Weekend TV: True Blood Arrives, Veep Goes, Mad Men Finale, The Tonys
Very likely coming soon to a T-shirt near you: "Bless the Blood." This new catchphrase is a favorite of True Blood's new vamp in town: Roman, the 500-year-old Guardian of the Vampire Authority, a zealot who's about to complicate the already messy lives of the bloodsuckers who live among the shape-shifters, territorial werewolves, telepathic fairy hybrids, assorted bigots and bumpkins of Bon Temps, Louisiana. (Season 5 premieres Sunday at 9/8c.)
Played with grave menace by Law & Order: SVU's Christopher Meloni, an HBO veteran from his days in graphic Oz captivity, Roman doesn't appear until well into next Sunday's second episode, presiding over a sinister gathering of Chancellors who include the Biblical siren Salome (new cast member Valentina Cervi), Barb from Cougar Town (Carolyn Hennesy) and the ghoulish Lurch from AMC's Hell on Wheels (Christopher Heyerdahl). But Roman casts an immediate dark shadow over the fate of Sookie's spurned undead suitors Bill and Eric (Stephen Moyer and Alexander Skarsgard). In what promises to play out like a buddy adventure with fangs, they're headed towards a treacherous suicide mission to take down the "ancient, pissed-off psychopath" vampire king Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare), who has been disentombed and threatens the Authority's spiritual-political campaign to assimilate the supernatural into a judgmental human world.
Back in Bon Temps, Sookie (Anna Paquin) stays busy cleaning up the mess from last season's cliffhanger, when werewolf hunk Alcide's jealously deranged ex Debbie Pelt was blown away by Sookie, but not before Debbie blasted a hole in the head of Sookie's BFF Tara (Rutina Wesley). Helping Sookie try to bring Tara back to life — has no one in this town read The Monkey's Paw? — are the reluctant Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) and the resentful Pam, with Kristin Bauer van Straten stealing the first episode as Pam seethes hilariously barbed disdain for all things human: "I am wearing a Wal-Mart sweatsuit for y'all. If that's not a demonstration of team spirit, I don't know what is."
Factor in a high-profile, newly and proudly "gay vampire American" with the hots for Sookie's brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten), and Bill's teenage spawn Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) turning his house into a sorority party den, and True Blood is well on its way to staking its claim yet again as the summer guilty pleasure with TV's bawdiest bite.
As True Blood premieres, HBO's caustic political satire Veep wraps its first season (10/9c), with Julia Louis-Dreyfus in particularly fine, fractious and foul-mouthed form as Selina's approval ratings go in the proverbial toilet just as she heads to Cleveland to endorse a congressman for governor. Naturally, he wants nothing more than to distance himself from this toxic loose cannon. Selina is dismayed (so what else is new), but can't really disagree: "I'm a political leper and I'm an emotional time bomb, so here's an idea: Let's put me on stage." Her squabbling staff of incompetents is no help, so it's hardly a wonder when she begins to cry. And cry. Which, in this cynical and comical universe, has both a political upside and downside. Leave it to Twitter to get the last word in this up-to-the-minute, uproarious farce.
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MAD WITH ANTICIPATION: As usual, mystery cloaks Sunday's sight-unseen season finale of AMC's Mad Men (10/9c), for which all that has been teased is the vague storyline: "Opportunity is in the air for everyone, and Pete meets a stranger on the train." (Love the Hitchcock vibe in that last line. Not that we'd put anything past the odious Pete at this point.) We don't even know if we'll get a glimpse of Peggy, who took a new job two weeks ago and wasn't mentioned once in last week's farewell-to-Pryce shocker, prompting all sorts of speculation about Elisabeth Moss' future on the show. (I wouldn't fret. She's as important to this show's narrative as Don Draper, though I wouldn't be surprised if this season leaves us in a state of uncertainty regarding Peggy's status.) Given the climactic game-changers of the last few season finales — Don's proposal to Megan (and how fascinating has their relationship been to observe all season), the new company assembled from the ashes of the old — expectations are high, and they're almost certainly going to be subverted before the hour is over.
CURTAIN UP: Adding pizzazz and theatrical luster to an already busy Sunday, Neil Patrick Harris returns to host The 66th Annual Tony Awards on CBS (8/7c), spotlighting the best of Broadway. (Think he'll throw in a few Smash jokes? Bombshell away!) It wasn't as strong a year for new and revived musicals as it was for plays, which may explain why last year's blockbuster winner, The Book of Mormon, is getting another featured performance on the show. (That plus the fact that it's a monster hit. And its original leads, Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad, are each starring in new NBC sitcoms next season: The New Normal and 1600 Penn, respectively.) Also from the TV world, Private Practice alum Audra McDonald is the front-runner to win her fifth Tony for the Porgy and Bess revival, and look for Smash's smashing Christian Borle (as a deliciously hammy pre-Captain Hook) when the fabulous Peter and the Starcatcher takes the stage.
THE WEEKEND GUIDE: Taking the Planet Earth approach — incredible nature photography, gripping survival stories, glimpses of creatures you've never seen before — National Geographic Channel limits its focus to North, Central and South America in the four-hour Untamed Americas (Sunday and Monday, 9/8c, simulcast on Nat Geo WILD). The first night focuses on mountain and desert regions, and among the more exotic discoveries is an equatorial bat whose nectar-seeking tongue is longer than its body. ... Kicking off a month of proudly amateurish Saturday night schlock-fest movies, Syfy goes for wish fulfillment in the as-silly-as-it-sounds Jersey Shore Shark Attack (9/8c), but doesn't go far enough in terms of body count, as strutting "Guidos" and loathsome preppies take on a flotilla of hungry albino sharks awakened by waterfront drilling. With characters named "The Complication" and "Nooki," I know which species I was rooting for. ... If History's record-breaking Hatfields & McCoys miniseries whetted your appetite for TV Westerns, Hallmark Movie Channel is repeating one of the greatest of all time in its entirety: 1989's Lonesome Dove (Saturday, noon/11c), followed at 8/7c by the new Hannah's Law, in which a young female bounty hunter (The Vampire Diaries' Sara Canning) is joined by such frontier legends as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.
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