Before Alex O’Loughlin moved to Hawaii and became a cop, he was a vampire private investigator in LA. Moonlight was a 2007-08 vampire noir, 16 episode CBS series starring O’Loughlin, Jason Dohring (iZombie, Veronica Mars), Sophia Myles (A Discovery of Witches) and Shannon Sossamon (Wayward Pines, Sleepy Hollow). It was created by Ron Koslow and Trevor Munson. The entire season can currently be streamed for free on the CWSeed site.
Moonlight takes place in present day (2007) LA, where vampire Mick St John (Alex O’Loughlin) works as a private investigator who solves murders. He also keeps an eye on a young woman he rescued as a young child from a kidnapping more than 20 years ago, Beth Turner (Sophia Myles). Beth is now an intrepid investigative reporter for up and coming online journalism outfit Buzzwire. Though Beth remembers her kidnapping, she initially doesn’t know who Mick is or that he’s watching her.
Mick is close friends with a 400 year old wealthy vampire named Josef Kostan (Jason Dorhing). For help with his cases, Mick turns to Guillermo (Jacob Vargas), a vampire friend who works in the morgue and is also Mick’s main blood supplier (in bags from the blood bank), and Logan (David Blue), a vampire hacker and gamer acquaintance, who never leaves his basement apartment and prefers to be paid in literal blood or money.
Mick was a 30 year old World War 2 veteran when his vampire wife Coraline turned him into a vampire in 1952 on their wedding night, without his consent, while he was asleep. Prior to that, Mick didn’t even know she was a vampire or that vampires existed. Mick has never forgiven Coraline for turning him. It’s caused a few issues in their marriage.
After more than 30 years of an off and on, tempestuous relationship, Coraline kidnapped child Beth in the 1980s. She hoped that turning Beth into a child vampire for her and Mick to take care of would give him the family he always wanted and save their marriage. Instead, Mick returned Beth to her family unharmed. At the same time, he set the cottage on fire where Beth had been held hostage, with Coraline trapped inside.
In the present day, Mick and Beth get to know each other as they work together on a murder case. Beth’s boyfriend, Josh (Jordan Belfi), a district attorney, is also investigating the case. Mick and Beth continue to work together on a new case each episode and to grow closer. Eventually Beth suspects Mick’s secrets.
Back in the 80s, Mick thought Coraline had died in the fire, and felt guilty for murdering her, but relieved to be free of his troubled marriage. In the present day, he soon discovers that Beth has a mysterious human friend who could be Coraline’s twin.
The show follows a noir format with each weekly murder mystery case. The murders are often crimes of passion which relate to whatever Mick and Beth are going through at the time. Mick’s voiceovers tie the episodes together. The show can be watched as an LA noir procedural if that’s what you’re looking for.
But Mick’s personal history and the vampires’ rich culture and history are also explored and given a surprising amount of depth for a 16 episode broadcast network show. The stories are smart and well written. Beyond the main cast, there are a number of popular actors who play recurring characters and guest stars, such as Abigail Spencer (Timeless, Reprisal), Claudia Black (Farscape, Stargate: SG1), Kevin Weisman (Runaways, Alias) and Eric Winter (The Rookie, Witches of East End).
I loved this show when it aired and have watched it over again a few times in the years since. Twelve years later, the show hardly feels dated. After seeing Alex O’Loughlin in Moonlight, I wasn’t at all surprised when he went on to find major success in Hawaii Five-0. His star quality is obvious here.
Moonlight’s season long story arc rambles a bit, trying to find its rhythm, as many shows do in their first seasons. It was settling into its focus when it was cut short. When it originally aired, Moonlight was ahead of its time (and on the wrong network, as is true of virtually every genre show on a broadcast network).
Moonlight was testing the waters for an intelligent, dark genre show with complex mythology, hints of dark humor and questionable relationships, just before the popularity of those shows exploded. Had Moonlight had a second season to continue evolving in that direction or started airing 2 or 3 years later on a streamer or premium cable channel, it would have had a much better chance of running the typical 3-5 seasons.
For reference, HBO’s Mormon polygamy shocker comedy Big Love started 1 year before Moonlight, and Showtime’s suburban single mother turned drug dealer comedy Weeds started in 2005. But HBO’s smart, darkly comedic vampire show, True Blood, didn’t start until the fall after Moonlight was cancelled. The Walking Dead, whose first 4 seasons were some of the best social commentary on TV, began in 2010 (3 years later). Fringe, Fox’s mindbendingly intelligent scifi alternate time and reality show, also didn’t start until a few months later in Fall 2008, and struggled to stay on the air for its entire 5 season run.
I recommend all five of those shows, once you’re done with Moonlight, though I wouldn’t bother with the last season of Big Love or watching past season 5, maybe 6, of The Walking Dead. Despite their flaws, I will always love True Blood and Weeds, including their final seasons.
Fringe is one of the greatest shows ever to air on television. As with many greats, the first season is rough, but stick it out. It’s on the free (with ads) IMDB channel right now.
(Yes, I rambled a bit here, too, like Moonlight, but we could all use some extra recommendations for things to watch right now!)
I think Moonlight’s main flaws were in the cast’s chemistry and in the fact that such young actors were playing world weary, older vampires in a show based on a 1940s noir. The cast is made up of talented actors, but they don’t all have great chemistry together. It’s one thing to have young actors play vampires pretending to be high school students. It’s harder for most to pull off the feeling of having experienced several lifetimes worth of pain and bitterness, plus the particular brand of suspiciousness and snappy banter that goes along with 1940s style noir writing.
Jason Dorhing and Alex O’Loughlin were each very good in their roles, but they could have benefitted from being 5 years older and having more word weariness in their appearances and demeanor. You can see the difference in the weight they bring to their acting in more recent years on iZombie and Hawaii Five-0, respectively.
Shannon Sossamon was riveting with Coraline’s jaded, ancient vampire who’s desperate to be loved. And Sossamon and O’Loughlin had great romantic chemistry. If the show were ever to do a revival, I’d like to see their romantic relationship continued and past histories explored. Mick should consider forgiving his wife, once he understands everything she’s been through.
Sophia Myles was able to pull off Beth’s combination of goodness and intensity, and she was playing her own age, but her tepid romantic chemistry with Alex O’Loughlin’s Mick is the biggest issue for me. Beth and Mick are much better as friends with a father-daughter relationship. He watched over her as a guardian angel while she grew up and he should remain that, whether or not she eventually becomes a vampire.
Likewise, as the season goes on the supporting cast pivots from mostly human to mostly vampire, the chemistry among the cast members improves. By the time episode 16 comes up, Moonlight has a stellar cast who really click. Episode 16 ends on a major plot development so that it feels like a reasonable series ending. Some of the most pressing dilemmas that were set up in the pilot have been resolved, though there are still plenty of openings to pursue, should the revival I’ve been dreaming of ever happen.
Coraline and Beth still need you,
Image courtesy of CBS.