To Be (Dis)Continued – Moonlight by Becky Lea

by Becky Lea  

A victim of the 2007-2008 Writer’s Strike, Moonlight was cancelled just four episodes after the enforced hiatus, giving it sixteen episodes in total. Audience figures had been decent enough, but it wasn’t so popular with the critics. It follows the exploits of private detective Mick St John (Alex O’Loughlin, now an action hero in Hawaii Five-0) and his relationship with journalist Beth Turner (the ever amazing Sophia Myles). The twist is that Mick is a vampire and uses his heightened sense to protect his secret as well as helping people via his detecting business. He also wants to stay as human as possible and longs for a way out of the vampire lifestyle.

So far, so Angel. It’s not the only connection to Joss Whedon’s Tall, Dark and Forehead either. Moonlight shares some of the writing staff such as David Greenwalt (initially onboard to produce but stepped down due to health reasons) and a fair few of the same references, jokes and thematic developments. For starters, Mick falls in love with Beth, who is a blonde human he lets into his world (not a Slayer, granted). His quest for some sort of human redemption through helping the people of Los Angeles (Connection #4).

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Not only that, but he also drives a classic convertible car, wears a long black coat and does that thing where he disappears when people are speaking to him (check one off for Batman too). Finally, Mick goes through an episode as a human after finding a cure for vampirism only to realise that he cannot do his job without his powers as he is too weak. The episode isn’t bad, but I Will Remember You is one of Angel’s best and most heartbreaking. You just can’t compete with it.

The noirish elements also play into the Angel connection, but instead of exploring that darkness a little more fully, Moonlight opts for a considerably more soapy and romantic approach. This is the kind of programme that ends each episode with an emotional scene, scored by a cute indie pop song which happens to have lyrics describing the exact events of the scene. So a bit like The OC, but with fangs.

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The central conflict of the series revolves around Mick and Beth’s relationship, notably on whether he will give in to himself and actually allow himself to date her. There’s also the undercurrent that he might turn her into a vampire, something which I imagine would have been explored further had the series continued. And suddenly Twilight enters the mix. In fact, the show was originally called Twilight, but Stephanie Meyer’s novel had been released two years previously and was already hitting phenomenon status.

And therein lies Moonlight’s problem; it’s too much the sum of its influences without being able to carve out its own identity. Vampires were, and still are, ubiquitous post-Buffy and any new vampire story has to be able to add something new, be it sparkly skin or vampires existing alongside humans in Louisiana. Not that Moonlight doesn’t try of course. The pilot opens with a great sequence that immediately sets out the rules of this vampiric iteration (silver is poison, stakes paralyse but don’t kill) swiftly through an imagined interview with its protagonist. However, there’s just too many nods and references to other, more unique things. Twilight may not have been better, but it’s certainly an individual take.

Moonlight does have a big saving grace in its cast, however. Alex O’Loughlin proves himself to be leading man material with Mick, crafting a character tormented with self-loathing, but with enough goofy humour to balance it out. He’s charismatic and likeable and it’s not easy to see why he has been successful with another show. He also has a great chemistry with Sophia Myles without which the entire show would fall apart. As their relationship develops, the pair invest enough emotionally in it to make the inevitable ‘will they, won’t they’ work. In fact, their relationship is pretty much the only hook to keep you going through the show.

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Myles also takes what could have turned into an adoring heroine gazing at her man into someone far more interesting; Beth is resourceful, witty and despite an inner strength, still suffers from the trauma of being kidnapped when she was younger. Alas, this is also where a pretty creepy element to her relationship with Mick creeps in and it’s one that they never quite escape from. She is kidnapped by Mick’s vampire ex-wife, Coraline (Shannyn Sossamon) and subsequently rescued by Mick, who then follows her around as she grows up. Then falls in love with her. It’s a little icky.

Around this central relationship, icky or otherwise, there are several other characters who interact with our heroes on various levels. The most memorable is Jason Dohring as 400+ year old vampire, Josef, Mick’s best friend and extremely successful businessman, using his immortality to amass a great fortune. Josef’s the confident vampire in contrast to Mick’s vulnerable one and offers much insight into the history of their kind. Dohring’s performance is a lot of fun, swiftly stealing any scene he’s in and he’s capable of feeling both young and very old at the same time.

