16 July 2010

Moonlight: The Complete Series

Starring Alex O'Loughlin, Sophia Myles, Jason Dohring, Shannyn Sossamon
Created by Ron Koslow and Trevor Munson
Transmission season: 2008
CBS, 16 episodes, 43 mins.

Plot: Vampire Mick St. John lives out his days in L.A. as a private investigator, investigating and solving problems while also romancing tabloid journalist Beth Turner, all the while getting into trouble week after week.

Ugh, the very idea of another vampire show - let alone one about a vamp P.I played by a 'pretty boy' - was destined to be entirely ignored by me. It just sounded really, really crappy, additionally unnecessary, and seemingly rather campy. The first season ended up being its only season, despite strong fan campaigns, and the complete series was released on DVD last year. Surprising thing was, though, there was a generally positive amount of feedback concerning the series from customers, and seemed genuinely sad the show wasn't coming back - not in comic book form, not in TV movie form, nada.

Well, now after watching the entire series, add me to that list.

MOONLIGHT is surprising, frankly. The show takes about three episodes to really get into, as the writers were obviously trying to understand the mythology and tone of their own show, but once you're hooked, I'd say you'd have a extremely pleasant time with the remainder of the series. And with only 16 episodes to work with, the show covers a lot of ground. The program boasts a amazingly charismatic cast, a writing tone that nicely balances funniness and seriousness, pretty James Newton Howard-y music, and a intriguing vampire and character mythology that makes every episode a treat.

Alex O'Laughlin, most recently seen in theaters opposite Jennifer Lopez in THE BACK-UP PLAN but regular FX viewers will recognize him from his short stint on THE SHIELD, plays our main protagonist Mick St. John. John is a 85-year old vampire, sired back in the '50s (?) by a gal named Coraline. Their relationship didn't end very well. See, Coraline was a bit crazy in the head, major with the deluded, and on one special night she decided to kidnap a young girl to adopt into their 'family'. Mick loses it, saves the girl, sets the room on fire and leaves Coraline there to burn. Flash forward about 20 years later, and that little girl he saved is no longer a little girl. She's grown up to be Beth Turner, played by Sophia Myles, best known for her one-off episode as Madame de Pompadour in the DOCTOR WHO episode "The Girl in the Fireplace", working as a tabloid journalist at BuzzWire (a more bizarre TMZ), and in a relationship with the A. D.A. guy, Josh something. Their paths cross once again, and a strong connection binds them together to solve cases and ooze the romantic chemistry.

Mick gets hired or just shows up at a crime scene, investigates, and somehow ends up teaming up with Beth to solve a case that either has a vampire, a wacko, or more intense stuff that deals with the overall mythology.

Speaking of mythology, MOONLIGHT has a pretty unique one, and I don't mean that in a disparaging TWILIGHT-esque way. Considering that most of my vampire lore I get from Whedon productions and the Dracula myth, it's a bit refreshing to hear a different take. Here's the rundown: Vampires can, in fact, walk in sunlight. Downside - it's one hell of a killer headache. And stay outside long enough, it can absolutely be lethal (which is the basis of the fourth episode, "Fever"). Secondly, wooden stakes don't kill a vamp, but it does completely paralyze it until/unless it's taken out. The only way to actually kill a vamp is to burn it or slice its head off. Vamps can't be captured on conventional film, but sure as hell can be captured digitally, video and photo and all. There's plenty of other mythological elements introduced, I just can't think of it right now.

And here's another refreshing element of the show: our hero Mick St. John. He doesn't have a strict moral compass like the soul-endowed Angel, fighting the good fight and not killing humans even if they deserve it. Mick may absolutely hate being a vampire and will do anything in his power to be human again (more on that later), but when push comes to shove, Mick is a freakin' vampire, not some wuss, and he uses his 'skills' to his advantage. All vampires have a understanding - do whatever they want, but don't draw attention to the community, for the penalty is death. A human and two vamps threaten the community, and for that, Mick does what's necessary. And for that, Mick is both sides of the hero/anti-hero equation. He's the good guy, but he'll beat up or kill if absolutely necessary.

The show's resident hottie and damsel in distress Beth Turner isn't that bad of a character, actually. Beth isn't a typical one-dimensional gal you falls for a vamp; in a nutshell, she's beauty, brains, and awesomeness rolled all into one. She's the blond equivalent of SMALLVILLE's Lois Lane - you can't help but fall in love with this character basically immediately. The other series regular is Josef, played by Jason Dohring of VERONICA MARS fame. Sometimes I can't help but see Dohring as anything but Logan Echolls, but there are definitely times when Josef vamps out where Dohring brings his vicious A game and rocks his demonic side. But Dohring definitely gets the charisma down, something vampires are notorious for, and it's great to find that there's layers to this 400 year old vamp other than 'playboy mode.'

