TV on DVD Flashback: Moonlight

“Being a vampire sucks. It’s a bad joke, I know, but it’s the truth.” — Mick St. John in “No Such Thing as Vampires”

Vampire detectives aren’t exactly new. They’re so not new that The Middleman made a pop culture joke out of it when Wendy Watson stated, “I’ve laid eyes on at least three of the major Canadian syndicated vampire detective shows,” in “The Vampiric Puppet Lamentation.” We know she meant Forever Knight and Blood Ties and I’m thinking Kindred: The Embraced makes number three. Add in a good dose of Angel and there’s really nothing new to say about vampire do-gooders on TV is there?

Actually, there are two more words that must be said: Alex O’Loughlin.  This is Moonlight: The Complete Series.

Mick St. John (Alex O’Loughlin, Hawaii Five-O) is fairly young as vampires go. He was turned in 1952 while on his honeymoon with his new bride, Coraline (Shannyn Sossamon, Dirt, A Knight’s Tale). At first he went the usual vamp route, sucking, hiding, looking out for number one but with time comes change. Now Mick is the coolest cat in the concrete jungle and it’s not just because he sleeps in a fridge. He lives in an architectural marvel of an apartment, only drinks blood bank beverages and he looks out for the innocent in his job as a Private Investigator. He also drives a really cool vintage Mercedes convertible and provides his own film noir voice-overs.

When we meet Mick, he is investigating the vampire-like death of a co-ed. Along the way he runs into Beth Turner (Sophia Myles, Underworld), a reporter for a TMZ-styled website called Buzzwire. Turns out this isn’t their first meeting. When Beth was a child, she was kidnapped and Mick was the man who saved her.  He recognizes her but she doesn’t recognize him and it’s love at second sight. One problem, Beth is already involved with handsome assistant district attorney Josh Lindsey (Jordan Belfi, Entourage).  As the episodes tick down, Mick and Beth solve crimes together, Beth finds out Mick’s a vampire and then Mick’s former wife and sire, Coraline turns up human! The love triangle becomes a square. There are secrets, lies, doppelgangers and a playboy vampire pal named Josef Kostan (Jason Dohring, Veronica Mars).  There’s some blood and some frights, but mostly Moonlight is a paranormal romance with a mild detective twist and here’s how it all goes down:

Disc One:

“No Such Thing As Vampires” — Mick investigates a string of vampire-like murders that are tied to a cult and a college professor.

“Out Of The Past ” — A convicted murderer is getting released from prison and he threatens to reveal Mick’s secret.

“Dr. Feelgood” — A freshly sired vampire creates trouble for Mick and Beth.

“Fever” — One of the best episodes of the series, Mick is caught out in the desert leaving Beth racing for a way to save his life as Mick is slowly tortured by the blazing sun.

Disc Two:
“Arrested Development” –Another interesting episode, this one about an aging vampire stuck in the body of a teenage boy.

“B.C.” — Josef’s vampire girlfriend may be involved in the manufacture of a new party drug that is claiming lives.

“The Ringer” — Beth asks Mick to help out her friend Morgan who happens to be a “dead” ringer for Mick’s vampire ex Coraline.

12:04AM” — This creepy story has an executed serial killer coming back after the only survivor of a Manson-like massacre . 

Disc Three:
“Fleur de Lis” — Mick and Morgan work together to track a cheating spouse while Beth does her homework and finds out that Morgan isn’t all she pretends to be.

“Sleeping Beauty” — Someone tries to kill Josef and that leads Mick and Beth dig up the past to protect the vampire’s future.

“Love Lasts Forever” — In this pivotal episode, Beth’s DA boyfriend Josh asks Mick to help protect Beth as he goes after a dangerous gang in court. In the end, it’s Josh who is taken hostage and it’s up to Mick to save his life. My favorite episode of the bunch, loaded with action and an ending I didn’t see coming.

“The Mortal Cure” — Coraline has discovered the secret to becoming human again and now Mick wants to give it a try.

Disc Four
“Fated To Pretend” — Beth’s boss at BuzzWire is killed and Josef may be involved.

“Click” — Mick does a bad job when he’s hired to protect a starlet who still ends up dead.

“What’s Left Behind” — Mick’s past is revealed in flashbacks as he tries to find the kidnapped grandson of a man he knew in WWII.

“Sonata” — A basketball star is murdered and believe it or not, that leads to a story about what can happen when a vampire and a human engage in a “passionate” relationship.

My Thoughts

In the Moonlight world, garlic gives vampires bad breath, a cross is just a piece of wood and daylight weakens them with prolonged exposure, but don’t expect them to go poof. They can fly if they’re in an airplane and forget the wooden stake – that only paralyzes if you want to kill them it’s fire or beheading.

