Despite a slow start, Season One of HBO’s vampire fiction True Blood turned out to be as sweet and sticky as the red beverage of choice for its downtrodden protagonists. A southern gothic with a blend of macabre humor and dark romance sprinkled with copious amounts of sex, gore and recreational drug use, it was catnip for lovers of the undead everywhere.

In contrast to the sanitized, lookie-no-touchie version of vampire-human amore put forth by the global smash Twilight, Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball (working from Charlaine Harris’ novels The Southern Vampire Mysteries series) embraced the overt sexuality of the subject matter head on. Employing his singular penchant for ultra graphic lovemaking, Ball used the emergence of vampires into mainstream society and the fear and suspicion that greeted them as a painted allegory for the ongoing struggle of the gay community all across America. Purportedly archival news footage in the opening credits features the KKK, reminding the viewer of this country’s long standing battle with bigotry as it cuts to contemporary footage of vampire protests complete with signs reading: “God Hates Fangs.”

The series focuses on a young waitress in a backwater Louisiana berg who has the ability to hear people’s thoughts named Sookie Stackhouse (Paquin). Sookie’s boss, Sam (Trammell), who is also a shapeshifter with a past, has designs on her but Sookie only has eyes for Bill whose thoughts she can’t hear (Moyer). Bill’s an old style southern gentlemen turned during the civil war who has pledged to “mainstream,” which essentially involves not feeding on humans and living on a synthetic blood substitute (the true blood of the title), something which is looked down upon by most vampires. Frequent inserts of cable news debates featuring vampire advocates and hardline right-wingers gives the goings-on a national context.

The on-again, off-again relationship between Sookie and Bill is the central spine of the series, and if you can get past the fact that she is quite the fickle little girl and that they have absolutely nothing in common, it’s quite the soap opera. No sooner does season two begin than Sookie is pissed at him again when she discovers Jessica (Woll), the newly made vampire he was forced to create as punishment for killing a vampire and saving her for the umpteenth time.

The parking lot of Sam’s bar parking lot also becomes the scene of carnage as a woman’s body is discovered in a car with her heart cut out. Lafyette (Ellis), who at the end of season one was attacked and presumed to be killed is in fact alive and being held captive along with a number of other humans by vampire sheriff Erik, who is conducting rather gruesome interrogations to uncover those who seek to harm his kin. Sookie’s brother Jason (Kwanten), who last season delivered a series of near nude performances above and beyond the call of duty, has seen the light and fallen under the spell of a charismatic young minister whose church preaches anti-vampire sentiment. Most enticing of all is the emergence of Michelle Forbes’ Maryann Foster, a wealthy “social worker” with ties to Sam’s past who seemingly has plans for Sookie’s best friend Tara (Wesley) who she holds in thrall.

While the accents are uniformly appalling, the cast is strong. Moyer is the picture of old-fashioned southern manners and his hundred and fifty or more years having given him no more insight into a young woman’s hormonal whims is a source of unending comedy. Ryan Kwanton also deserves special praise as the none-too-bright Jason, whose experimenting with vampire blood (a powerful hallucinogen) has seemingly scared him straight, offering a potentially explosive dynamic between himself and Sookie. In the end its oh-so silly, but its dark, and its violent and replete with deep mystery, melodrama, and ghoulish goings-on. Take a bite – you just might like the way it tastes.

Starring: Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Chris Bauer, Nelsan Ellis, William Sanderson, Michelle Forbes, Deborah Ann Woll

Created By: Alan Ball

Network: HBO

Showtime: Sundays, 9:00pm

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