HBO’s version of a summer drive-in movie is back.
WHERE WE WERE: In the midst of multiple cliffhangers. Telepathic waitress and series heroine Sookie’(Anna Paquin) had just seen her best friend Tara (Rutina Wesley) get half her head blown off by werewolf Alcide’s (Joe Manganiello) girlfriend Debbie (Brit Morgan), which led Sookie to seize the shotgun and permanently end Debbie. Alcide, meanwhile, had killed the leader of his werewolf pack, putting shape-shifter Sam (Sam Trammell) in jeopardy from the pack. Louisiana Vampire King Bill (Stephen Moyer) and his Sheriff Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), under a sentence of “true death” by the Vampire Authority, had disposed of the Authority’s representative Nan (Jessica Tuck). Sookie’s brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten), who recently had sex with his best friend Hoyt’s (Jim Parrack) vampiric girlfriend Jessica (Deborah Ann Wolf), was being visited by the newly vampired Reverend Steve Newlin (Michael McMillian). There was more (Scott Foley as a mysterious ex-Marine comrade of short-order cook Terry, for example), but that’ll do.
WHERE WE ARE: Exactly where we left off, with Tara lying bloody and mostly dead on Sookie’s kitchen floor. Luckily, bitchy vampire Pam (Kristin Bauer von Straten) chose the moment to blow in, looking for her ex-love Eric, and Sookie struck a deal with her to try and feed Tara vampire blood and bring her back, albeit as a vamp. The iffy outcome of this experiment wasn’t revealed until the last moment of tonight’s season premiere. Meanwhile, Jessica saved Jason from Reverend Steve, who it turns out has a serious crush on Sookie’s brother. Bill and Eric, captured by the Vampire Authority, were rescued (temporarily, at least) when it turned out that one of the Authority chancellors was Eric’s lover and sister (which in this context seems to mean they share the same vampire Maker) Nora (Lucy Griffiths). Oh, and Russell Edgington (Denis O’Hare), the craziest ancient vampire of them all, has escaped from his concrete prison, which can’t be good for anyone.
TRUE BLOOD is HBO’s trashiest series by far (as well as its biggest hit), an all-you-can-eat buffet of sex, horror, campy humor, extreme gore and more supernatural creatures than you could shake a stake at, without any of the more serious tones–or, to be honest, the quality–of Game of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire. Tonight’s season premiere, written by Co-Executive Producer Brian Buckner and directed by Daniel Minahan, didn’t miss a step, jumping from one wild storyline to another with glee.
There are occasional pauses for one character or another to have some romance (in previous seasons, it was Sookie wavering between Bill and Eric, and this year it appears that Jason and Jessica will both try to deny their deeper feelings for each other), and sometimes a tiny bit of social commentary (tonight Reverend Steve proudly told Jason he could admit he was a “gay-vampire-American”), but mostly the show just puts its characters into life-or-death crises and finds over-the-top ways to get them out. The performances, while not likely to put anyone in serious Emmy contention, are spirited and (this being HBO) unconstrained, and the writing, under the helm of showrunner and series creator Alan Ball, nimbly balances an endless assortment of otherworldly near-disasters.
True Blood is perfect summer entertainment, a nonstop guilty pleasure requiring no more thought than what’s required to keep the characters and their supernatural powers straight. It’s not quite clear how the show will pair with HBO’s upcoming, sure to be earnest Aaron Sorkin drama The Newsroom, which will join it on Sundays in 2 weeks (one imagines the proudly mindless True Blood to be Sorkin’s vision of the end of the television world), but it’ll certainly provide a spurting artery of a lead-in.