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Review

8/31/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

True Blood

(HBO, Sunday, Sept. 7, 9 p.m. ET)

For a creature as long-lived as a vampire, patience probably isn't a hard trait to cultivate — and one that would serve a viewer of True Blood, HBO's new hourlong drama about the creatures of the night, quite well.

But viewers who have the patience to stick through the somewhat muddled, high-concept first episode (and roughly the first half of the second installment) are rewarded with a tight, character-driven show that's more in the mold of creator Alan Ball's prior HBO effort — the quirky Six Feet Under — than the likes of Nosferatu or Interview With the Vampire.

The high concept of True Blood is that vampires are among us, they're out of the closet thanks to a synthetic, blood-like beverage brewed up by Japanese scientists (and called “Tru Blood”) and, free of the need to kill human beings for nourishment, they're clamoring for their civil rights.

But humanity's relationship with these beings is complicated, as are the relationships among those who work and play at Merlotte's bar in the backwoods town of Bon Temps, La. That's where we're introduced to Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a cocktail waitress at Merlotte's who is quite atypical in one way — she's telepathic. It's caused quite a few complications in her life, one of which is dating — there's a montage of first dates that end in humorous disasters because she knows what the man across from her is thinking.

And that's why Sookie is drawn to Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), a 173-year-old vampire who returns to the town he lived in as a mortal to lay claim to his estate after his last living relative passes away. For whatever reason, Sookie can't read a vampire's thoughts (or be entranced by one), and that and the pair's shared outsider status draw them together.

Often more interesting than the supernatural pair, though, are the town's equally quirky “normal” inhabitants — including Sookie's womanizing brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten), whose sexual conquests keep winding up as vampire victims; her boss at the bar, Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell, Judging Amy), who is competing with Bill for Sookie's affections; and perhaps the show's most entertaining and complicated character, the outspoken Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley).

The early episodes spend much time delving into the back stories and relationships between the mortals, while unwinding the story of Bill and the other vampires more slowly. As a result, the vampire lore often takes a back seat to the show's storytelling and quirky black humor.

That's a good thing, as it's the connections between these various personalities in a tiny Louisiana town — as they deal with the curveball that's been thrown into their world by the sudden arrival of Bill and vampire culture — that gives True Blood its addictive quality.

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