True Blood

The second season of “True Blood” goes down smooth, representing a perfect summer concoction.

The second season of “True Blood” goes down smooth, representing a perfect summer concoction — long on soapy romance, macabre intrigue, and graphic bursts of sex and violence. HBO’s stab at playing to a cult audience has turned out to be perfectly timed for the pay channel, offering a lighter counterweight to the emotionally darker dramas airing elsewhere. And while the vampires-as-downtrodden-minority gay metaphor continues to resonate throughout these early episodes, exec producer Alan Ball and company have firmly established their alternate universe as its own engrossing (and occasionally gross) little world.

Cast additions that came on board as season one progressed have also added zest to “Blood’s” veins, though the central story remains the same: The different-worlds romance between Sookie (Anna Paquin), who has the psychic ability to hear people’s thoughts; and Bill (Stephen Moyer), the vampire born during the Civil War era for whom she has madly fallen, and vice versa.

Their relationship is complicated, however — and that qualifies as an enormous understatement — by sundry outside forces, including the regional vampire leader Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), who covets Sookie’s powers; and the teenage Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), who Bill was compelled to transform into a vampire. The latter yields darkly comic results, inasmuch as petulant youth and a thirst for blood are a potentially combustible mix.

Meanwhile (and there are a lot of meanwhiles), Sookie’s friend Tara (Rutina Wesley) continues falling under the spell of the mysterious Maryann (Michelle Forbes), adding a spooky “Rosemary’s Baby”-type undercurrent to the proceedings; and Sookie’s dimwitted brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) experiences a religious awakening, enlisting in the vampire-hating Light of Day Institute.

In short, there’s a helluva lot going on, and the assorted subplots feel more compelling this season, including the constant sense of menace surrounding both Eric and Maryann. Moreover, the religious overtones of the Jason storyline should irritate the religious right (just to drive home the parallel, a sign in the credits says “God Hates Fangs”), whose intolerance toward gays has been super-imposed onto the undead. “They live forever, but we were here first!” the group’s acolytes cheerfully sing on the bus to their religious retreat.

Without spoiling anything, there is also a scene in the second hour (four were made available) that might be as grotesque as anything ever produced for television. In fact, I’m feeling a little nauseous now just thinking about it, which I realize, for some, will in and of itself provide a strong inducement to watch.

Fortunately, “True Blood” boasts several less-grisly enticements, as well as the whole women/teenagers-love-vampires fantasy that, frankly, strikes me as vaguely pathetic. Then again, there’s something to be said for a series that connects with audiences on various levels — including, I suppose, those who spend their days hiding beneath the ground as well as those residing above it.

True Blood

HBO, Sun. June 14, 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Your Face Goes Here Entertainment. Executive producers, Alan Ball, Gregg Fienberg; co-executive producers, Brian Buckner, Nancy Oliver; supervising producer, Alexandra Woo; producers, Mark McNair, Raelle Tucker; director, Daniel Minahan; writer, Woo

Crew: Camera, Matthew Jensen; production designer, Suzuki Ingerslev; editor, Michael Ruscio; music, Nathan Barr; casting, Junie Lowry Johnson, Libby Goldstein. RUNNING TIME: 60 MIN.

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