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Moonlight – 10th Anniversary Review (Spoilers)
On Friday, September 28, 2007, exactly ten years ago, Moonlight premiered on CBS. The series had received mediocre to poor reviews (typically by critics who disliked the urban fantasy/paranormal romance genres), didn’t have a ton of advertising behind it, and yet it caught my attention.
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Still, at the time, I didn’t know much about Moonlight. However, I had heard that Veronica Mars’ Jason Dohring was on the cast which was enough to catch my interest. So, my sister and I decided to check it out. What I didn’t expect to happen was that I was about to watch what would become one of my favorite shows of all time.
Moonlight also came at the perfect time in my life – and helped me find my own storytelling voice as a writer in a way. I realized (or deepened) my love for Byronic Heroes, old-fashioned romance, romanticism, the beauty and the beast archetype, and so much more! It’s also when I began dabbling in video editing as a hobby. Moonlight was one of my inspirations for transformative video editing. So, I felt connected to the series in a way that I haven’t to many other shows before or since.
You can check out our full playlist of Moonlight videos (which have been re-uploaded and a few redone in higher quality) HERE. They are organized in the order we made them.
Now I’m not saying Moonlight is a perfect, flawless series. Because it’s not. But as Randall in This is Us says, for me, it was “imperfectly perfect.” Moonlight includes a few of my favorite storytelling elements. What can I say? My favorite novel is Jane Eyre. Moonlight has the old-fashioned romance, the Gothic Romantic undertones, wit, dry humor, beauty and the beast influence, homage to classic films and literature, and a rich, creative mythology. This was the perfect cult hit series for fans of period dramas, literary bad boys like Rochester or Heathcliff, and romantic fairy tales.
TALL, DARK, AND IMMORTAL…
Moonlight had found a niche audience often ignored – which author Stephanie Meyer was also tapping into simultaneously – though in a different way. Moonlight’s hero, Mick St. John, encapsulates the Mr. Darcy fantasy for the modern woman! Take the old-fashioned charm and chivalry of a Romantic and/or Byronic Hero from a different time period, make him immortal, and then have him interact with women in today’s world with all the mannerisms of men from a different era. Just look at the popularity of Angel and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Or even characters like Damon or Klaus today. It’s the perfect fantasy. And one many were waiting for.
But what’s great about Moonlight is that it doesn’t just appeal to women. Mick, played effortlessly by Alex O’Loughlin (who went on to do other great projects), was a vampire everyone could like. It didn’t hurt that O’Loughlin had experience with stunt work in Australia which made his performance as a powerful, menacing vampire all the more believable. You can see his strength and likeability as an actor in his role as Steve McGarrett on Hawaii Five-O. (On a side note, I remember hearing about how some fans now refuse to watch O’Loughlin or see him as anything other than Mick. I can’t imagine that’s true for most fans of the series. But if that’s the case for some, I recommend watching him in other projects with an open mind as he’s a versatile actor.)
I recall some of the critics were baffled by its decent-sized audience (which by today’s standards would be a huge hit, especially for Friday night). The series maintained its audience all season with 7-8 million viewers and an average of a 1.8-2.0 demographic. Moonlight also won the People’s Choice Award for best new series. But I wasn’t surprised. Many women had been reading Gothic romances since they first appeared. Even Jane Austen satirized the genre with Northanger Abbey hundreds of years ago. These “types” of stories were always considered “bad” by society and unfit for women to read. As if women have no understanding of fiction vs. reality. Still, the genre and its sub-genres (paranormal romance, urban fantasy, etc.) have always had an often-ignored but devoted fan base.
Just look at the new series, Midnight Texas. Critics weren’t exactly praiseworthy of the show. History always repeats itself… And yet, the audience (who are fans of the genre – which the majority of the critics can’t claim) loved it! Moonlight didn’t receive great reviews initially (they did improve as the series continued) because the critics had no understanding of the genre and audience expectations. They judged the procedural element while the fans honed in on the Romance, the actors, the chemistry, and the unique vampire mythology.
And while Moonlight pays clear homage to Forever Knight and other shows influenced from vampiric and Beauty and the Beast series that came before, Moonlight was still refreshingly unique. What sets it apart from many other vampire series (at the time anyway) is that it’s a romance above all else. Moonlight is more Beauty and the Beast than procedural of the week or focused mainly on a superhero like character. If you were to categorize Moonlight, you’d categorize it as a romance first and foremost. Whereas a show like Buffy or Angel you would not. There were romances in them but that was not the focus. Though, Moonlight, like all the best romances, is so much more than just a romance.
