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 The fur flies and fangs come out as 'True Blood' returns & Trailer

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PostSubject: The fur flies and fangs come out as 'True Blood' returns & Trailer   Thu Jun 10, 2010 11:39 am

You have to hand it to "True Blood" (8 p.m. Central Sunday, HBO; three stars): It does cliffhangers really well.

The third season's first couple of episodes end with well-crafted "Oh no, what happens next?" moments. Having perfected its niche -- sexy, serialized, occasionally surprising melodrama -- in previous seasons, "True Blood" supplies more of the same this summer.

In the early going, however, the show doesn't aspire to do much more than supply a churning plot, lots of new characters and the usual Gothic sensuality. "True Blood" has only sporadically been interested in the deeper metaphors that vampires and other supernatural creatures can supply, and that's part of its appeal. When this high-class soap opera is working, it's the television equivalent of a gloriously trashy but addictive beach read.

If there's a problem this season, it's that "True Blood" is starting to seem too busy for its own good. It's almost funny to recall how intently the first season focused on courtly vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) and his human lover, Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin). They still get reasonably prominent story lines in the third season -- Sookie still stomps around and demands things, though she gets less grating every season -- but they're just part of what seems like a cast of thousands.

The reason for all the new roles is that the scope of the series has expanded, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. This year, the vampires of Louisiana and their human fellow travelers have a fierce set of enemies to deal with -- werewolves -- and as a new potentate, the Vampire King of Mississippi, Denis O'Hare supplies a delightfully calibrated performance full of menace and charm.

But those are far from the only story lines the show pursues at its usual headlong pace. By Episode 3 of the season, there are about a dozen story lines boiling away and there are so many major and minor characters around, I began to wonder if subsequent episodes' "previously on" segments would stretch to 10 minutes or so.

Thanks to all the busyness, it's not always easy to latch on to individual stories, and the show's truly charismatic characters -- such as Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard) and Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis) -- almost feel lost in the shuffle at times. Having said that, in previous years, "True Blood" has generally pulled its many strands together in satisfying (if outrageous) ways in the second half of the season, so perhaps all the frantic setup is necessary for juicy payoffs down the line.

When "True Blood" does slow down to provide the occasional character moment, the top-notch cast never fails to nail the moment; they always make the most of what they're given.

When we meet Lafayette's mother, it provides a window into understanding this breakout character's ferocity and bravado. When short-order cook Terry Bellefleur (Todd Lowe) tells waitress Arlene Fowler (Carrie Preston) that he'd make a good mate because he's passed an anger-management class, it supplies a much-needed moment of comic relief. Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten) still wears the tightest shirts on television, but he's frankly not as funny this season, and I miss that studmuffin's clueless one-liners. They made the little Louisiana town of Bon Temps more fun.

The werewolves appear ready to supply some interesting, if rough-edged stories, but certain Season 3 plots wouldn't be missed if they faded away. Quite a few appealing characters, such as bar owner Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) and newbie vamp Jessica Hamby (Deborah Ann Woll) spend their time almost completely apart from the rest of the Bon Temps crew, and by Episode 3, different story lines involving Bill and Tara (Rutina Wesley) start to feel like repeats of things that occurred in previous seasons. Truth be told, aspects of Bill's story in those first three episodes start to feel sluggish.

Though it's punctuated here and there with tart humor and jolting surprises, "True Blood" often has a heavy hand with that age-old theme -- that ageless creatures and humans don't make for easy love connections. But the occasional clunky moments turn "True Blood's" feverish plots into a blessing: If you don't like one story line, another is bound to come along shortly.

Bonus: Your "True Blood" scorecard

Here is a cheat sheet that may help you keep track of some of the characters introduced in the new season (and don't read on unless you want to see a few mildly spoilery factoids about Season 3 characters):

•Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare): He lives in Gothic luxury in Mississippi, which is only fitting, given that he's the vampire king of that state.
•Alcide (Joe Maganiello): A werewolf with a protective side.
•Talbot (Theo Alexander): Edgington's consort.
•Ruby Jean Reynolds (Alfre Woodard): Lafayette's mother.
•Coot (Grant Bowler): A tough werewolf.
•Jesus Velasquez (Kevin Alejandro): Someone Lafayette gets to know.
•Franklin Mott (James Frain): A mysterious vampire who arrives in Bon Temps.
•Tommy Mickens (Marshall Allman): Sam's long-lost brother (J. Smith Cameron and Cooper Huckabee play his parents).
•Debbie Pelt (Brit Morgan): Alcide's ex-girlfriend.
•Holly (Lauren Bowles): A new Merlotte's waitress.
•Crystal (Lindsay Pulsipher): A mysterious out-of-towner who connects with Jason.
Previously introduced "True Blood" characters include the people mentioned in the review above (Sookie, Bill, Tara, Jason, Eric, Sam, Lafayette, Arlene, Terry and Jessica), as well as:

•Andy Bellefleur (Chris Bauer): A Bon Temps detective.
•Hoyt Fortenberry (Jim Parrack): Jessica's would-be boyfriend.
•Bud Dearborne (William Sanderson): The local sheriff.
•Lorena Krasiki (Mariana Klaveno): Bill's maker.
•Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten): Eric's right-hand woman.
•Sophie-Anne (Evan Rachel Wood): The vampire queen of Louisiana.


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