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).
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.
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.
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.
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.