By the end of its fifth season, True Blood had soured into a mishmash of tangled storylines and a hodgepodge of painted-into-the-corner characters. Oddly enough, it’s not a good thing when a vampire show starts to suck.
HBO’s self-described “sexy, scary and wildly entertaining series” – based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris – still had a lot going for it, however.
Topping the list was its fans’ rabid affection for mainstay characters: the human/faerie hybrid Sookie (Anna Paquin), her unlikely vampire ally Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) and the newly reconstituted supervamp Bill/“Billith” (Stephen Moyer) who rose from a pool of blood in the gory season finale.
Yet, as production fired up for its sixth season, the show was dealt a major blow when its creator and executive producer, the Oscar- and Emmy-winner Alan Ball (Six Feet Under), left the series.
Were the good times gone for the small Louisiana town of Bon Temps, where humans and vampires could finally coexist thanks to the invention of synthetic “Tru Blood” that allowed them to “come out of the coffin”?
In fact, the new season will reclaim story glory thanks to the writer Brian Buckner, who’s been tickling the keyboard for True Blood since its inception in 2008 – and who stepped into his first gig as a series boss, or “showrunner”, after Ball’s departure. And he’s apparently pretty good at it.
“We’re having a lot of fun this season,” says Skarsgard. “It’s not repetitive. It’s not redundant. We’re not shooting scenes that we’ve shot before, which makes it fun for me as an actor. We’re actually introducing new characters, complicated relationships. I get to do things I haven’t done before on the show.”
Here’s the cheat sheet of what to expect in the new season, which debuts on Sunday:
• Jarring events threaten what little normality remains in and around Bon Temps.
• Sookie and her brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) brace themselves for battle with their parents’ killer, the ancient Warlow (Robert Kazinsky), whose real identity continues to remains a troubling mystery.
• Billith comes to terms with his new-found powers on a shirtless rampage across Louisiana.
• Governor Truman Burrell (the new cast member Arliss Howard) declares war on bloodsuckers, with anti-vamp weapons and a high-tech internment camp.
• Great-grandpa Niall Brigant (the guest star Rutger Hauer) will teach Sookie more about the power of her faerie magic.
• Werewolves, shape-shifters and witches will be up to their usual monkey business.
Buckner’s approach to storytelling is old-school: he wields the power of anticipation and delayed gratification – tantalising fans with hints of juicy scenes he knows they’re aching to see, and then withholding them for as long as possible into the season – thus making the big reveals all the sweeter and more explosive.
“With our show, there is an appetite,” he tells Vulture.com. “Alan from the get-go called it ‘popcorn for smart people’. And popcorn is addictive: you keep eating it and expect there to be another piece of popcorn right away. My favourite shows make you wait for things, which sometimes makes things better.”
The brass at HBO obviously agree. On top of ordering a seventh season, now in production, the programming president Michael Lombardo says Buckner has injected “new energy” into the show, and an eighth season is likely.
• True Blood airs at 11pm on Sunday on OSN First HD