What is it about vampires that brings out the best in writers? Joss Whedon took the basic blood-sucking legends and turned them on their head with Buffy and then Stephanie Meyer came along and... oh. Right. My theory possibly falls down somewhat at that point. But ignore the overwrought teen angst of (God help us) slightly shiny vampires and jump ahead to Alan (American Beauty/Six Feet Under) Ball and the sheer unadulterated (and adult) joy that is True Blood.
It's a series that took a great simple idea – vampires exist, people, and they've got equal rights, deal with it – found its feet early in Season One and, rather than rest on it's Deep South laurels, it's proved to be a constant source of joy, laughs, thrills, sex, romance and dark, twisted action. And Season Two is even better.
Smartly, as with Six Feet Under and American Beauty, Ball et al may have a focal point in psychic waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Paquin) and her romance with Southern gentleman and reformed vamp Bill (Moyer) but they're also unafraid to give the equally strong secondary characters their own chances to shine.
In this nigh-perfect collection (seriously, clear a day and buy snacks, because you'll want to watch it from start to finish in a single sitting), Sookie and Bill's romance faces its toughest test to date: the young vampire Jessica (the utterly brilliant Woll) that Bill was forced to sire as a punishment for his previous "misdeeds". While this is, ostensibly, a stroppy teen / uptight father relationship, the playing is so spectacularly good you'll overlook the conventions. Mind you, that's far from the only pleasure in these 12 episodes.
You've also got Lafayette (Ellis) and his escape from the prison under Eric's place. You've got the shapeshifting Sam (Trammell) finding if not love, then certainly animal lust in an unexpected (and literal) fashion. Best of all, you've got the fantastically obnoxious Tara (Wesley), Sookie's best friend, falling under the spell of the too-good-to-be-true Maryann (Forbes).
And that's really just scratching the surface of this glossy gothic entertainment. It's rare a TV show can make you laugh this hard one minute and scare you rigid the next, but True Blood has found a magic formula. Provided that Ball and co. haven't made a pact with, say, a mysterious bull-headed demon that signals the end of days (did I mention that plot strand?), the fact that Season Three starts in the US in June is as strong an argument as I've ever heard for emigrating.
EXTRAS ???? Seven of the 12 episodes feature audio commentaries with various members of the cast and crew. There are also some featurettes, raning from the half-hour The Vampire Report to various shorts made for HBO.com. And there are episode previews and recaqps, plus enhanced viewing that includes picture-in-picture.