By Caryn James | James on Screens June 26, 2011 at 1:00AM
If you’re going to add werewolves, fairies and witches to a vampire story, you better make sure you can handle the extra-human overload. Last season True Blood lost me with its leaden theme of Nazi werewolves. The new fourth season (beginning Sunday on HBO) piles on even more characters with loony powers.
We found out at the end of last season that Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) can read minds because she’s part fairy. Now the fourth season brings in Fiona Show as a schoolmarmish wiccan with a devoted coven and scary dark powers. But these new episodes have won me back with their gleeful juggling of over-the-top characters.
The season premiere begins with Sookie in fairy land, a glittering place with fruit that looks like an apple made of pure golden light. According to the press notes, creator Alan Ball considers that information a spoiler but I don’t see why. Don't miss that magical scene.
When Sookie returns to Bon Temps – and I won’t give away those genuine surprises – the series takes on a different tone from its previous seasons. Now that Sookie has ended her tortured romance with vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer), the show is free to explore other mysteries, which include the wiccan’s ability to regenerate life, threatening the powers of the undead vamps.
The season also gives major play to Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), who makes a hilarious Public Service Announcement as the series returns to one of its earliest and best themes: the vampires’ attempts to become part of mainstream society. Eric’s PSA represents True Blood at its finest: the scene is sardonic; it uses vampires as a metaphor for society’s outcasts without being heavy-handed; it acknowledges its own silliness.
However dark, bloody and creepy the show becomes, that wit is its great secret weapon. Where a series like Game of Thrones has a self-defeating earnestness, True Blood glories in it unrealistic excesses.
Ball still hasn’t convinced me that sad-sack shape-shifting Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) is worth so much time, but that’s a small point. Based on the first few episodes, this season’s True Blood promises to be more dazzling than ever.
Here’s a trailer with a glimpse of Eric’s PSA.