By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY
Search though you might, you won’t find a ride any delightfully wilder than True Blood, which returns with guns blazing and fangs bared.
Yes, as this exuberantly entertaining show races along, it sometimes threatens to careen off the track. But fabulous performances and the strong hand provided by the popular source material, Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels, have so far managed to keep the show aright.
To enjoy it, of course, you do have to give yourself over to its world — and as with any genre show, that isn’t easy for everyone to do.
A sprawling fantasy serial that works equally well as social satire, romantic comedy and fright-filled mystery adventure, True Blood operates in a sexually charged, incredibly violent universe of vampires, shape-shifters, mind-readers, werewolves and fairies that now expands to include witches.
Yet, thanks to a superb crew of writers and actors, those vampires and fairies seem more vibrantly real than 90% of the humans you’ll find on summer TV, and that includes most reality shows.
The pivot point, as always, is Sookie, wonderfully played by Anna Paquin with a beguiling mix of sex, spunk and snark. When last we saw her, she was being taken away to the land of the fairies, where things — including time — are not always what they seem.
It’s no spoiler to say that Sookie does come back (there’s no show if she doesn’t), or to tell you that, to great and clever effect, the show uses her return to reset all the characters. Without giving anything away, let’s just say that Jason (Ryan Kwanten) has a new job; Tara (Rutina Wesley) has a new attitude; Bill (Stephen Moyer) has a new decorator; Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) has a new hobby; Arlene (Carrie Preston) has a new worry; Sam (Sam Trammell) has some new friends; and Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) has a new connection to Sookie that is about to grow even stronger.
With the exception of poor Kwanten, who has once again been given the short end of the story stick, all of the main characters and most of the secondary ones are off to a great start — and that includes newcomer Fiona Shaw as an overachieving witch. Still, if what we see in the first three episodes is a fair guide, the season is going to belong to Skarsgard, and it could not be in better hands.
Every line, every reaction is perfectly pitched, every shift from humor to menace to seduction perfectly played. Indeed, with one hilarious look at the end of the third episode, a kind of visual “oops,” Skarsgard makes you think about next year’s Emmys, and we haven’t even reached this year’s.
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