People can debate when “True Blood’s” creative rigor mortis officially set in — somewhere during that stretch when the show began piling one supernatural creature upon another (werewolves and witches and faeries, oh my!) — but suffice it to say this once-significant and hugely lucrative HBO series limps into its seventh and final season looking pretty anemic. Featuring sweeping, mythologically dense arcs in earlier campaigns, the first two episodes here appear to circle back toward a somewhat simpler vision, but by now the show has drifted so far from its metaphorical foundation that it’s fallen into an inescapable hole, mutating into nothing more than a mild distraction.

That’s a shame, since the series — originally adapted by Alan Ball from the Sookie Stackhouse novels — once felt fresh and bracing, tackling small-mindedness toward a mysterious and misunderstood minority (vampires) and their uneasy relationship with the human world. The intriguing trigger was enabling them to finally come out of hiding thanks to a synthetic liquid that takes the place of human blood.

The new season (featuring a premiere directed by co-star Stephen Moyer) finds the Louisiana town of Bon Temps under siege by a marauding pack of the undead, stoking new fears, along with an uncomfortable “one vampire for every human” security plan. Meanwhile, the outbreak rekindles thinly veiled hostility toward resident mind-reader and part-faerie Sookie (Anna Paquin), whose inability to settle on a single supernatural suitor continues with her latest round of dreamy on-again, off-again romances.

Then again, Sookie’s situation essentially mirrors what’s plaguing the entire series — namely, that everyone has hit some variation of these beats a dozen times before, from Sookie’s horny, hyperventilating brother (Ryan Kwanten) to Moyer’s genteel vampire, who mercifully has moved past his extended demigod status.

Beyond rallying against this new threat, and placing several characters in what’s-for-dinner peril, these initial episodes also find a few key players scattered to far-flung locales, and feature flashbacks tinged with nostalgia. There’s also one sequence that more than anything feels like a playful nod to the slash fiction crowd, but at this point, detouring to indulge subsets of the fanbase seems as valid as anything else.

While some will watch enthusiastically to the end of the season’s truncated 10-episode run, others (including yours truly) will do so strictly out of morbid curiosity, and besides, we’ve come this far. For the most part, cable series haven’t been as guilty as their network brethren of overstaying an invitation, but this is one hit show that probably should have breathed its last a couple of years ago.

In other words, whatever synthetic fuel is currently keeping “True Blood” alive, this desiccated husk of what the show once was represents the furthest thing from inspiration.

TV Review: ‘True Blood’

(Series; HBO, Sun. June 22, 9 p.m.)

  • Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Your Face Goes Here.
  • Crew: Executive producers, Alan Ball, Brian Buckner, Gregg Fienberg, Angela Robinson; co-executive producer, Howard Deutch; supervising producer, Kate Barnow; producers, David Auge, Bruce Dunn; director, Stephen Moyer; writer, Robinson; camera, David Klein; production designer, Suzuki Ingerslev; editor, Louise A. Innes; music, Nathan Barr; casting, Junie Lowry Johnson, Libby Goldstein, Lisa Soltau. 60 MIN.
  • Cast: Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Alexander Skarsgard, Sam Trammell, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Chris Bauer, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Amelia Rose Blaire, Lauren Bowles, Tara Buck, Gregg Daniel, Nelsan Ellis, Aaron Howles, Joe Manganiello, Noah Matthews, Bailey Noble, Nathan Parsons, Adina Porter, Carrie Preston, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Deborah Ann Woll, Karolina Wydra, Brett Rickaby