A brief series overview: the show starts off stronger than I expected. The pilot, "There's No Such Thing As Vampires", is the weakest episode of the series, and the only one where it seemed like the writers, directors, and actors were trying to get the vibe down. [Small anecdote of funness: guest star Rudolph Martin is no stranger to vampires, having playing Vlad Dracula in BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and DRACULA: DARK PRINCE] Interesting enough, though, by the second episode the show feels confident - it knows what it is, it knows the right tone of humor and darkness, and even boasts a bit of a edge. Almost immediately we get a sense of Mick's darker side, as his hunger for justice and/or revenge forces him to attack a guilty man with the intent to kill. The next batch of episodes deal with Beth's struggle to understand and accept the revelation of Mick's true identity, eventually resulting in a really cool episode that has Mick having to feed on Beth. Cool sequence.

Episode 7, "The Ringer", introduces Morgan, a character that becomes pivotal for the remainder of the series. Mick is convinced this Morgan gal is Coraline, but there's a big problem with that theory: Morgan is very much human, as opposed to Coraline's vampireness. Who is Morgan really, and if it is Coraline, how is she human now (?) become central questions for quite a few episodes, and is some truly fun television to watch. To make another BUFFY comparison, Coraline's madness is not unlike Drusilla, so you can understand how Mick sorta loses his bonkers during this investigation.

"12:04" is a rather freaky episode. A death row inmate who looks a little bit like Jason Mewes comes back from the dead to exact some revenge on the gal who testified against him. This is one of those episodes where the guest star is phenomenal in their performance and basically make the episode. Definitely one of the highlights of the series.

Mick's history gets explored not only with this Coraline/Morgan storyline but also with "What's Left Behind", a episode that deals with the son of a old WWII buddy of Mick's. Here I present one negative aspect of the show: the flashbacks. Ugh, I hate them. Filmed all blurry and in slow motion where it just becomes a mess of Tony Scott-DOMINO proportions, I really, really wished they just kept it at really film speed without any sort of color filters or anything to differentiate it.

The series finale, "Sonata", is a pretty damn good conclusion to a pretty damn good series. It resolves enough storyline to make a viewer satisfied, and leaves enough leeway for things to continue in some form or another if the show was picked up for a second season. I don't know if they were aware of this being the final episode, and that's why they left the Beth/Mick relationship where it was, but it surprised me and made me plenty happy. Also for fans of the canceled VERONICA MARS show, there's a humorous reference to it in this finale. Josef is donating a good chunk of money to a Hearst College foundation, which is where his character Logan attended college at in the show. Well, at least I thought it was funny.

To my disappointment, the DVD set boasts no bonus features to speak of. I would rather have loved a commentary, at least on the pilot. Is that too much to ask, especially in this day 'n age of DVD technology? C'mon, studio! You got a small but devoted fanbase to appease!

Look, I dug the series in case you didn't notice. Doesn't mean everyone will, so I do recommend a library rental or Netflix a disc to get a taste of it. I personally enjoyed the humor and the darkness of the show, the great performances from O'Laughlin, Myles and Dohring, and the interesting vampire mythology. For a vampire show in the legion of vampire shows on air right now, I'd say this would be my favorite. TRUE BLOOD is a'right, and VAMPIRE DIARIES is truly laughable. At the very least, guys can salivate at the hotness of Ms. Myles and girls can faint at the sight of O'Laughlin's six-pack. Win-win situation, really.


Silverchex said...

Love your review of Moonlight! I've been a fan since it aired on CBS in 2007/2008. Sad situation it was. It was supposed to be renewed. Went through the writer's strike. Won the People's Choice Award for 'Best New Drama' and a Saturn Award for Best DVD. Sadly there was alot of behind the scenes drama that got it canceled. We had to fight to get the DVD from Warner Bros. They finally responded and we got it but no added features. Glad you liked it. It was great. Oh there are a couple of things you might want to edit. I am going to tweet it and put it up at my Moonlight page at FB. I know all my Moonlight friends will love reading it ;-)

Ok for the edits: 'Fever' is the 4th eppy not the 3rd. Episode 7 is 'The Ringer' not 'BC' and the death row inmate episode is called 12:04am (which will be on the CW this Thursday) not 'Sleeping Beauty'. SB was about Josef's love who is sleeping in the bed... Thought you might like to know so you don't get blasted :-) Thanks for the great review!

Andy the Time Lord said...

Thanks! Made the corrections.

I made a quick glance at the Wikipedia list of episodes, so I guess I didn't pay too close attention. Bad me.

And until you said something I completely forgot the episodes are being re-aired on The W. Thanks for that, too!