For all the sex and violence on TV, very little rises (or depending on one’s point of view, descends) to the level of being genuinely lurid. Yet that’s the best adjective for “True Blood,” the hit vampire serial beginning its third season on HBO. Lustily wallowing in graphic sex and grisly gore, the show remains intermittently frustrating — not all its myriad subplots are created equal — but nevertheless proves extremely entertaining, with enough of, well, pretty much everything to satiate multiple demographics. More than just a grown-up, hard-R “Twilight,” it’s become the guiltiest of check-your-brain-at-the-door pleasures.
After the wildly over-the-top second season, these first three episodes waste only a little time cleaning up that orgiastic story arc, though there’s still a lingering hangover.
Without giving too much away, the fresh wrinkles include the introduction of werewolves — a surly, vicious, but not as yet particularly interesting bunch — as well as additional intrigue regarding the cloistered world of what’s rightfully described as “vampire politics,” with queens and magistrates and turf battles, oh my.
Caught up in all of that is Sookie (Anna Paquin), the telepathic human whose vampire boyfriend Bill (Stephen Moyer) has been abducted. This forces her into extended contact with vamp sheriff Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), who leeringly eyes Sookie (light up those message boards, gals) like a juicy slab of prime rib.
Then again, the current season has so many salacious moments as to at times feel like exec producer Alan Ball and his team have started reading fan fiction and embraced the challenge of topping it.
They’re less successful, alas, at sustaining interest regarding the supporting players in Sookie’s life, including her dimwitted, womanizing brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) and damaged best friend Tara (Rutina Wesley), both nursing emotional wounds from season two; and Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), the teenage vamp who has become Bill’s ward, adding another metaphorical plot — here, the impulse to suck blood as a confusing complication of adolescence.
Compared to what’s happening with Sookie, their current storylines too often feel more like marking time between acts of the main show, or at least a distraction.
Still, the new cast additions are promising — among them Denis O’Hare as the flamboyant vamp king of Mississippi — bringing the program up to a “Sopranos”-like 29 regular characters. There’s also further insight into Bill’s past and the elaborate vampire hierarchy.
“True Blood” isn’t perfect by any means, but commercially speaking, it’s almost an ideal construct. As Ball has stated, HBO’s research testing found (in broad strokes, obviously) that women love its romance, and men tune in for the sex and violence.
Whatever its chemistry, the show surely knows how to go for the throat. And like its mythical night-prowlers, once “Blood” sucks you in, its attraction is awfully difficult to resist.