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Introducing ... Moonlight

January 2008   |   Written by SciFi Now

Vampires. Creatures of the night. Amoral nightmares who live on the edge of society, feeding on the living. Not any more; there’s a new vamp in town in the shape of Mick St John, a 90-year-old PI who likes golf and Star Trek …

The vampire is a timeless and classic character. A staple of the horror genre that has migrated from classical literature through to popular culture for so long, it seems as if they have always been walking amongst us. Certainly no stranger to the big screen, portrayals of the bloodsuckers range from the vile and excessively violent fanged beasties of the recent 30 Days of Night to Christopher Lee’s Dracula in the Hammer horrors of the Sixties, but on the small screen it seems like the vampire has more of a singular purpose. A price detective-shaped purpose to be precise. Clothed in the almost obligatory leather jacket, the vampire as private investigator is quickly becoming its own fully-fledged sub-genre. Following in the illustrious path of Angel and Blood Ties, and the seminal Forever Knight, come Moonlight and it has quite a pedigree to live up to. It is a relief, then, to report that despite a fractious journey to the small screen, including rewrites and recasts galore, this vampire show most definitely does no suck and more than holds its own against such illustrious competition.

With the colossal power of uber-producer Joel Silver behind it, Moonlight is a show with quality flowing through its very veins, from the star-making performances and the inventive scripts to the cinematic style and Chandler-esque hard-boiled noir (voiceover included) it adopts throughout. Rather than merely picking up the baton from any one if its forebears though, the show is determined to mark out a niche all of its own, as Silver himself is keen to point out. “It’s not going to be a violent show at all,” he explains. “It’s light. It’s fun. It has some dark edge and there’s a lot of action in it but it’s not grotesque.” Reining in the current tendencies for serious genre drama with cultural resonance, whether this be Battlestar Galactica’s confrontational Middle East critique of Heroes’ post-9/11 allegories, Moonlight is a show that stands apart from both its current competitors and its vampire predecessors. It’s adult in tone, but not in a ‘we can all use four letter words’ Torchwood kind of way, but rather in the way in which it is presented. Thoughtful and composed, considered and charmingly unassuming, it is not out to shock, nor is it strung up around an attention grabbing conceit of dubious intentions. This seasons prized turkey, Flash Gordon, made a similar attempt at getting away from such self-consciously ‘worthy’ television and manipulative cliffhangers but where it failed (with non-existent characterisation and MIA storylines) Moonlight handsomely wins through. Stylish, intelligent, and simply gorgeous to look at, or, as Silver puts it: “It’s just a really warm, sweet vampire show.”

Moonlight tells the story of Mick St John (Alex O’laughlin), a 90-year-old vampire living in present day Los Angeles. Working as a private detective (did we mention this already?) he skulks his way through the city, keeping a low profile so as to ensure the existence of his neck-favouring brethren remain a secret, all with the assistance of oldest vampire in the city, and best pal Josef Konstantin (Jason Dohring). Regularly quaffing blood from the blood bank in order to quell the demonic urges, Mick is a vampire who has gone straight, turning his back on the evil bloodsucking ways thrust upon him when he was sired many years before. However, his little secret is uncovered by an ambitious young reporter, Beth (Sophia Myles), and it’s not long then before their lives begin to entwine as they chase their cases, and stories, around the city. “They are not going to be boyfriend and girlfriend straight away,” Sophia Myles reveal of the relationship that beats at the very heart of the show. “You are going to want to watch them fall in love with each other. It’s going to get messy and really complicated.” Being a relationship between a vampire and a lesser, mere mortal, we couldn’t imagine it any other way. Throw into this mix Mick’s ex – the devilishly devious Coraline (Shannyn Sossamon), who just happens to be the one who turned him into a vampire, on their wedding night no less – as well as Beth’s fiancee Josh (Jordan Belfi) and you’ve got yourself one hell of a complicated drama to contend with. When there’s no battling the undead that is.

