Season 3 Premiere
June 13; HBO

Vampiresyou either love ’em or hate ’em these days. If you fall into the first camp, you’re likely to be younger than 30 and maybe even a member of Team Edward or Team-That-Werewolf Guy. Which explains the “hate” camp. Some of us are too old and cranky to get down with all this teeny-bop Twilight and Vampire Diaries stuff. There’s just too much of it.

So thank Satan for the HBO vamp series True Blood, based on the Southern Vampire Mysteries book series by Charlaine Harris, because it justifies the whole vamp craze all by itself. Due to pure old-fart crotchetiness, inspired by the aforementioned Twilight and the like, I avoided True Blood for the first two seasons, despite liking the first couple of episodes. My bad. When I caught up with it late last year in a bloodthirsty viewing marathon, it became clear to me what made this show better than most of the genre: Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of my favorite shows of all time, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, frequently laughing at itself, the silliness of vampire lore and the deliciously decadent sexual undertones.

I love this show, and, thank the Dark Lord again, it’s back for a third season. When we last left our telepathic heroine, Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), in last season’s cliffhanger (but hey, doesn’t every episode end with a cliffhanger?), she was mulling over a marriage proposal from her vamp boyfriend, the Southern-gentlemanly Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) when he was abducted from the restaurant by unknown assailants.

As Season 3 begins, she naturally turns to the most likely suspect, the Norse-godly vamp Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgrd), the owner of the local vampire bar and a rival of Bill’s who has the serious dead man’s hots for Sookie.

Meanwhile, there’s more drama going down in Bon Temps, Louisiana. Sookie’s dumbass brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) accidentally shot and killed the boyfriend of Sookie’s best friend, Tara (Rutina Wesley), who was unstable to begin with, after being turned into a demon sex zombie in Season 2. (Hey, it happened to the whole town, so no shame there.)

Back at Bill’s stately manor, his unschooled young vampire charge Jessica is having trouble learning how to feed on humans without killing them, which is tough for the poor thing because she still has a conscience. To make matters worse, she’s finding it hard to make things work with her human boyfriend, Hoyt (Jim Parrack), a big puppy dog with a mean ol’ mama, and he just won’t give up.

Neither will Sookie’s boss, Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell), the owner of the local human bar, and oh yeah, a shapeshifter who likes to take the form of a dog when he feels like taking a head-clearing run. This season, he’s determined to search for his birth parents and discover what makes him who he is. So yeah, expect some new characters this season.

And not just in Sam’s family. True Blood is one of those rare shows that can juggle numerous subplots and constantly introduce new characters without seeming cluttered or superfluous. So who else is new this season? I’ll give you a slightly misleading hint: Nazi werewolves.

That’s right, werewolves, but none of that silly Twilight stuff here. The only “teams” associated with this show are Team Bill and Team Eric. And as someone whose girlfriend is unabashedly in the latter camp, I have to admit I reluctantly agree with her (grrrr). Skarsgrd’s leers and soulful vampire stares are hard to resist, and the writers wisely give him some of the funniest lines. When Sookie walks in on him doing the nasty with a bound human during a bout of six-hour Tantric sex that would make Sting want to pack up his penis with his electric lute and go home, Eric looks her up and down with a sly grin and inquires as to whether Bill is sufficiently taking care of business at his love lair. Charming, evil bastard. Don’t do it, Sookie! (Yes, do it, do it, do it…)

The jokes this season are some of the funniest that I can remember on this show. As the writers get more and more comfortable with their own lore, they’re having more fun with it. At one point in an early episode, Sookie’s brother Jason is surprised to find out that werewolves actually exist, after living for years among vampires, a telepath and a shapeshifter.

“Bigfootis he real, too?” he wonders. “Xena?”

Another one of my favorite lines comes from redneck waitress Arlene Fowler (Carrie Preston), while trying to calm down an enraged Tara: “I’m sorry you fell in love with a serial killer, all right? But honestlywho here hasn’t?”

And that, my friends, is the friendly town of Bon Temps. If you visit, make sure you try the chilled carbonated blood, served in only the finer vampire establishments. It’s cruelty-free and willingly given.