Since its acclaimed series “The Sopranos” ended last year, HBO has failed to find a new drama to fill the void left by its landmark program. “John From Cincinnati” and “Tell Me You Love Me” never caught on, so the cable station is trying yet again to find a suitable replacement with the vampire thriller “True Blood.”

Courtesy of HBO

Don’t expect the show to be anything like “Teen Wolf” or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” — it’s far from campy and has no crappy special effects. Instead, “True Blood” depicts a fictitious vampire race — referred to as “out of the coffin” — living side by side with humans. Vampires are feared by mortals despite the fact that they can consume synthetic blood to curb their appetite for humans. The show focuses on the developing friendship between Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin, “X-Men”), a mortal with the ability to hear others’ thoughts, and Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer, “The Starter Wife”), a 173-year-old vampire.

At first glance, “True Blood” seems like it belongs on the Sci-Fi Channel rather than HBO. But the show’s characters and storylines have a depth reminiscent of HBO dramas like “Six Feet Under.” That’s not a surprise, considering both shows were created by Alan Ball. The show explores the challenges between humans and vampires in a way that resembles race relations in the United States during the 1960s.

The show has a unique mix of characters with strong personalities. Nelsan Ellis (“Veronica Mars”) gives a memorable performance as an effeminate cook at the local watering hole who enjoys harassing the bar’s conservative male clientèle. Paquin portrays Sookie as the perfect balance between a naïve young girl and an assertive woman. While no one in her town accepts vampires, Sookie openly lends a hand to a vampire in need. Emotionally complex female characters like Sookie have been more prevalent on television in recent years. Like the lead female roles on “The Closer” and “Saving Grace,” Sookie isn’t just another generic, pretty face, but a powerful (though flawed) individual fighting for what she believes in.

“True Blood” is vaguely reminiscent of NBC’s “Heroes.” Both shows have supernatural characters and themes of human justice. But “True Blood” sets itself apart because it depicts multi-dimensional characters who are identifiable. Unlike predictably “good” and “bad” characters on “Heroes,” the main characters in “True Blood” don’t fit into one category and their unforeseeable actions are more interesting to watch. Although “True Blood” is a fantasy show, the characters’ actions reflect those of ordinary people, providing an element of realism.

Despite their popularity, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and its spin-off “Angel” failed miserably in depicting mythical vampires. But this show’s use of racial issues and strong characters sets it apart from those other, similarly-themed series.

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