We learn all of this in the opening few minutes of the pilot, which features Mick sitting a dark room, talking with an off-screen interviewer. No action sequence, no murder, no flash of vampire fangs — just Alex O’Loughlin charming the female audience with his secretive smile and fabulous hair. That moment hooked me (and a million other women) and it was the ultra-cool film noir styling that reeled me in.

I am a production junkie, so I really appreciate it when a series develops a signature style. For Moonlight this style is an interesting juxtaposition of modern neon colors and classic 40’s detective. Blurs of colors which sharpen into soaring shots of the city. Special effects to show Mick’s heightened senses and the way he can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Vampire “winks” such as Mick hanging upside bat-like looking at an upside down view of the city.

Beth’s world is neon but still she has a 40’s style about her — something in the hair and lipstick. Mick’s world is full of browns and golds and rich woods but he relies on 20th Century technology such as the Internet, cell phones and GPS. I like the mix and I really like the fact that Mick isn’t the traditional two hundred years plus vampire. He still remembers what it’s like to be human.

As far as plots go, I prefer the case oriented stories over the mythology of Mick, Beth and Coraline. I think I’m alone in that but my reasons will be clear when you read my rebuttal. I also feel like they missed the boat on the underlying story of Mick rescuing Beth from her kidnappers as a child. This is a point I actually wrote in a novel many, many years ago so I was excited to see it playing out here – sadly, and likely because of the show’s early demise, that plot point was never fully explored.

Unfortunately and ironically, time was not on Moonlight’s side. Thanks to the WGA writer’s strike, the show never really had a chance to find its footing. Some episodes leaned heavily on the romance. Other episodes went for the horror elements and try weaving in an intricate mythology in only sixteen hours.

At it’s best, Moonlight is a great vehicle for Alex O’Loughlin. He’s the kind of hero every woman wants to be rescued by. He’s witty, sharp, and wildly charismatic.  Though there is a certain amount of eye-candy in Sophia Myles and Shannyn Sossamon, it’s clear that this series was always aimed at a female audience.

On the Other Hand

My problems with Moonlight are three fold.

First, the cast. That is, anyone who isn’t Alex O’Loughlin. Beth, Josef and Coraline were all played by different actors in the first version of the pilot. The word is that Warner Brothers wants to go younger and seemingly less European, so they brought in those that you see now. I don’t like any of them. I love the characters, but I’m not fond of the actors playing them, particularly Jason Dohring as Josef. Now, I’m sure Jason is a fine actor, but I simply can’t buy him as a ruthless, money-hungry, age-old vampire playboy.

I know that fans thought there was great chemistry between Sophia Myles and Alex, but I never saw it. Beth, as she is played by Myles, is too whiny, too deer-in-headlights, and way too dumb for as smart as she’s supposed to be. Psycho serial killer is out to polish off his last victim, a young, helpless teenager and what does Beth do? She decides to pop down to her office for an hour or two leaving the girl to cower alone in mortal terror. Good call.

My second issue revolves around the title of this DVD. Moonlight: The Complete Series. Sixteen whole episodes in one slim box. That’s it. Not even a full season and that’s all she wrote. And don’t expect any closure, you won’t get any. The final episode, coincidentally, does fill some of the requirements of a fond farewell but they never filmed an actual finale and that, to use the vernacular, sucks.

Finally, I take issue with Warner Brothers shabby treatment of this cult hit. Flimsy plastic flipcase, flat, ugly menus and not a single special feature. It’s a crime and knowing how devoted the fan following was for this show, Warner Brothers really should be ashamed of themselves.

From day one, Moonlight was a cult hit. The kind of hit that has fans organizing blood drives and bombarding TV reporters with SOS emails long before the series was in danger of being canceled. Aussie O’Loughlin went from being an unknown here in the states to one of TVGuide’s sexiest TV stars in the space of a few months. Unfortunately, the series itself wasn’t as well put together as Mr. O’Loughlin.

Fans say it was CBS’s poor treatment of the series that got it canceled. The truth is, Moonlight was given a prime spot, right in between Ghost Whisperer and Numb3rs, two shows that consistently win the night in the ratings race. The problem was, though Moonlight’s audience was loud, it wasn’t very big. Apparently quite a few people were able to resist Alex O’Loughlin’s charm, or perhaps they simply didn’t find him charismatic enough to make a female-skewed genre show work on network TV.

If you’ve never seen the show and you’re a vampire fan, it’s worth picking up for a quick binge as it’s usually under $15 on Amazon.

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