At this point in HBO's history, the network takes a multi-prong approach to its "It's not TV, it's HBO" programming. Some series offer a rigorous narrative that illuminates the human condition and pushes the medium forward (e.g. "The Sopranos"). Other HBO shows are just flashy fun.
"True Blood" is clearly the latter. At root it's a supernatural soap. This drama about vampires and other supernatural characters who live amongst humans sometimes comments on real-life issues -- a church sign in the opening credits with the words "God Hates Fangs" satirizes anti-gay churches -- but the show spends more time on its characters' sex-and-blood-soaked hijinks.
As the second season ended, the too-long Maryann-the-Maenad (Michelle Forbes) story came to a close with her death and that of Eggs (Mechad Brooks), boyfriend of Tara (Rutina Wesley), who is now in a bad state. Vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) proposed to human girlfriend Sookie (Anna Paquin) and then disappeared.
As season three begins (9 p.m. Sunday), Bill has been kidnapped; Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is haunted by his role in the death of Eggs and shape shifter Sam (Sam Trammell) meets his birth parents and has an out-of-left-field homoerotic dream that seems sort of random and isn't really touched on again in the first three episodes of the new season.
Local vampire sheriff Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) has his own problems as the efforts of Vampire Queen Sophie-Anne (Evan Rachel Wood) to raise money by selling V juice (vampire blood) to humans runs afoul of the magistrate (Zelijko Ivanek).
"Hell hath no fury like a vampire queen broke," Sophie-Anne pouts to Eric.
The show's most entertaining scenes revolve around Eric and his caustic Fangtasia assistant, Pam (Kristin Bauer van Staten), who also becomes a mentor to young vampire Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) during Bill's absence.
This season opens a new, intriguing window on vampire politics as Bill spends time with Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare), the Vampire King of Mississippi. A new vampire (James Frain, "The Tudors") arrives in Bon Temps, La., and spends time with Tara, and werewolves emerge as a new group prone to tangling with vampires.
The season's third episode introduces Alcide (Mt. Lebanon native Joe Manganiello), a werewolf bodyguard assigned to escort Sookie to Mississippi in her search for Bill.
Created by Alan Ball ("Six Feet Under"), "True Blood" is at its best when it embraces the absurdities of everyday life, which seems even more bizarre in this particular universe. When the Vampire King of Mississippi's partner, Talbot (Theo Alexander), freaks out over damage to the home inflicted by Bill, the King rolls his eyes: "It's like armageddon in here every time someone chips a dessert glass."
Many viewers probably come to "True Blood" for the thrills and the romance but it's the humor that allows the show to rise a step above similar TV fare even as it falls short of HBO's loftier efforts.
We had it right in the ratings chart last week but I mis-typed when I wrote that WPXI moved into second at noon, 5, 6 and 11 in demo ratings. The station was tied for No. 1 at 5 p.m. with KDKA while moving into second at noon, 6 and 11 p.m.
Also, Nielsen has now confirmed the impact of satellite audio interruptions on WTAE's ratings in recent months and will note the technical difficulty in its April and May ratings books.
From February, before the problem started, to April, after the two-minute, occasional audio interruptions began, WTAE was off by 10 percent in ratings among all viewers sign-on to sign-off but down an average 59 percent among satellite viewers. Sign-on to sign-off ratings were flat in homes without satellite reception.
The full pilot of the upcoming AMC series "Rubicon" will get a sneak preview Sunday after the "Breaking Bad" season finale. ... Fox has renewed freshman animated comedy "The Cleveland Show" for a third season to air in 2011-12. ... "Torchwood" will return for a 10-episode new season next summer, but it will move to premium channel Starz and will not air on BBC America as new episodes have in the past.
In today's online TV Q&A, there are responses to questions about "In Plain Sight," "My Boys" and severe weather coverage. Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Late Night Liars," "Work of Art" and "Breaking Bad." Read online TV coverage at post-gazette.com/tv and at http://blogs.sites.post-gazette.com.
This week's Tuned In podcast includes conversation about "Justified," "Breaking Bad" and a preview of Sunday's Tony Awards. Listen or subscribe at post-gazette.com/podcast.
TV editor Rob Owen: email@example.com or 412-263-1112. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.