What I like about ‘True’: A review of ‘True Blood’ Season 1 (TV review)

“True Blood” makes it look easy. Start with sharply written characters, mix in a plot that’s never predictable, try a few new things here and there, and you have a tasty concoction.

The first thing I liked about “True Blood” Season 1 was Anna Paquin. Just by flashing her goofy but adorable smile, she was a scene-stealer in every small movie she took a role in. Now I get to see her in a weekly series.

The next thing I liked was Bill Compton, Sookie’s vampire love interest. Stephen Moyer has that vamp gaze down pat: Bend your head down slightly, then look up with a slightly feral gleam in your eye. Women love it. And human guys like me can relate to Bill because 1) he just wants to fit in, and 2) he can’t fit it in, so 3) he broods a lot. In truth, folks like Bill and I are boring to most women, but you throw in that mysterious brooding look, and maybe you’ve got something (at least in TV land; in reality, women will think it’s too much work to know you). So I’m rooting for him.

The third thing I liked was Sam, who employs Sookie at his Bon Temps bar, and also is utterly in love with her, probably because she looks like Anna Paquin. This makes some scenes tricky for me, like when Sam is kissing Sookie but then Bill bursts in and throws him against the wall. I kind of hoped for Bill to do some freaky vampire thing so Sam could justifiably tell Sookie, “Hey, at least I’m human.” (Of course, Sam is actually a shapeshifter, but enough about that.)

The problem is that I also like Bill, whose vampire-hood is nicely demonstrated in a sequence in the season finale where he senses Sookie is in danger. (The season’s mysterious killer, who targets “fangbangers,” finally chases Sookie down — it’s not clear why it took him so long.) Bill emerges from his below-the-floorboards sleeping place and into the sun, where he slowly, agonizingly burns to a crisp before he can get to Sookie, who is meanwhile being saved by Sam. It made me feel for Bill as a tragic hero, and it would’ve been a nice conclusion if this had been a one-season-and-done series.

I also have to make note of Ryan Kwanten as Sookie’s brother, Jason. I liked Kwanten as the surfer dude on “Summerland,” but there’s so much more to his character here. He’s a drug addict, a womanizer, and generally a bad brother and grandson, and yet I root for him every step of the way. His stupidity isn’t affected, it’s genuine, and he’s genuinely fighting against it.

Tara, Sookie’s best friend, is a good character to illustrate “True Blood’s” plot twists — Tara’s storylines are the show’s weakest, and yet even they are compelling. When she and her mother get exorcized, I assumed the show was going to introduce demons into its mythology. But in a surprise move, Tara and her mom were actually being scammed by a fake faith healer. Then Tara somehow gets mixed up with a woman who takes her in, bathes her, feeds her, gives her a place to stay and even hooks her up with a cute guy — on any other show, I’d immediately mistrust this woman. Here, I wasn’t so sure; although since Sam doesn’t trust her, I don’t.

Bill’s draining of Lafayette (at least that’s what’s strongly hinted at) casts him in a less-favorable light heading into Season 2. Hopefully that will be the impetus for getting Sookie and Sam together. But I’m also thinking, “Bill, what were you thinking?”

My complaints: “True Blood” is a little soapy, often gross (as when vampires are staked), and it could use a bit more cinematographic style (“The Skeleton Key” and other movies got the mood of the Bayou right; sometimes “True Blood” feels a little too much like a backlot).

My likes: The characters. And that counts for a lot.