting with fellow vampire-hating worshippers, including in one group therapy session where a woman who used to date a vampire bemoans, "I thought he loved me, but I was nothing but his living, breathing snack machine."
"True Blood" will never be confused with the high-quality projects HBO has staked its reputation and brand on, but it can be an entertaining pop/pulp thriller with a fair amount of comedy sprinkled in.
Contact TV editor Rob Owen at email@example.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv.