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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

previewing CBS’s ‘Moonlight’

There’s a lot of genre stuff on TV this fall, and what would genre TV be without a gloomy, angst-ridden vampire private detective? We don’t have to ponder that this season, because there’s Moonlight, debuting tomorrow night on CBS at 9pm Eastern.

It woulda been pretty darn funny if this was like Moonlighting with bloodsuckers — you know, all witty banter between its rascally, smirking hero and its snarky, screwball heroine except that their five o’clock cocktails are always Bloody Marys. But if the pilot, “No Such Thing as Vampires,” which I’ve just watched, is anything like what the rest of the series will be, well, I’m sorry to report that there’s nothing much fresh here. This is very much in the — heh — vein of Angel and Forever Knight, which makes it yet another revisionist vampire tale in a subgenre so picked over that it feels like there’s nothing left to revise.
As Mick St. John blithely informs us as the pilot opens, garlic is good on pizza. Crucifixes? Eh. All that vampire stuff you think you know — coffins for beds, sunlight kills, and so on — is so much bunk. Blood still tastes yummy, but Mick is a good vampire: he mostly just shoots up A-positive, though he’ll make an exception for bad guys and go for the jugular. The brooding-vampiric habit of standing atop city buildings in the moonlight letting the de rigueur long black trenchcoat wave in the breeze? That’s one cliché Mick happily indulges in. Ditto the whole haunted-by-his-long-past thing.

The modern vampire as crimefighter — as the really dark dark knight — is the revisionist addition to the vampire subgenre’s clichés, and as we meet Mick, he’s investigating the murder of a college student that looks phonied up to suggest that it was the doing of a vampire, something that threatens the secret culture of the real creatures of the night (even thought they also walk around perfectly comfortably during the day). And the city’s — Los Angeles’s — fear is being flamed by the reporting of Beth Turner, hotshot newshound for the Web site Buzzwire (which doesn’t exist; it’s poor planning on CBS’s part not to have secured buzzwire.com, and hints that the network doesn’t think the series will last), and now Mick has to stalk her just a bit, because she’s gorgeous, of course, but also because she keeps insisting she knows him from somewhere, and naturally she does (though she doesn’t realize it… yet), and unsurprisingly he falls instantly in love with her.

This is only the pilot, of course, and there may still be some intriguing drama to be found in this setup — the fact that the show comes from Ron Koslow, veteran of the 80s urban fantasy Beauty and the Beast, gives me a little bit of hope that there are as yet unseen depths to be plumbed here. Certainly, stars Alex O’Loughlin as Mick and Sophia Myles (Doctor Who’s “The Girl in the Fireplace,” Tristan & Isolde) as Beth are deeply charming, but they don’t have much chemistry together. And unless there’s a lot more that’s murky and soulful about L.A. than we’ve ever seen before, it’s hard to see where enough edge will be found to sustain even a single season of Moonlight.

(Just an aside, like all the Brits pretending to be American all over NBC’s Wednesday lineup, here we’ve got O’Loughlin, an Aussie faking an American accent, and Myles, who is British, doing the same. Are there no decent U.S.-ian actors around anymore? Or are all aspiring American “actors” trying out for reality shows?)

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  • The modern vampire as crimefighter — as the really dark dark knight — is the revisionist addition to the vampire subgenre’s clichés

    And despite my love of Angel, it’s not a cliche I particularly care for. One thing I appreciated about the character of Angel is that he was the exception–99% of the vampires in both Buffy and Angel are actually BAD GUYS.

    Because of this, I find myself, against my will, looking forward to a Josh Hartnett movie, because judging by the trailers, it looks like the movie 30 Days of Night has decided to feature vampires that are evil and like to eat people, which is what made them, you know, scary in the first place.

  • JSW

    I did a WHOIS lookup on buzzwire.com and it looks like it’s been registered since 1999, so you can’t really fault CBS for not scooping it up. Still, you’ve got to wonder why they didn’t change the name of the website to something that was still available.

  • Still, you’ve got to wonder why they didn’t change the name of the website to something that was still available.

    You mean like “allthegoodnamesaretaken.com”? ;-)

  • JSW

    That one was registered in 2002.

  • Ide Cyan

    Have you given a look to _Blood Ties_, the *other* supernatural drama with vampires that is currently on the air? (Lifetime should resume its run of _Blood Ties_ with the second half of the first season soon; the first half, which aired in the USA earlier this year, is currently playing in Canada.)

    It’s a series based on the Blood books by Tanya Huff (which actually predate Forever Knight!), and the vampire, in this series, is *not* the P.I., and he’s not particularly brooding. He’s *one* of the female P.I.’s love interests, and he teams up with her to defeat monsters when he’s not too busy drawing comic books. (In Huff’s original novels, he was a romance writer.)

    The show’s a little cheesy, and probably has only a tiny fragment of _Moonlight_’s budget (…it’s made in Canada), but it’s made by people who really know the genre, and the characters have real chemistry.

    And Vicki Nelson, the lead (played by Christina Cox), doesn’t let Henry (the vampire) get away with any bullshit around her on account of his being a Prince of Darkness.

  • Jurgan

    I remember the good meta-joke in Buffy where Angel was pretending to be a bad guy with Spike, telling him about how he’d completely fooled Buffy into thinking he was a good, tortured vampire.

    Spike: People are still buying that Anne Rice crap?

    Yeah, I like that vampires are the villains, and while Angel was a cliche, he was practically unique in the Buffyverse. All the others were unambiguously evil demons.

  • MaryAnn

    why they didn’t change the name of the website to something that was still available.

    Exactly.

  • Geneve

    hi, I love Moonlight serie, I hope that I can see a lot of charpters. I like so much as well the music of this serie, any can help me where can I find the music of this serie?
    thanks in advance.
    Geneve

  • MaryAnn

    Try Google.

  • Patrick

    “Moonlight” sounds like “Angel” without the substance, wit, or laser-accurate insight into the human condition. You’ve *got* to see “Angel” Season 5–if not to review, then simply to enjoy. It’s television at its finest regardless of genre.

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