After a couple of seasons where the show and its mythology have grown increasingly crazy and outlandish, “True Blood” returns on somewhat surer footing, with a couple of key cast additions and driving storylines to bolster the serialized drama. Once one of HBO’s biggest assets, the series has been eclipsed qualitatively and buzz-wise by newer entries like “Game of Thrones” and “Boardwalk Empire,” but when on its game, the vampire drama proves there’s still life left in it, even if there’s a good chance the whole thing goes skidding off the blood-soaked rails.
Recapping where we stand heading into the season would be exhausting, but suffice to say Louisiana’s new governor (the always-welcome Arliss Howard) has declared what amounts to war on the vampire population, with powerful new tools at his disposal. Meanwhile, the telepathic Sookie (Anna Paquin) and her dim-witted brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) encounter a new faerie grandfather (Rutger Hauer), as they continue to explore the mysterious vampire Warlow, responsible for the death of their parents.
Finally, there’s Sookie’s sometimes-lover, always-vampiric Bill (Stephen Moyer), whose encounter with the Vampire Authority has left him … different. Throw in a handful of other subplots of varying quality, and nobody will accuse “True Blood” of skimping on narrative threads or action, even if some of it is of the fang-gnashing variety and risks choking on its own excess.
At first an interesting metaphor for bigotry, the show has gradually moved further away from any significant resonance beyond escapism as it layered on werewolves, shape-shifters, faeries and witches, creating a teeming roster of “supernaturals” in its small-town environs.
The new season (with Alan Ball, who developed the show from Charlaine Harris’ books, having yielded day-to-day stewardship, followed by a subsequent showrunner change) doesn’t completely bring the show back to its roots. Yet the three previewed hours do return to establishing the uneasy relationship between humans and vampires, while continuing to juggle the vast assortment of players introduced since its beginnings.
For HBO, “True Blood” has become what amounts to a utility player — a 10-episode bridge (reflecting a slightly shortened run compared to previous seasons) to keep some sizzle going during the summer, with “The Newsroom” due in July.
By that measure, the macabre drama has less riding on it, even as author Harris has chosen to wrap up its literary version, to the chagrin of some fans. Nevertheless, if the show can adhere to the path upon which season six sets out, there’s no reason to stick a stake in it just yet.