Monday, September 24, 2007

TV REVIEW: Moonlight: "No Such Thing as Vampires"

CBS brings Moonlight, a new vampire noir to prime time television on Friday, September 28 at 9:00 pm with this pilot episode, "No Such Thing as Vampires." The series stars hunky Alex O'Loughlin as Mick St. John, a private investigator and creature of the night working in Los Angeles (Angel's old haunts). "Being a vampire sucks," Mick quips early in the proceedings and you can hear crickets after the lame joke, but fortunately the episode gets better, smarter, and even borderline witty as it builds momentum.

Eschewing the world of "demons" popularized by such recent genre efforts as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed and Supernatural, Moonlight is a more reality-based series, where the presence of vampires is the only genre element (at least so far). In a "talking head" interview session at the beginning of the show, Mick quickly establishes the basics of his undead life. He sleeps in a freezer, not a coffin, garlic repels his dates, but not him, and wooden stakes don't kill vampires. For that, you need a flame thrower, or maybe a lucky decapitation. Like Showtime's Dexter (a serial killer not a vampire), Mick boasts a heroic code of ethics. He doesn't hunt women or children, and he only kills "predators" (meaning bad people).

The supporting characters on Moonlight include Beth Turner (Sophia Myles), an up-and-coming hottie reporter at Buzzwire, the de-rigueur black detective, Lt. Carl Davis (Brian White), and Guillermo (Jacob Vargas), a dealer in "blood and information." The stand-out among the cast, however is Jason Dohring amoral "400 going on 30" vampire tycoon, Josef Konstantin, sort of the latest-twist on a Barnabas Collins character from Dark Shadows. He's rich, powerful, self-indulgent, quippy and drinks his blood direct from the wrists of his sexy female entourage. "1982...that was a good year," he sniffs one woman's arm, sizing her up like a fine wine.

Like all good film noir or detective stories, Moonlight features a lot of hardboiled voiceover narration from Mick, in this case explaining how "when you live forever, the past always catches up with you." Here the story "starts with a girl," or two girls, as Mick investigates the death of a beautiful college girl and runs into reporter Beth, an encounter that brings to light a case - and a connection - from twenty-two years ago; a case Mick has never forgotten.

The dead girl appears to have been bitten by a vampire, but the trail leads back not to one of Mick's undead brethren, but a smarmy college professor who runs a "vampire study group" and seduces his female students with his shtick that he's a "real" vampire. Described as a "Svengali," the professor, Christian Ellis (Rudolf Martin) speaks in compelling and nearly hypnotic terms about the womb being a place of blood and darkness, and that human existence is but a search to return to that paradise. Thus we're all vampires, after a fashion. That's about as much originality as you get here; and let's face it, Moonlight has precious little maneuvering room: on one side it bumps into Forever Knight, and on the other side it brushes against Angel.

That established, the show is good cheesy fun, but not so wretchedly cheesy you'll want to puke. Moonlight is certainly an improvement over the last genre detective series I reviewed here, the dreadful The Dresden Files. What makes this show tolerable, and sort of entertaining in a mainstream, vanilla way is the show's persistent sense of humor, which becomes more fully developed over the hour. The pilot starts out being too hip for itself, but then settles into a nice groove with its romantic banter, one-liners and witticisms. Josef complains about "non-fat soy vegan blood" in one amusing scene, for instance, and at another point Mick gets to say the wonderful line that "forever is a long time with an ex-wife like mine." I hesitate to use the word "campy" after my recent post about the adjective's over use, but there's a tongue-in-cheek element of Moonlight that prevents me from writing it off as just a stupid vampire detective series, despite its staggering unoriginality. I can see this series, if it continues like this, being a guilty pleasure.

So far, I admire the sense of humor, enjoy the Veronica Mars references that have popped up (the first episode mystery of Moonlight occurs on Hearst College campus, where Veronica was a student...) and appreciate the attempts to resurrect from the grave all the film noir elements of old. On the latter front, there's the voice over narration and laconic narrator; there's the flashbacks to the "one" case that the detective never forgets, and - of course - the obsession on "the dame." Also, there's a chilling (brief) scene in which a young student is hunted by a masked killer, and some nice stunt work in the climactic scenes. I can't say that Moonlight is in the same league as Dexter, Heroes or even Jericho, but it's a pleasant enough way to spend forty-two minutes. First episodes are always dicey affairs anyway (and there was a lot of behind-the-scenes changes involved with Moonlight too...), so there's every reason to hope and pray that Moonlight could sharpen its fangs a little over time.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:26 AM

    If only this show had James Best in it. Then I might watch it.

    BTW, did you know that today is officially the twentieth anniversary of TNG?