Interview with a Vampire, Blade, Underworld, Angel, Buffy … vampires are a popular subject and CBS is trying to bring a new take on that subject into our living rooms with the premiere of Moonlight. Which could have just as easily been called Sunlight, since our heroic bloodsucker can tolerate all kinds of light without even breaking a sweat (though he does get a tummy ache apparently). Do vampires sweat? Either way.
Mick St. John is our leading phlebotomy enthusiast and according to him, "being a vampire sucks," as he tells an unseen interviewer. Where, oh where is Christian Slater? This interview interlude is but a dream, however and I wonder how often this show will nod to its many predecessors over the next hour. The interview sequence provides us with loads of exposition though and in under 2 minutes we learn Mr. Mick never bites people, getting his blood fix from a "dealer" instead. He also sleeps in a freezer – not a coffin, enjoys garlic on his pizza, holy water gets him wet (uhhhm.), he likes crucifixes as much as the next guy, sunlight makes him feel sick and he can’t turn into a bat. But he wishes he could. Additionally, Buffy is out of luck, because stakes don’t work in this world. But flame throwers do, as does decapitation. If you can figure out how to manage that one, I suppose.
Mick also lets us know that he doesn’t hunt women, children or innocents, which seems both obvious and sexist. For one, if you are the good guy, hunting innocents is usually frowned upon. Secondly, women are capable of just as many misdeeds as men. But I guess in this world, having breasts is a get out of vampire-hunt free card. Climbing out of his freezer, Mick hunkers down and injects himself with cold blood, making his teeth and creepy eyes go back to normal human looking features. Someone needs to invent an equivalent that makes the pallid skin and dark under eye circles go away after too many glasses of wine the night before. Just saying.
As one would expect, there’s been a murder. Beth Turner is at the scene taping a news clip, as she is a self described "news whore",who works for a rag specializing in sleaze. All of this is equally apparent by Beth trying to angle for a "money shot" of the body. She kicks off her heels, rolls up her pants, and casually strolls across the shallow fountain the body lies in and starts taking pictures with her iPhone. A detective tells her to knock it off and the investigative team finally notices her, which speaks volumes on their ability and makes me hope that this is not the type of show that glosses over ridiculous scenarios in order to achieve a dramatic sequence. Or product placement. Popcorn logic is one this, thinking a reporter can waltz into the middle of a crime scene without notice is another. Further, would even a sleazy rag of a paper publish murder scene photos?
Beth is fed info on the victim by the detective however, wanders away and nearly bumps into Mick. She tosses an idea for her headline out at him, calling it a vampire killing and Mick tells her "vampires don’t exist" before vanishing in the most unsubtle way imaginable while her back is turned. The phrase is one we will hear leave his lips a few more times in the course of the episode. But despite the repeated words we see several instances in which people readily believe that they do exist. Beth’s editor wants to get quotes from scientists and ask "do they live among us" type questions, we see experts on televisions talking about how it is possible for there to be people with a genetic predisposition to digest blood (which…what? Digestion isn’t a function of genetics), and the victim herself was in a social anthropology course about ancient mythologies specializing in vampire study. The class may seem far fetched to some, but I took a college course on the anthropology of science fiction, so I have no trouble buying this. We read Asimov and watched Star Wars, using The Hero with a Thousand Faces as a course guide and it was awesome.
Less awesome is the reporter and her camera man hanging out in a parking lot for hours to identify the victims car, picking it out based on the student parking decal and then apparently getting all the victim’s personal info during a commercial break. Has it been that long since the writers dealt with the bass ackwards, disorganized bureaucracy that exists on the typical campus? For all they get wrong though, they get a lot right. The gloomy goth students in the class seem believable and the professor is appropriately creepy. They also take pains to make him suspicious seeming, which of course means he is completely innocent. Hey, I have seen M. Night Shyamalan movies. I know of which I speak.
