TV

'True Blood' ready to flow again

Chuck Barney
TRUE BLOOD - 9 p.m. EDT Sunday - HBO
Contra Costa Times (MCT)

It's finally time for the "Blood"-thirsty to be appeased.

Yes, "True Blood," television's most outrageous and lascivious series, returns Sunday for its third season on HBO and die-hard devotees know what that means:

More suspense. More sex. More Sookie.

And now, get ready for more characters. As creator Alan Ball's supernatural soap opera expands its world and thickens its plots, the number of names in the cast credits is rapidly multiplying. Joining all the vamps, shape-shifters and mind-readers this season are, among others, a pack of werewolves. Not just any werewolves, mind you, but vicious, "highly trained" werewolves fueled by vampire juice.

Clearly, "True Blood," based on the novels of Charlaine Harris, continues to be a wild, over-the-top spectacle where anything goes. At times, it may make you roll your eyes. At times, it might seem like it has completely lost its mind. But never ever does it leave you watching the clock and feeling bored.

No wonder then that the show's potent blend of horror, romance and dark humor strikes a vein in so many ravenous fans. The "True Blood" audience more than doubled last season to 5 million per first-run episode. Toss in the fans who watched via replay, DVR and on-demand viewing, and HBO has its biggest water-cooler hit since "The Sopranos" left the air.

And judging from the early episodes that HBO has made available for review, we're in for more bloody good fun.

When we last saw the residents of Louisiana bayou town of Bon Temps, they were reeling from the hedonistic mayhem wrought by immortal seductress Maryann. In the aftermath, Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) was mulling a marriage proposal from her beloved bloodsucker, Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), only to discover that he apparently had been abducted.

Meanwhile, shape-shifting bar owner Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) embarked on a search for his biological family, and Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley) was mourning the death of her boyfriend, who was shot by Sookie's dimwitted brother, Jason (Ryan Kwanten). And that's just scratching the surface of "True Blood's" dense narrative.

As Season 3 unfolds, Sookie launches a frantic search for Bill and reluctantly enlists the help of Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), the brooding — and hunky — vampire who just happens to lust after her. A big mistake? Time will tell, but it appears that this love triangle will be a major component of Season 3. And many fans undoubtedly will be rooting for bad boy Eric to win over the saucy Sookie.

During her search, our heroine also forms an uneasy alliance with a sexy werewolf named Alcide (Joe Manganiello), who serves as her bodyguard. Other notable newcomers include Russell Edgington (Dennis O'Hare), the vampire king of Mississippi, and his snooty sidekick, Talbot (Theo Alexander). Also, Alfre Woodard is a major surprise as Ruby Jean Reynolds, the estranged mother of Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis).

Initially, these and other fresh characters make Season 3 feel overcrowded — and we pity any new fan trying to make sense of it all. But by the middle of the second episode, the show begins to gain traction and sucks you in with its new set of tantalizing mysteries.

It helps, of course, that "True Blood" doesn't take itself too seriously. While its fanged creatures might come across as ghastly and unnerving, they're also good for a few laughs. When, for example, neophyte vamp Jessica (the engaging Deborah Ann Woll) seeks advice on how to keep herself from totally giving in to her dark urges while feeding on a human, the caustic Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) informs her that it's all a matter of mind control.

"I think about crying children with soggy diapers," she says. "Or maggots."

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

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Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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