Alan Ball’s first series for HBO, Six Feet Under, surrounded itself with death. His new series True Blood, premiering tonight, focuses instead on the undead – and, as such, is in the same satisfying horror-humor drama as Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Based on the novels by Charlaine Harris, True Blood stars Anna Paquin as Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress with a southern drawl and a propensity to keep her hidden talents hidden.
She’s smart, but plays dumb to get better tips from the patrons of the by-the-bayou bar in her small Louisiana town. And she’s telepathic, a gift of which only a few close friends and family are aware – and which causes her more grief than anything else, because she can hear the thoughts of those around her. And those thoughts, for the most part, are raw and rude.
But when a mysterious guy names Bill (Stephen Moyer) sidles into a booth, she’s instantly enamored, because she can’t read his mind at all. And she guesses, quite correctly, that he’s the first member of a particular minority group that surfaced nationwide two years earlier.
He’s a vampire.
And while Ball pushes the allegories too often and too obviously, there’s also a lot of humor in True Blood, and a lot of surprises – episodes end with individual cliffhangers, like old-fashioned movie serials. And if those cliffhangers keep you coming back, eventually you’ll meet up with some delectable supporting players, including William Sanderson from Deadwood and Alexander Skarsgard from Generation Kill.
The reason to watch, and to keep watching, though, is Paquin as Sookie. The former Piano player has matured into a beautiful young woman, and her portrayal here is full of life, even as her character is attracted to someone who isn’t. Like many ambitious cable series, it gets more sure-footed as it goes along. Five episodes were sent for preview, and it was the fifth one that finally sold me. Proceed with patience, and with caution – True Blood is too rough for young viewers.