‘True Blood’ Tot Decapitates Barbie Dolls; Bong-Smoking Dog: TV

Louis Pasteur was a vampire. That much I can reveal about new episodes of HBO’s “True Blood” without ruining the surprises that might bring this stylish, bloody soap opera back to form after a scattershot season.

The story picks up where last year’s cliffhanger left off. Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), the Louisiana waitress with fairy blood in her veins, returns from a journey to the light side, where kindred spirits munch on glowing, ecstasy-producing fruit like so many blissed-out junkies.

Vampires Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer, his Southern accent shakier than ever) and Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard) are part of a new vampire hierarchy after the overthrow of ruthless undead king Russell Edgington (Denis O’Hare, who stole Season Three but remains entombed offscreen in the three new episodes available for review.)

Sookie’s brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is still mixed up with those inbred panther people, and shape-shifter Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) has bonded with some fellow travelers, including a potential new love interest named Luna (Janina Gavankar) who spends time as a horse.

Barbie Dolls

Silly? Of course. “True Blood” revels in it, sometimes gloriously. Just wait for that bad-seed baby who decapitates Barbie dolls.

The series, created by Alan Ball (“Six Feet Under”) and based (loosely, in these latter seasons) on Charlaine Harris’s best-selling novels, is infused with such visual panache and literary verve that even its weaker plot lines do minimal damage.

This year’s most promising storyline boasts the best addition to the cast. Irish actress Fiona Shaw plays the spooky leader of a ramshackle Wiccan coven that attracts Lafayette Reynolds (series treasure Nelsan Ellis) and his boyfriend Jesus Velasquez (Kevin Alejandro). Natural enemies of the vampires, these witches don’t know their own strength, but they learn fast.

“True Blood” airs Sunday on HBO at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2

‘Leverage’

Summer dramas don’t get any airier than TNT’s “Leverage,” a caper series with pleasures so lightweight they’d float off in a cool breeze.

“Leverage” stars Timothy Hutton as the leader of a group of grifters who right the wrongs of corporate bad guys and corrupt millionaires. It’s “Mission: Impossible” with a Robin Hood conscience.

The fourth season kicks off as Hutton’s team infiltrates a rich man’s climbing expedition in the snowy peaks of Alaska, where one of the millionaire’s underlings has gone missing.

“Leverage” is best enjoyed without close attention (one unlikely escape from an icy underground cavern is worthy of Batman), but the camaraderie has its easygoing charms.

“Leverage” airs Sunday on TNT at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2

‘Wilfred’

FX’s droll new comedy “Wilfred” pairs Elijah Wood with a bong-smoking, insult-spewing, man-size, semi-imaginary dog. Hipsters now have their “Harvey.”

The half-hour comedy, adapted by David Zuckerman (“Family Guy”) from a hit Australian program, co-stars the original’s Jason Gann as the titular dog.

While others see Wilfred as a normal, neighborhood mutt, Wood’s character (a suicidal, unemployed lawyer named Ryan) sees and hears a man in a mangy, bargain-basement dog costume. The two bond over weed, a shared appreciation for Wilfred’s beautiful owner Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann) and a desire to live life without fear.

Wilfred embroils the timid Ryan in rule-breaking adventures, like romping on a dog-restricted beach (where Wilfred gleefully slaughters a pelican). Urged by Wilfred to mark his territory in a neighborhood bully’s house, nervous Ryan pleads “I’m not an animal.”

“Then be a man,” replies the dog.

Gann’s deadpan delivery and Wood’s earnestness play nicely. “Wilfred” might be a one-trick dog, but it’s a good trick.

“Wilfred” airs Thursday on FX at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2


What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Greg Evans at gregeaevans@yahoo.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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