The first season of HBO’s True Blood didn’t mean much to me. I skipped just about all of it. When the 2nd season debuted last month, I was skeptical, but willing to give it a shot over July 4th weekend (thanks to HBO on Demand). Having now caught up with all the episodes thus far in season #2, I think this may be one of the best dramas on television at the moment. The original premise (vampires are real and live among us like any other victimized minority group in America) has given way to a more complex and epic reality. At this point, the show is about a true alternate reality, where vampires are one of many disenfranchised supernatural communities (including shapeshifters, werewolves, telepaths, and some kind of witch-beast we haven’t understood yet).
Like most great epics, there is a war brewing between these groups. Plus, there’s a secular fundamentalist organization dedicated to crusading against the vampires, with violence on the horizon. True Blood has found its narrative wrapped inside an intriguing and mysterious parade of characters, taking itself out of the superficial novelty of its first impression. And, much like all other HBO dramas, the series began with one provocative subject (e.g. the mafia in The Sopranos, polygamy in Big Love) and becomes more dramatic and more personal with emotionally universal story lines. Anna Paquin, long working to justify her childhood Oscar, gets to play her best role since The Piano. British actor Stephen Moyer gets the breakthrough role of a lifetime as her on-and-off screen love interest, as well as the show’s reigning vampire antihero. And, in the strong supporting cast, newcomers like Ryan Kwanten, Alexander Skarsgard, and Samm Trammell have a great balance of charisma and chaos.
Paquin isn’t the only Oscar winner reigniting respect through True Blood: Show creator Alan Ball may have slipped-up with his theatrical follow-up to American Beauty (the disappointing Towelhead), but True Blood follows nicely after his last HBO hit series, Six Feet Under. Small-town America and death are Alan Ball’s successful foundations. With True Blood, he dug even deeper to find an artery that hasn’t quit pumping.