HERE COMES A LOVE BITE: Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Bill (Stephen Moyer) size each other up.

As a culture, we probably pay too much attention to box office gross, as if the $100 million dollars other people doled out to see Angelina Jolie make bullets curve in “Wanted” is reason enough for us to add to the pile (it’s not). Still, that last weekend represented the lowest box office gross in seven years probably says something about the movies released.

So rather than mourn the ever-downward-spiraling career of Nicholas Cage, who’s currently starring as a forlorn assassin in “Bangkok Danger-ous,” how ’bout a review of HBO’s new series “True Blood”? It has, at least, cinematic aspirations.


It also has vampires, which the entertainment magazines tell us are hot right now, thanks in large part to the teen-age fervor over the “Twilight” novels, which utilize the tried-and-true vampires as sexual repression and teen-age angst metaphor.

“True Blood” (Sundays, 8 p.m., HBO) casts its nets broader. In the muddled first episode, creator Alan Ball (“Six Feet Under,” “American Beauty”) seems overwhelmed with all the metaphoric potential. Are vampires, recently out in society thanks to the Japanese invention of syn-thetic blood, a stand-in for the gay community? See a shot of religious protest in the title sequence — incidentally the most compelling part of the show — of a road sign that says “God hates fangs,” and “coming out of the coffin,” the common parlance for vamps joining polite society.


Or maybe, since the show’s set in the Deep South of northern Louisiana, where Spanish moss covers everything and no one wears sleeves, vampires-as-African-Americans works better? Early in the episode, in fairly graphic fashion, we’re introduced to “fang bangers,” women who seek out vampires, who’re rumored to be sexually ferocious, and the corresponding worries that come from parents and brothers and boyfriends, who fret over miscegenation.

Also, we’re sure to be confronted with vampires-as-forbidden-love, as wide-eyed waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) considers a relationship with the new vampire in town, Bill (Stephen Moyer).


That Ball can’t get over the elastic potential of his vampires and focus is a problem, but the show’s got bigger ones. Based on Magnolia na-tive Charlaine Harris’ Southern vampire series of novels, the show is a trash novel come to life. Characters are caricatures of old Southern types: The fiery barmaid. The oversexed ne’er do-well.

The meth-y depraved. Their motivations often only seem to exist to advance the plot. Graphic sex, like that not seen, even on pay cable, for some time, promises to figure in often. Oh yeah, the lead character, Sookie, is inexpli-cably a telepath.
All that may improve or at least evolve. Trash can transcend. But I can see myself fading quickly if a few characters don’t get eaten soon. There’s plenty of room for error when a non-Southerner with a big budget and a faraway location takes on a Southern project outside of the South. But Alan Ball is from Atlanta. Most of “True Blood” is shot in Louisiana. So why the hell is Michael Raymond-James, a method-trained actor from Michigan, playing a Creole named Rene? His accent was laughably bad. Really, my living room erupted when he spoke. He seemed peripheral, so there may be hope, but Rutina Wesley, who’s from Las Vegas and plays Sookie’s best friend Tara with an accent seem-ingly culled from watching old episodes of “Beverly Hillbillies,” seems to be around for the long haul.

I’ll keep watching, at least for a couple of weeks, if only to have a little “Mystery Theater 3000” fun.