Ken Tucker
June 13, 2010 AT 12:00 PM EDT

True Blood‘s revved-up, slam-bang premiere picked up precisely where it left off last season, as Anna Paquin’s Sookie emerged from the ladies’ room only to find Stephen Moyers’ Bill gone, kidnapped… taken, it turned out, by a bunch of greasy meanies who’d prefer Bill call them “the F— You Crew,” but you got the feeling that Bill was eventually going to be referring to them as the I Chew You Crew. Bill chained in the back seat, with the nasty boys chomping on his neck, one spitting vampire blood into another’s mouth, a bit of nipple-play — gee, I almost became misty-eyed with nostalgia for the first season’s Vampire Prejudice As A Metaphor For Gay Rights theme.

But the hour left little time to wax nostalgic. Sookie had to scurry around trying to get help in locating Bill. There were quick early scenes to remind us of what had passed: Tara shed tears over a body-bag filled with her dead lover Eggs. Teen vamp Jessica was still hauling around that dead trucker she’d fed on late last season. (The running joke with her, and it’s a good one, is that the poor kid’s never been properly schooled in vampire do’s-and-don’ts, and seeks knowledge from the least sympathetic sources — such as Kristin Bauer van Straten’s Pam.)

As was true in his Six Feet Under, Alan Ball’s True Blood (as opposed to the subtext-free Charlaine Harris source books) is all about how characters (be they human, vampire, shape-shifters, vampires, or, perhaps by next season, sentient squid from the Planet Zork) struggle to change, to become better, or at least different, versions of themselves.

That’s why Tara must first be anesthetized in her grief by Lafayette’s never-fails combo of “tequila and klonopin,” so she can eventually pull herself together. It’s why Sam Merlotte is charging around in his truck seeking his birth family (boy, is he going to regret that — the Mickens make Faulkner’s Snopses look like the Camelot-era Kennedys). And it’s why Jason Stackhouse came right out and said he wanted to “be new Jason.” That is, a more thoughtful, less impulsive Jason. Fortunately, lawman Andy told him now was no time to do that; the blunt mantra he had to impart to The Lovable Brainless Abs was, “Conscience off, d— on.”

The awkwardness in True Blood arises when it tries to juggle more than two genres at once. Last night, the kidnap-thriller plot fit fine alongside by the drug-dealing plot, but the impending werewolf invasion gummed up the love-triangle plot a bit. Eric (TGIAS!) is interested in helping Sookie because (a) he wants to get into her pants and (b) Bill is “the one vampire who can link the Queen to the dealing of vampire blood.”

Speaking of the Queen, Evan Rachel Wood shimmered in only to prove once again that True Blood possesses the uncanny supernatural power to rob her of her acting ability for as long as she appears onscreen; she even squashed the humor out of her laugh-line to Eric: “Isn’t moral anarchy kind of the point?”

Interestingly, with the introduction of “Operation Werewolf” and the promotion of Pam to regular-character status, the whole Arlene-pregnancy/Terry-the-doofus plot-strand seemed tenuous verging on irrelevant to the rest of the series. Similarly, Hoyt’s pining for Jessica came off slightly pathetic last night, whereas last season it was poignant and sweet. And when it comes to Tara and Lafayette, the first episode got it backward: I’m fond of Tara, and tired of having to watch her endure emotional pain so severe that she tries to off herself. I’m far more interested in seeing more of Lafayette and his rock-and-a-hard-place dilemma as a V-pusher for Pam and Eric.

Ah, Eric… does this show know how to let this guy make an entrance or what? The spectacle of the vampire sheriff banging a shackled Fangtasia dancer was one of those ur-Blood moments: We didn’t know whether to laugh or be appalled; both reactions were correct ones, as was thinking, “What goes through Alexander Skarsgard’s mind when he reads a script like this for the first time?”

I like True Blood best when it’s fast, dirty, and funny; most of the time during this first episode of the season, it achieved all three in sufficient amounts to be scored a crimson success.

What did you think?

Follow: @kentucker

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