The other characters fare less well like Beth’s boyfriend Josh (fangs) who pretty much functions as a relationship block whilst also occasionally throwing a case Mick’s way. Coraline too promises much but delivers little; Sossamon plays her too straight as the devious femme fatale and her human guise as Morgan fares even worse. The lack of a good back-up cast, Dohring aside, really doesn’t help Moonlight at all because they can’t rise above the sense that you’ve seen this all done before, but better.

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The lack of originality may be the writing’s chief sin, but there are a lot of missteps on the way. Without an exposition-spouting character like a Giles or a Wesley, Moonlight often resorts to Mick’s voiceover to relay a lot of information swiftly. This is fine at first as you get used to this particular set of supernatural rules, but it soon becomes repetitive. I’d lost count of the amount of times Mick mentions he can do something special because he’s a vampire by the seventh episode.

It also attempts to adopt a Raymond Chandler-esque tone in places, presumably to keep up the noir angle, but it’s just not very good. The dialogue is often clunky and lapses into cliche far more often than it needs to. The slide into tortured romanticism towards the last few episodes just borders on silly. That being said, it’s still a better love story than Twilight.
If you’re in the mood to watch something a little romantic and you can tolerate the often hackneyed approach to the material, Moonlight is worth seeing. The central partnership save it. But otherwise, it’s likely not for you and if you’re an Angel fan, you’re probably just going to relish just how much better that series is.

To Be (Dis)Continued: Stephen King’s The Stand by Becky Lea

by Becky Lea @beckygracelea 

This is the first in an ongoing feature that will look at mini-series and series that were cancelled within their first season. They may be good, they may be bad, they may be Firefly, but any and all could get a look in (any recommendations welcome!). May I also extend a hearty thanks to@AndyLonsdale21 for the feature title and to all those who suggested alternatives. To kick us off, I check out Stephen King’s The Stand.


Adaptations of beloved works like The Stand are always a tricksy business because the personal experiences of reading novels is exactly that, very personal. For me, The Stand is a book that means a huge amount to me. It was the first Big Book I read back when I was thirteen, that curious age when Enid Blyton doesn’t quite cut it anymore and Tom Clancy’s just a bit too daunting. My mum was a huge Stephen King fan and we had a lot of his books visible on our bookcases, shiny letters and intimidating front covers that suggested scares straight away. When I was looking for something to get my teeth into, my mum handed me The Stand with the rather glowing recommendation that it was one of her favourite novels. I finished it within three weeks and have since read it a further four times.

As a result, I’ve been a little wary of the mini-series; to see a work that you love so much can be a thrilling experience if it largely, in your eyes, gets it right. It can also be very disappointing if it gets it wrong. I’d heard various things about the mini-series from all sorts of people, some who loved it, some who didn’t. There didn’t seem to be a pattern to this either with recommendations and condemnation coming from both book-readers and those who had just caught the live action version. And so, with a little trepidation and a fair bit of excitement, I sat down to take in the adaptation.

When considering the mini-series, it feels near impossible to discuss it without reference to the book so I’ll be making reference to the book whilst also trying to consider the adaptation in its own right. I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum because if you haven’t it yet, there’s no way I will spoil that experience for you.

For those not in the know, The Stand tells the story of a viral outbreak known as Captain Trips, bred in a military research centre and unwittingly unleashed on the world. It kills the majority of the population swiftly with flu-like systems whilst leaving a select few unharmed. These people start having dreams; some of a mysterious dark man, Randall Flagg, who is calling people into Las Vegas, the other of a kindly old woman known as Mother Abigail who leads everyone to Boulder. Breaking down into a battle between good and evil before long, it is left up to the survivors to decide which road to take.

Considering how long the book is, King is to be commended for managing to condense his work down into a mini-series of just six episodes, when it could have easily been something much longer (the new adaptation is rumoured to be a three hour film – oh how I would love for someone like HBO to produce a ten episode season as originally planned). It also rattles along at a fair pace, building itself around the four main events of the narrative; the outbreak, the journey, setting up in Boulder and the explosive events of the climax. However, that produces something which is the very definition of a mixed bag, an uneven story that never captures the giddy heights of the novel.

