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'True Blood,' 'Weeds,' 'Big C' are back

Dale Roe, On TV

Staff Writer
Austin 360
A widow who turned to selling drugs to support her family, Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) took the rap for a murder her son committed in 'Weeds.' She gets out of prison this season.

It's a good week for summer TV fans.

The season used to be the worst, back when the best programs were on the major broadcast networks. And while those channels tend to populate their schedules with reruns and reality dreck, the pay and basic cable networks have picked up the slack with original and fun series sporting racier content that would never fly on broadcast outlets anyway.

On Monday, Showtime brings back one of my favorite series for a second season, Laura Linney's "The Big C," and one of my guiltiest of pleasures, "Weeds" with Mary-Louise Parker.

And, tonight, HBO's supernatural drama "True Blood" is back for Season 4.

The show is hugely popular in Austin, inspiring fans who call themselves "Trubies" to assemble for Sunday night viewing parties at venues including Jo's on Second Street, where viewers down Bloody Mimosas and watch episodes on a big screen.

At the end of last season, we found vampire Bill Compton burying rival Eric Northman and their king, Russell Edgington, in tons of concrete. Eric escaped and ratted Bill out to telepathic waitress Sookie, telling her that her lover was a spy sent by vampire queen Sophie-Anne to gain her trust. At her grandmother's grave, Sookie (who earlier learned of her fairy heritage) was transported to the fairies' world.

HBO has asked us to go easy on new-season spoilers, but since the network has already released a video of the new season's first eight minutes, I can tell you that the episode kicks off with apparently great-smelling (you'll see) Sookie still in that world, where she has spent an at-first-unspecified amount of time and where everything is not what it seems. She runs into old friends there (remember the Season 2 bellhop who shared her mind-reading ability?) and relatives (Gary Cole, a great choice to play grandpa Stackhouse) before returning to Bon Temps.

And the backwoods Louisiana town we return to in Season 4 is quite a bit different than the one we left in the few minutes Sookie claims to have been gone.

This is where it gets hard to talk about without revealing too much, but let's just say that after tackling vampires, werewolves and mythological creatures in previous seasons, "True Blood" is taking on witches next. Hinted at last season in the story arc between Lafayette and Jesus (San Antonio native Kevin Alejandro), the witchcraft theme drives the new season's main story line. Integral to this is the addition of Fiona Shaw as the head of a coven that gets in over its collective head. Shaw is a revelation; watching her channel former cast member Stephen Root (as a vamp named Eddie Gauthier) is uncannily creepy.

A couple of major characters from last season's messy werewolf plot line won't be major players this season: Sophie-Anne (that's good) and Russell (that's bad, but who knows? If Eric escaped from his concrete grave, surely the king could find a way to eventually return). The American Vampire League is in full force trying to counteract the public relations nightmare Russell unleashed last season by murdering an anchorman on live television.

Fans of Team Eric will be thrilled with his trajectory this season and his entanglement with Sookie. Alexander Skarsgård's over-the-top portrayal of the vampire sheriff is so fully realized that his character's 180-degree change this season is striking.

Less successful are new developments for human/vampire couple Hoyt and Jessica, engaged at the end of last season; the fallout from Sookie's brother Jason's involvement with werepanther Crystal (although, like "Glee's" Britney, Jason still gets all the best lines); and Sheriff Andy's ongoing addiction.

‘Weeds,' 3 years later

When last season ended with fugitive Nancy Botwin's surrender to the authorities, taking the rap for her son Shane's murder of her baby-daddy-Mexican-drug-lord's ex while her fellow fugitives/family members winged their way toward Copenhagen, my reaction was the same as it is at the end of almost every season of "Weeds" — OK, how are they going to write their way out of this?

Spoiler alert: They kind of cheat. In what is becoming all too common in serialized television, a time-jump (three years, in this case) has allowed Jenji Kohan and her writers a chance to hit the reset button. Again.

Three years doesn't seem like a long time in the clink for a murder rap, and I won't reveal the circumstances of Nancy's release, but Showtime has already revealed that Nancy is out of prison and residing in a halfway house in New York, which at least provides a fertile new backdrop for her sure-to-be-illegal shenanigans. I don't think Nancy Botwin is a model for the concept of rehabilitation, and I doubt three years in prison with a lesbian lover has taught her any lessons. Meanwhile, Silas, Shane, Andy and Doug have been living in Copenhagen with surprising and hilarious occupations, but appear to be headed back.

The halfway house is a good idea. It's not prison, exactly, but it still subjects Nancy to some level of authority (and we know Nancy doesn't tolerate authority particularly well).

From denial to anger

Also returning to Showtime on Monday is "The Big C," the slice-of-possibly-end-of-life dramedy starring the fantastic Laura Linney. If her character, Cathy Jamison, was in the denial stage during the show's inaugural season (remember, it wasn't until the end of that run that she finally told her family members — and then not all of them — about her Stage 4 melanoma), she has moved firmly into the anger stage for Season 2.

While trying to maintain her impossibly positive attitude, Cathy is fighting mad. She's mad at her condition and mad at the bureaucracy she must navigate in order to obtain treatment for it (expect lots of red-tape-covered bumps on that path).

The first several episodes focus a lot on the way Cathy and her loved ones are treated once her condition becomes public knowledge, and how they deal with that treatment. Some of the fallout, such as events that befall her husband, Paul (Oliver Platt) is predictable. Other effects, including her son's newfound notoriety at school (and the way he simultaneously rebels against and takes advantage of it) are a bit disappointing and border on risque, pay-cable pandering.

Marginal characters from last season, including Cathy's brother Sean (John Benjamin Hickey) and his baby mommy Rebecca (Cynthia Nixon) get a lot more screen time this season as they deal with her pregnancy and his struggle to become a more conventional father. And Cathy's student Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe of "Precious") becomes closer with the Jamisons. Meanwhile, Alan Alda ("M*A*S*H") joins the cast as a doctor with very little of Hawkeye Pierce's bedside manner.

droe@statesman.com; 912-5923

‘True Blood'

8 p.m. Sunday

HBO

‘Weeds'

9:05 p.m. Monday

Showtime

‘The Big C'

9:30 p.m. Sunday

Showtime