Just when I think I can't bear to hear the word vampire used in any pop culture context other than to describe Spencer Pratt, True Blood comes along with a second season of cable-TV fanging. The saga of Sookie Stackhouse (the tremulous but sturdy Anna Paquin) and her lovah Bill (slit-eyed Stephen Moyer) gets off to a great, fast start, picking up where last season left off: with Bill taking care of the mortal teenager he ''turned'' vampire, Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll).
Exec producer Alan Ball has built his show (derived from Charlaine Harris' best-sellers) around a series of metaphors: Vampire rights stand in for gay rights, and now the clever laughs elicited from this bratty-vampire girl represent an extreme of adolescent rebelliousness. Subplots? Blood boils over with them. The totally transfixing vamp Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) is imposing his blond badness all the more harshly on poor, beleaguered Bill. And Michelle Forbes (Battlestar Galactica, In Treatment) is doing a fabulous job as Maryann, a mysterious benefactor for Sookie's pal Tara (Rutina Wesley). Upcoming episodes will make Maryann's powers clear.
Meanwhile, Sookie's brother, Jason (six-packed Ryan Kwanten), is getting in way over his head with a born-again-Christian, anti-vampire church group. Ball and his writers are doing a fine job of avoiding Hollywood clichés about evangelicals; the scenes of Jason at the Light of Day Institute camp, captivated by Reverend Steve (Michael McMillian) and his comely wife (Anna Camp), capture a certain kind of conversion experience well.
I was slow to catch on to Blood's allure: My review of the debut season, based on seeing its first few episodes, was chilly-to-negative. But I'm glad I watched the whole first season before settling down to these new episodes. Blood is telling terrific Southern gothic tales with a potent mixture of freaky scariness and great country music (hats off to whoever picked Faron Young’s version of ''Hello Walls'' to use in the season premiere). Yee-haw and chomp-chomp. B+