Moonlight: “No Such Thing as Vampires” – TV Review

Alex O'Loughlin as Mick St. John, vampire private eye.The debut of MOONLIGHT – a formulaic conflation of vampire and film noir motifs – is prosaic and static, never building any suspense and only slowly developing the action. The lead character is too busy striking a series of poses for the camera, which glides gracefully -and slowly – around him, in order to provide enough time for the narration to spell out details we would rather see dramatized. The result resembles less an episode of a TV show than an episode-length promo for a TV show – that, or a men’s cologne commercial. The hour running time (minus commercials) is front-loaded with exposition, but none of it is new or exciting; it simply bogs down the plot development, which takes a back seat to laying the ground work for the series to follow. The most perplexing mystery is the one regarding why the producers felt the need to famliarize their audience with an already overly familiar concept.

Stop me if you have heard this one: The lead character is a vampire, but he uses his supernatural powers for good. He’s a private investigator in Los Angeles, and he is not troubled by crucifixes, holy water, or even wooden stakes (although he does admit that fire and decapitation could be hazardous to his undead lifespan). Really, he’s just a guy trying to do the best he can while living on a very special diet (obtained from his “dealer,” a morgue attendant), while others of his kind chide him for resisting the blood-thirst, insisting he will eventually give up the bottled beverage and give in to the desire to bite into a nice juicy throat. Oh, and get this: the vampires talk about blood the way connoisseurs discus vintage wines.

The set-up borrows freely from shows like ANGEL and FOREVER KNIGHT (if you really want to stretch a point, the good-guy reluctant vampire thing goes back at least to the soap opera DARK SHADOWS). Non-traditional vampires have, ironically, become the new tradition, ad moribund and cliched as their old-fashioned counterparts, but as familiar as the material is, the producers seem to labor under the delusion that they are offering up something so new and radical that it must be explained – and explained again – to the audience, so that their poor, tiny minds can grasp the grand complexity of what they are seeing.

The very first scene of the very first episode consists of Mick St. John (Alex O’Loughlin) imagining himself giving an interview in which he lays out the rules of vampirism. This daydream is immediately followed by voiceover in which he explains even more, and the voiceover explanations continue throughout – apparently on the theory that no private eye show should be without its world-weary, hard-boiled narration. Unfortunately, the writing falls far short of the standard established by Raymond Chandler; instead of the poetry of back alleys, dames, and gumshoes, you get a dull running commentary telling you what you would probably figure out yourself if the guy would just shut up long enough to let you think for a moment.

The story has Mick meet up with Beth (Sophia Myles), a reporter for an online news site who thinks she is doing hard news when her outlet is really interested in sensationalism. When she picks up the case of a woman apparently murdered by a vampire, Mick reveals himself to her, and in surprisingly short time this supposed ace reporter is sharing information and treating Mick like a partner, totally unconcerned that her exclusive might be scooped if Mick talks to someone else.

Mick of course is interested in the case for his own reason: he and his kind want to keep vampirism a secret, and a high-profile case will draw unwanted attention if not solved soon. Mick realizes that the murderer is not a vampire but an imposter, and suspicion shifts on an anthropology  professor teaching a course in the occult, who has been using a vampirism shtick to seduce female pupils.  Along the way, we learn in flashback that Mick has known Beth since she was a child – when he rescued her from the clutches of his undead wife Coraline (Shannyn Sossamon).

The mystery about the murders never kicks into high-gear, even when Beth goes undercover, posing as a new student in order to dig up dirt on the professor. There is an obligatory last-minute twist regarding the murderer’s identity, but we hardly care, as the story is a mere excuse to introduce us to Mick and Beth, neither of whom does much to draw us into their world. Beth is too immediately trusting of Mick (even if we take into account that she sort, kinda recognizes the man who saved her all those years ago). Mick is just good-looking guy with a permanent five-o’clock shadow: typical for tales of vampirism, there is little attempt to create a character who is believably immortal, with all that implies. His dialogue and mannerism do not reflect a mentality that has left the human world behind, no longer concerned with death and disease and the passage of time.

The same could be said for Mick’s vampire friends, who come across as people with a peculiar craving and a penchant for cracking predictable vampire jokes (no one has said, “It’s your funeral yet,” but we’re sure it won’t be long).

Shannyn Sossamon as Carline, who turned Mick into a vampire.

Judging from the previews, future episodes will focus on the relationship between Mick and Beth (which, in an odd way, recalls the one between Woody Allen and Soon-yi Previn), with Mick looking out for her while trying to hide the truth about himself. The potential here seems severely limited. Reducing the mythic elements of vampirism down to the level of a vaguely troublesome addiction leaves little of interest; it’s just another excuse to feature a hero with super powers.  We can only hope that the series at least puts its murky film noir ambitions on hold long enough to rev up the action and excitement. As it stand now, the debut episode invites all the obvious jokes: it’s like a walking anemic corpse that needs an infusion of fresh blood to give it some life.

About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

One Response to “ Moonlight: “No Such Thing as Vampires” – TV Review ”

  1. [...] Science Fiction and Fantsy News points us to a fan campaign designed to keep the television series MOONLIGHT on for a second season. Christine Contilli is calling for fans across the nation to organize blood [...]

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