Not given enough to do is Mick’s friend Josef Konstantin, a nondescript businessman and 400 year old vampire who is anxious about the word "vampire" being bandied about in the press ("What is this? The 1720s?"). When Mick tries to blow it off, Josef tells him that since he’s only 90, he’s never known what it is like to be chased by a torch wielding mob. He’s snide and sarcastic, offering Mick the wrist of a young women telling him "She’s delicious, 1982 is a good year," which also makes me feel old. He’s not the only one comparing our blood to alcohol, either. Mick’s "dealer" is Guillermo, a vampire who works in the morgue and supplies him with "forties" and "six-packs" of blood, and chastises him for liking A-positive since O-positive has a better finish. He also gives Mick the hard facts of the case, telling him the victim was stabbed in the throat and bled out naturally, thus not the work of one of their kind. We see nothing else of him in the episode and Josef only shows up once more, in a scene that lacks much point, to bully Mick into making the case go away by simply killing everyone involved. Yeah, that will solve everything. But, I get it- he’s the mean vampire. I will further guess that should this show last, we will witness a sudden but inevitable betrayal by him, only to find him redeemed the next season when facts are revealed that prove his actions had their own hidden merit.
Am I too cynical for television?
There are a handful of sepia flashback sequences, showing Mick taking a case to find a missing little girl 20-some years ago, which are jarring and pull my interest out the episode. There is also a weak subplot about the victim’s former best friend possibly being the killer until she ends up murdered herself, but since the character is not developed at all and the subplot never delved into deeply, I didn’t much care. The creepy professor is written with just enough ancient this and Egyptian that, but someone should have taken care to not have the "Made in China" brand showing in a close up shot of their 500 year old ceremonial dagger. Which is to say that when Moonlight falls on it’s face, it does so in impressively embarrassing ways. Despite this, there are moments where the show is more than watchable, it’s just that most of that comes at the very end.
The camera work and lighting do well to create a gritty and dramatic mood, the vampire make-up is effective — if almost too attractive — and the stunts are solid. In fact, the final action sequence of the show is very well shot, choreographed and performed. Alex O’Loughlin as Mick brings enough physicality to the role to make it believable. The sequence starts with him confronting the professor, who he believes is planning to hurt Beth. When he confronts the academic who teaches that vampires are people who feed off the energy of others and shows him what a real vampire is, he creates just enough menace to make me believe that someone in the scene may need to change their pants. The climax of the car chase is spectacular, featuring Mick attacking through the window as it speeds down the road and hanging on through spins and impacts before eventually tossing the driver – who is the killer and an over zealous male student in the professor’s class – into a light pole.
Mick plucking Beth from the wrecked car and walking away would have made a great ending, in fact. But they pack more exposition into the hour by revealing that the little girl in the flashbacks is Beth and that he saved her from his vampire ex-wife who was hoping that a baby would solve their marriage woes. When she awakes, recognizes him and gives him a hug, it holds practically no emotional impact. I don’t know these characters well enough to care about the importance of the moment. I am sure that if the flashbacks were the hazy memories of Beth given in tiny snippets over several episodes and they revealed Mick’s part in her rescue at a later date, it could have carried a strong audience reaction. Instead, we get it all tossed out from moment one, along with the grand finale of him setting his ex on fire. Which will make her eventual return all that much more bewildering (no one doubts that she will show up at some point eventually, right?).
In the end, I am left with mixed feelings. I want to like this show. The actors are turning in solid performances, using good sets, locations, lighting and camera work. They aren’t going for much comedy and there seem to be no other paranormal creatures lurking about, so they aren’t going the Angel route. But the story reached it’s denouement in a manner that I can only describe as inelegant, with clunky dialog and a complete lack of guile. I hope that now that they’ve given us more background info than we needed, next week will concentrate on the single story an episode needs to tell. Otherwise, I am likely to start to agree with Mick St. John. This sucks.