The Games are over — let the True summer fun begin.
That's not an artistic slight on Game of Thrones, about as well-done a flight of royals-at-war fantasy as you're likely to find. But it's far too dark and portentous to be light hot-weather entertainment, and unless you're deeply into its faux medieval dungeons-and-dragons genre, it's not particularly inviting. True Blood (* * * * out of four, HBO, Sunday, 9 p.m.) is a genre show as well, but one with higher stakes, a more easily accessible emotional hook and wider social-satire ambitions.
Never have the satirical underpinnings of this series — built as it is on vampires coming out of the coffin-closet and demanding their civil rights — been more evident than this season, which has found a new overarching villain in vampire fundamentalists. Turns out vampires have a bible of their own, and those who interpret it literally think God created humans solely to serve as convenient blood-warmers.
That does not sit well with the head of the mainstreaming Vampire Authority, played with relish by Law & Order's Christopher Meloni, a great addition to what is already one of the best, best-looking and most frequently unclothed casts on TV.
A war is brewing, and stuck in the middle is a trio who planned to go their separate ways: Sookie (Anna Paquin), Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric (Alexander Skarsgard). Good thing, because as amusing as Bill and Eric can be when fighting over Sookie, they're even more amusing when forced to work together.
As always on a show that tends to be messy in all senses of the word, plots and characters tumble into each other and sometimes threaten to push each other right off the screen. Immediately after tying up last year's plot strings (by the end of the first hour, you'll know the fate of Rutina Wesley's Tara), True launches into multiple new crises, led by the horrifying and welcome return of Denis O'Hare's Russell Edgington.
The stories are not all equal, but most more than carry their weight, and all are laced with both humor and the writer's respect for dramatic consequences. Put them together, and you get summer TV at its witty, riveting best.
Come on in; the Blood is fine.