||The second season of True Blood goes down smooth, representing a perfect summer concoction -- long on soapy romance, macabre intrigue, and graphic bursts of sex and violence. HBO's stab at playing to a cult audience has turned out to be perfectly timed for the pay channel, offering a lighter counterweight to the emotionally darker dramas airing elsewhere. And while the vampires-as-downtrodden-minority gay metaphor continues to resonate throughout these early episodes, exec producer Alan Ball and company have firmly established their alternate universe as its own engrossing (and occasionally gross) little world...Cast additions that came onboard as season one progressed have also shot adrenaline through Blood's veins, though the central story remains the same: The different-worlds romance between Sookie (Anna Paquin), who has the psychic ability to hear people's thoughts; and Bill (Stephen Moyer), the vampire born during the Civil War era for whom she has madly fallen, and vice versa...Their relationship is complicated, however -- and that qualifies as an enormous understatement -- by sundry outside forces, including the regional vampire leader Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), who covets Sookie's powers; and the teenage Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), who Bill was compelled to transform into a vampire. The latter yields darkly comic results, inasmuch as petulant youth and a thirst for blood are a potentially combustible mix...Meanwhile (and there are a lot of meanwhiles), Sookie's friend Tara (Rutina Wesley) continues to fall under the spell of the mysterious Maryann (Michelle Forbes), adding a spooky "Rosemary's Baby"-type undercurrent to the proceedings; and Sookie's dimwitted brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) experiences a religious awakening, enlisting in the vampire-hating Light of Day Institute...Fortunately, True Blood boasts several less-grisly enticements, as well as the whole women/teenagers-love-vampires fantasy that, frankly, strikes me as vaguely pathetic. Then again, there's something to be said for a series that connects with audiences on various levels --with characters both above ground and below.