For a show that is so seamlessly woven together, and which combines so many varied influences and style, it is somewhat of an understatement to say it has had a rocky ride to the screen. Writers Trevor Munson and Ron Koslow penned a script for the pilot in January and executive producer Silver and Gerard Bocaccio came on board, with Rod Holcomb directing the then 20-minute presentation. “CBS only wanted to do a small presentation,” Silver explains of the process that would see Moonlight radically change shape before arriving at its present day incarnation. “We went into it with our eyes wide open and we were kind of figuring out where we were going. The development doesn’t stop at the pilot!” It was to subsequently transpire that, as far as Moonlight was concerned, there would be no truer words than this. Named Twilight initially, the show begins as a very different beast, different in terms of its themes and styles, but more conspicuously, different in terms of its cast. In May, vampire expert and Angel co-creator David Greenwalt joined the show sparking a massive change. Shannon Lucio, Rade Serbedziji and Amber Valletta as Beth, Josef and Coraline respectively were out and Myles, Dohring and Sossamon were in. “It was strange,” Myles says of the quick casting turnaround that took place. “I didn’t realise that Hollywood worked that way, that sometimes it can be quite brutal.” O’Loughlin remained despite the wholesale reshuffles that were afoot, as CBS realised he was the star upon which their show was built, and he has since rewarded their belief with a charming central performance full of wit and alpha male virility. However, these changes had not long been made and the new pilot was just in the can when the ground underneath the show shook once more. Citing ‘personal’ and ‘health’ reasons, Greenwalt, show runner for little over two months, departed leaving Dark Angel producer Chip Johannessen to step in. The show continued though, sticking to the track Greenwalt had laid, transforming itself from a Celine Dion-soundtracked concoction of smoky atmospherics and excessive brooding into the hip and self-aware show it is now. And for the show’s rugged star, these changes were only too clear. “Mick was a little dark, a little obsessed,” O’Loughlin recalls of the pre-Greenwalt days. “I don’t think sanctimonious is the right word, but he’s much more in touch with the irony of everything that’s happening.”

Writers’ strike implications aside, Moonlight has surprised Stateside, hauling itself clear from the accusations of derivation that plagued the show since its inception and this is really no less than it deserves. It is a show that on the one hand is quite breathtaking to behold. Shot with a careful eye for composition, it portrays the city of angels as a shimmering and glimmering world of greys and browns encased in glass, not far removed from the on-screen LA as lensed by Michael Mann. Add to this an effect budget that rather noticeably increases as the show progresses, delivering some riveting action scenes (you wouldn’t really expect anything less from the producer of The Matrix trilogy) and there is all the style and verve you need. The show also wins points for its realistic portrayal of the vamps themselves. In the world of Moonlight, the bumpy foreheads and the Hellmouth are replaced by much smaller fangs and the subtle changing of eye colour. The vampires far more closely resemble their earlier human counterparts, only with increased speed, power and agility, not to mention a heightened sense of hearing and smell. Wooden stakes are less useful too, merely paralysing their victims rather than being the universal vamp-killers favoured by Buffy and the Scooby gang, and garlic is a waste of time. The only way to kill a vampire here is decapitation, or burning. Even the sun, that most feared of enemies, is no longer fatal. Although prolonged exposure remain decidedly unsavoury.

This determined emphasis on realism is carried over into the dramatics of the show and the relationships are handled deftly and intelligently, and prove all the more captivating as a result. In Beth and Mick there is a moving and believable romance and O’Loughlin and Myles make for an engaging screen couple, possessing that all-important chemistry that is impossible to fake. The supporting cast too are superb. Jacob Vargas’s morgue assistant and Mick ally Guillermo could lapse into light-hearted comic relief by Vargas hits the tone spot-on and Jordan Belfi excels as Beth’s fiance Josh in what is a thankless role after all. The real plaudits, though, go to Jason Dohring. Uprooting his bad guy shtick from Veronica Mars and twisting and turning it into the super vamp Josef, he is a shameless scene stealer and his 400-year-old vampire cuts an icy path through the streets of Los Angeles, always dressed in the sharpest suits and never without a put-down or a one-liner.

Bounding from a confident season opener in ‘No Such Thing As Vampires’, the frenetically paced few episodes see Mick fighting off a hormonally-challenged and vengeful vampire in ‘Arrested Development’, tracking down an out of control newbie vampire who is running amok around town in ‘Dr Feelgood’, as well as facing of against Holly Valance’s 500-year-old vampire Lola in ‘B.C.’. Moonlight may have taken a bit of an initial reshuffle to find its feet, but now, it has not only found its footing, it’s sporting a shiny pair of size 15 DMs too. With another four scripts ordered up, and a backstory link between Beth and Mick providing more long-range story arc that will be unveiled piece by piece as the show goes on, Moonlight possesses buckets of potential that it would be criminal to waste. While a romantic yet gritty vampire PI show may not stoke the fires of enthusiasm in everyone at first, it really is worth sinking your teeth in and trying it for yourself. Just like the smiling face of a vampire before he lunges for you, fangs at the ready, appearances, as we all know, can be so very deceiving.

Sophia Myles on ‘spooky’ relationships: I think that what will happen is that [Mick and Beth] will become a kind of Mulder and Scully type – a working partnership. I think the minute that those two characters get together, the show is over!”