"How would you characterize the sex?" Trueblood1

This line in Alan Ball’s new HBO vampire drama "True Blood" is posed not by a shrink or a sex therapist or a nosy friend but a sheriff’s deputy with a thick Louisiana drawl. Let’s just say it stems from a situation involving a roadside work crew and a loose woman named Maudette who turns up dead in her apartment.

"True Blood," based on the series of fantasy/mystery novels by Charlaine Harris, is true to its fictional small Louisiana town setting (Bon Temps). It’s swampy, languid, humid, lusty and full of … steam. I’ve still got another seg to go on the screener HBO sent out on Monday, so I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve spent two hours with this weird collection of characters.

Ball is definitely not Pasadena anymore. I am pretty much convinced that Anna Paquin (pictured) is the best thing about the show — by far. She’s adorable, and does a lot with material that could otherwise sound ridiculous, in the wrong hands. (I’ll leave it others to decide if she nails the accent.)

In a nutshell, "True Blood" takes place in the not so distant future when the undead have "come out of the coffin," complete with their own advocates making the talk show rounds and an equal-rights-amendment type bill that they’re pushing in Congress. Paquin plays a plucky virtuous waitress Sookie Stackhouse, who has her own unusual trait in that she can read minds — which can make her rounds at the tables at the backwoods bar and grill where she works awfully noisy.

Trueblood2_2Sookie is open-minded enough to be friendly to vampires, who are now able to "mix" with mortals after the invention of mass-produced synthetic blood, which is supposed to keep them from gnawing on unsuspecting sweet young things like Sookie. Bill, played by Stephen Moyer (pictured left and below with Paquin), is a handsome, mysterious vamp who falls for Sookie after she shows him some kindness one night (it involves her whacking a bad guy with a heavy chain, and protecting Bill from the greedy whims of some trailer-trash types).

Lois Smith is good as Sookie’s slightly-daffy grandmother. Rutina Wesley is fun to watch as Sookie’s smart-mouthed best friend, Tara ("Can you believe someone would name a black girl after a plantation. My mother was either stupid or mean.") So far some of the supporting characters seem a little 2-D, but Sookie is compelling enough to make up for a few Southern-fried cliches in the pilot seg, written and helmed by Ball.

"True Blood" bows Sept. 7. HBO is cranking up the viral marketing campaign with the launch of this elaborate website for Tru Blood, a "synthetic blood nourishment beverage" that figures into the show’s storyline. Just in case you miss it on the Web, HBO also took out a full page faux ad for Tru Blood in today’s edition of Daily Variety. "Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink Friends."


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