Moonlight 1:01 review

A vampire detective who helps the helpless, instead of biting them. Wait, haven't we heard that one somewhere before? Curtis certainly has....

A helicopter-mounted camera scans down at amber-hued but brightly-lit, nocturnal  LA skyline. The traffic leaves red light trails through the streets and freeways as it accelerates across the city. Cut to a dark scene where a vampire investigator is brooding over the body of a young female victim; he feels for her. He’s not like other vampires… Sound familiar? Yeah, thought so.

Y’see, Moonlight’s quite good; it certainly has more than a little potential to be an engaging series. Its central stars; the Holly-rugged, yet vulnerable (of course) Alex O’Loughlin and the (frankly) scrum-diddly-umptious (of course) Sophia Myles (last seen as Doctor Who’s Girl In The Fireplace and gracing the arm of David Tennant in the so-called ‘real world’) bring sufficient depth to their roles and a good – necessarily awkward – chemistry.

The pilot’s storyline – real vampire tracks down killer pretending to be a vampire – has plenty of nice flourishes, save for an obvious final twist; with enough  to keeps things chugging along at a nice pace, even against a tide of explanatory guff. Moonlight looks good, has impeccable pedigree behind the camera and a promising cast of peripheral characters that could take the bigger story arcs to some interesting places.

I have a problem though. It’s a one-word problem. It’s a one-word problem in the form of a title. It’s a one-word problem I’ve already hinted at…

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That word is ‘Angel’.

As in, ‘hang on, doesn’t this show actually already exist?’

As in, ‘does no one else see that?’

But aaaahh, no. No, y’see… It’s not the same. ‘Cause this guy’s not cursed! No, he chooses to be a good guy; ‘other vampires don’t have boundaries and rules, I do’ he tells us in the opening dream sequence/plot exposition device. Thanks Mick. Cheers. Jesus, I had to invest 50-odd hours of my life watching Buffy to find out why Angel cared, but you… You got it out the way in three seconds! Now that’s how you exposite! ‘Look, I just do… OK? Oooh look, blood…’

What he also tells us early on is that Hammer Films, Universal Pictures, Joss Whedon and Keanu Reeves all lied to us too. In the world of Moonlight, vampires can only be killed by fire and beheading. Holy water gets them wet and steaks are for eating – whilst crosses are only good for Christians and spot the ball competitions. Say it ain’t so Mr. St. John, say it ain’t so…

Mick St. John (our vampire star) never drinks blood, instead he buys it from a contact he has at the morgue and injects it – y’know, like drugs… Geddit? That’s metaphor that is. This, allows for intermittent moody/tortured-with-guilt shooting-up scenes – replete with a natty eyeball special effect. Also, we discover (through one of St. John’s annoying voice over interjections) that his heightened vamp-senses allow him to ‘smell the past’ (!?! – cue joke about last nights burrito), glimpse the future, and eavesdrop on conversations, but apparently only when it helps the plot along – handy. And finally, he sleeps in a freezer; this is (as yet) unexplained but seems to be so the director can get him to climb out of it in his jammies and walk through dry ice half-naked – like an eighties soft-rock video. This may or may not be sexy; if anyone more qualified to say would like to comment, I’d appreciate it.

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The best and worse thing about Moonlight is that it doesn’t even try not to look like Angel. Mick stands on a rooftoop in a long coat, battling with existential issues (via another annoying voice over), it’s even nicked the scanning across LA transition shots – the description from the intro actually happens in the pilot. Also, he denies himself contact and relationships and flashes back to times past (no obvious bad Oirish accent as yet though). It uses the LA geography and attitude in the same way, the pilot drags in the occult (there are apparently no demons in this ‘verse though) and at the core, we have a vampire with a conscience. As yet, souls have not come into it.

But let’s be honest, Angel is gone. Buffy is gone. No, they are, let them go… And as such, there’s a huge gap in my viewing schedule for some be-fanged fun. The first episode of Moonlight has hinted that it may just offer that; well the fangs anyway. It’s going to struggle to match Whedon-inspired fun and pitch-perfect dialogue of the Buffyverse (though Angel’s David Greenwalt was apparently involved in the pilot – he’s not overtly credited – unfortunately he’s not slated to be scripting any of the 24 eps this season). Plus, for a wider audience, it doesn’t bring all the Buffy baggage with it, and offers a distinctly more adult demeanour.

Who knows? This newbie may even establish itself as something refreshingly new and different over time. There’s real hope for that in the relationship between St. John and his apparently amoral vamp-friend Josef (played by former Veronica Mars star Jason Dohring) and their hinted-at hell-raising backstory (‘we went to the Superbowl in ’82 – lost a million on Cincinatti, right?’), as well as the tale of Mick’s transformation at the hands of his wife.

I’ll only know if this is the case when I can sit through 10 minutes of an episode without wishing Amy Acker would walk in…