Much of that can be attributed to the confines of the mini-series’ runtime. Because there is a lot of ground to cover, the outbreak of the plague rushes past without building the sense of foreboding that would elevate the rest of the narrative. Shortcuts are taken and whilst some scenes manage to capture that panicky, chaotic edge (Stu’s time in the research centre), others don’t quite manage it. Nick’s storyline in particular suffers from this as his disabilities (he is unable to hear or speak) prevent us from getting to know him through the dialogue, but the shortcuts taken through his story ensure we don’t understand him quite as much as we perhaps should moving forward.

As with the narrative, the characters and performances also vary wildly from actor to actor. The longer book allows for us to get to know these characters on a greater level; we understand their flaws and their strengths and they feel all the more familiar as a result. The series never takes the easy route either. Some characters may feel a little thinly drawn, but they’re certainly not archetypes. Aside from Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg at the opposite ends of the light-dark spectrum, each character adopts a fairly grey moral position, often being called upon to make questionable decisions from either side of the good vs. evil fence.

Thanks to a great performance from Gary Sinise, Stu Redman, the story’s ostensible hero, is brilliantly realised, a wry Texan who goes from a quiet, unassuming sort of fellow to one of the key leaders in the Boulder Free Zone. His relationship with Frannie doesn’t feel quite so organic though, but that seems more to do with the reduced timeline and the changes that take place with her character from page to screen. It also doesn’t help that Molly Ringwald is one of the cast’s weaker links. Likewise, Adam Storke’s Larry, who undergoes something of a redemptive arc over the course of the novel, is given little to do here and almost seems superfluous to the ongoing narrative. And the less said about the rubbery faced and be-mulleted Randall Flagg, the better.

This haphazard nature isn’t just applied to the performances either; there is a weird mixture of attention when it comes to details. There are little touches that are pretty neat, like the crows that follow the characters around, different forms of Flagg himself. And then there are other moments that don’t quite match up. Understandably, given that television programmes couldn’t quite get away with what they can now, but there simply aren’t enough corpses lying around from nearly the entire world dying.

The men travel for weeks but are completely clean-shaven apart from the final pilgrimage. Molly Ringwald manages to maintain a perfect bob for months whilst travelling. They may seem silly things to pick up on, but it’s crucial to the post-apocalyptic horror of the story. Would The Walking Dead have the same impact if it didn’t look like the cast had been through the wringer? The Stand’s characters should look dishevelled after months on the road, not as if they wandered out of an outdoor activities catalogue with a bit of designer stubble.

However, when it’s good, it’s very good. It masterfully weaves in some of the smaller narrative details from the book that I feared would be lost such as the military reaction to the chaos. They attempt to shut down the press, but use increasingly heavy-handed methods to do so. In one standout scene, taken directly from the book but here weaved into Fran’s story as she listens to the radio, is a chat show. Played by a superb Kathy Bates, host Ray Flowers decides to take questions from the audience and talk openly and honestly about the plague. She’s gunned down live on air. It’s one of the most viscerally horrific moments that the series produces, precisely because it conveys that fear of a society at the brink of complete collapse.

The dream sequences, so key to the plot, are also particularly well done, given the kind of mystical edge that relishes in the absurdity of this aspect of the story. The Mother Abigail sequences are especially good, the red and purple colour scheme at once both threatening and welcoming. It’s a classic American homespun image of the farm and the nice old lady in a rocking chair on the porch is all kinds of friendly. But beyond the corn, the dark man lurks. In those brief sequences, The Stand manages to capture the real horror of the narrative, the safety of the home threatened by the darkness from outside.

The final battle between good and evil is, like the book, one of faith, those who have it and those who don’t, rather than one featuring all kinds of fighting. The effects used to show this might be a little cheesy (one character returning in blazing light and smoke for example) but it never loses sight of the human story at the centre. It’s one of survival and finding the will to live amidst a whole lot of death. And in that respect, the mini-series succeeds admirably. There’s a triumphant, hopeful note to end on (despite a slightly incongruous appearance of a floating head), one that simply says life must go on instead of anything too grandiose.

Like everyone who offered me their opinions on The Stand before I settled down to watch it, my own reactions to the mini-series are wildly varied. There’s a huge range of quality between the positives and the negatives, but fortunately they make up for an enjoyable whole. The book may remain the real masterpiece, but this mini-series has a decent stab at recreating it.