if you hated the shit out of American Beauty and its script by Alan Ball, there’s no denying that Ball’s cable series Six Feet Under helped turn HBO into the critical and awards powerhouse it is today. As previously reported in our THUD pilot roundup, Ball’s next effort for the “not tv” channel is True Blood, about vampires who live side-by-side with humans in a Louisiana town when the Japanese manufacture synthetic blood. Ball wrote, will direct, and executive produce the pilot.

Today, the Hollywood Reporter ran the story that Ball has cast Academy Award-winner, star of X-Men, and perennial CHUD favorite Anna Paquin in True Blood‘s leading role. Paquin will play innocent waitress Sookie Stackhouse, who can read minds and who finds herself involved in a passionate relationship with a vampire.

True Blood is based on a series of terrible novels by Charlaine Harris – they’re pretty much a compendium of clichés dealing with the loss of innocence, sexuality, and every fantasy a horny housewife has had about vampires. The pilot that I read a month ago wasn’t much better – it was all set-up, introducing the same clichéd characters (over-protective brother, violent yet mysterious vampire, white-trash couple, innocent ingénue) over the course of an hour with no real indication as to where it was going. I’ve said before that while I love Six Feet Under to death and that I think Ball’s a better television writer than he is a playwright or a screenwriter, he’s also very uneven. I want True Blood to be good, because the core concept has a lot of potential and deals a lot with themes common to Ball (the vampires are basically coming “out of the closet”, after all), but I also think it has the potential to be a tremendous disappointment.

I like Anna Paquin, though – she’s one of those child actors who was able to win an Oscar at a very young age and have a pretty decent career afterwards. (Go rent the adaptation of The Member of the Wedding she did. Or The 25th Hour. Or The Squid and the Whale. And when the hell are we going to get a release date on Margaret?) So her involvement makes me a little more optimistic about this project than I was before. Lastly, on a purely superficial level, Paquin fans will be happy to know the books and script are full of sex and nudity, often involving her character. So bonus! (The sound you just heard was the sound of a thousand heads exploding.)