True Blood

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Airdate: 9-10 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 7 (HBO).

Forget most of what you know about vampires, all except the thirst for blood.

In HBO's "True Blood," based on the Charlaine Harris novels with hero Sookie Stackhouse, they operate under a different set of rules and even hold a different place in the social order.

Fans of the Harris novels might find Alan Ball's re-creation of this passionate and vaguely threatening world to be irresistible. However, those unfamiliar with Sookie and her friends will have to wade through a new lesson in the mythology in practically every episode. So even after you buy into a world with vampires, you have to keep on buying into vampire properties that are at odds with classic notions.

"True Blood" is set in and around hot and steamy Bon Temps, La. The invention of synthetic blood, widely available at convenience stores, allows vampires to come out publicly, at least at night. They still are hated, feared and misunderstood, but at least theoretically they no longer need to prey on humans and are not a danger.

Anna Paquin stars as Sookie, a waitress at the local restaurant with the ability to hear what other people are thinking. That should make Sookie a cynic, and at times she is. But she also can be naive, brave, sweet and hopelessly romantic. Far more open-minded than just about everyone else, she gets curious when Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), a quiet and unassuming 173-year-old vampire, wanders into the restaurant for a warm bottle of O-negative.

The 12-episode series deals with their evolving relationship as well as the search for a mysterious killer who mixes sex with slaying.

Paquin's Sookie is engaging and appealing enough to generate instant Emmy consideration. Other standouts in the cast are Rutina Wesley as Sookie's best friend, Tara, and Nelsan Ellis as shady, muscular restaurant cook Lafayette. Also praiseworthy is Ball's triumphant overall creation of a unique place and ambiance.

Despite all that, "True Blood," with its constant profanity, gore and banal cruelty, will have a limited appeal. It might become appointment viewing for genre fans even as the rest of us steer clear of Bon Temps.

Production: Your Face Goes Here Entertainment. Cast: Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Sam Trammell, Nelsan Ellis, Chris Bauer, Carrie Preston, Lynn Collins, Lois Smith. Executive producer/creator/director/writer: Alan Ball. Producers: Alexander Woo, Carol Dunn Trussell. Based on the novels by: Charlaine Harris. Co-executive producer: Brian Buckner. Supervising producer: Nancy Oliver. Co-producer: Raelle Tucker, Bill Johnson, Bruce Dunn. Director of photography: Checco Varese. Production designer: Suzuki Ingerslev. Editors: Andy Keir, Michael Ruscio. Music: Nathan Barr. Set designer: Rusty Lipscomb. Casting: Junie Lowry Johnson.

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