Anna Paquin

What better time than summer to get your TV freak on — and what more out-there vehicle to indulge your wilder appetites than the fourth season of HBO's supernatural smorgasbord True Blood, which gets off to one of its freakiest starts yet.

"TV sure hasn't gotten better in the last year," gripes True Blood's spunky heroine Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) after returning to Bon Temps from an unsettling detour to sparkly, sinister Fairy Land. Maybe not, but True Blood has.

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This garish carnival of lusty vampires, witches, fairies, inbred were-panthers and assorted shape-shifters is so infectious that even infants aren't immune. "What the hell kind of baby does that?" shrieks a mom after her possibly demonic spawn cheerfully beheads a bevy of Barbie dolls.

In this dizzying world, it's not always easy to know who's a good or bad witch, vamp, panther and so on. The fun of True Blood is in watching Sookie try to figure out her loyalties to family, friends and the embattled Bon Temps community while maintaining her own sense of independence. Not easy when an alluring ancient vampire like Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) insists on insinuating himself into her life and home. When Sookie insists she won't be his puppet, Eric's deputy Pam (the hilariously dour Kristin Bauer van Straten) snaps, "Shame for you, then. He pulls good string."

So does True Blood, with its diabolically deranged and debauched twists keeping us on edge. And it's about to get better in the next few episodes, as the worlds of witches and vamps collide, trapping Eric in the spellbinding crossfire. The source material is my favorite story from Charlaine Harris' book series. I've been looking as forward to this as I was dreading the fate of Ned Stark in HBO's Game of Thrones adaptation. True Blood is a much guiltier, trashier pleasure than the monumental Thrones, but I wouldn't miss it for all the hush puppies in Louisiana.

True Blood premieres Sunday, 9/8c, on HBO

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