Moonlight came out right before vampire fever spread through the entire world due to Twilight. Sadly, the show was a centimeter away from coming out at the perfect time. If only it had premiered one year later…just when the first Twilight movie premiered in theaters. Maybe it would have been on the air for a few more seasons than just the one (with only 16 episodes).
But I digress.
If you haven’t seen this series, Moonlight tells the story of private eye, Mick St. John, as he works cases noir-style in Los Angeles. Only there’s a catch. He’s a vampire.
Over fifty years earlier, Mick was turned into a vampire by his ex-wife, Coraline (Shannyn Sossamon) – much to his horror. The last thing he wanted to be was a “monster.” As he seeks redemption for his monstrous past, he uses his abilities in modern day to protect humans, which often leads to cases involving other vampires.
Mick’s best friend is Josef (Jason Dohring), a powerful, old, and incredibly wealthy vampire who is more than a little paranoid about a future vampire culling.
Josef Konstantin: It’s a threat to our secrecy. What is this, the 1720s? We’re discreet! We don’t leave bodies lying around. Now we have to be extra vigilant. We live in an age of fingerprint scans, DNA tests, genome mapping…
Mick St. John: …Josef! Relax!
Josef Konstantin: I am relaxed. This is relaxed. You’re only 90. You’ve never been chased by a torch-bearing mob.
And then there’s Beth Turner (her last name a play on words… “TurnHer”). Mick crosses paths with Beth (Sophia Myles), a human and a reporter, as they both work the same case. Soon, they’re working side by side with an obvious growing attraction (which turns to love throughout the series). But as we learn in the pilot, Mick already knows Beth – and has been her “guardian angel” in secret for years. He rescued Beth when she was a little girl from his ex-wife who kidnapped her. To save Beth, Mick kills Coraline in a fire. As to “why” Coraline kidnapped Beth, that’s a mystery the series only partially explains due to the series’ early cancellation. But if you pay attention to the clues, you can figure most of it out.
As Mick and Beth grow closer – in the whole star-crossed, beauty and the beast way – they meet a mysterious, human woman who just so happens to also be a dead ringer for his ex-wife Coraline, who’s supposed to be a vampire – not to mention dead.
It’s then the story begins to reveal the incredibly rich and fascinating vampire mythology connected to the French Revolution and Royalty. As well as the seemingly impossible quest to find a cure for vampirism. What Mick wants more than anything…
But will Mick and Beth get their happy ending? Will Mick ever be human again? Who is this woman who looks like his ex-wife? Much is answered by season’s end. And while the series does end on a few cliffhangers and some stories never get their ending due to its unfair cancellation, Moonlight does end on a good note.
Beth Turner: You’re a delicate flower, Mick St. John.
As I’ve already mentioned, Moonlight has a wonderful star-crossed romance influenced by Beauty and the Beast, classic lit and film, as well as earlier vampire/human romances that came before. The chemistry between O’Loughlin and Myles sizzles onscreen. The two were magic together with matching wit and dry humor and were able to capture a kindred spirit romance of equality not often found in television. Chemistry wise, they’re up there with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson or Kate and Leo. Both Myles and O’Loughlin came into the series with period drama experience (Myles starring in numerous period dramas such as Tristan and Isolde and Mansfield Park) which only helped to enhance their abilities to capture old-fashioned romance onscreen.
Besides the synergistic chemistry between actors, Mick and Beth are layered, interesting characters. Mick captures the imagination of the audience and draws the audience into his pain and quest to be human. We feel his every emotion. And we believe every vampiric threat he gives. Mick oozes both gentlemanly charm and masculinity – while also presenting an underlying monstrosity.
Beth, on the other hand, is not just the “romantic interest.” She has stories of her own and works as a layered, believable female character. In part due to Myles’ nuanced performance. Beth’s a character you can both relate to and believe in.
As the show progresses, Mick and Beth solve numerous cases together while Mick struggles with the monster within and his growing feelings for Beth. Meanwhile, they begin to unravel a greater vampiric mystery that connects to Beth’s own bloodline. Throughout the series, there’s also a continuous push and pull with numerous obstacles in their path. Can Mick truly love without mortality? Will they end up like Romeo and Juliet or can they get a happy ending?
Thankfully, the show does not merely “hint” at a romance between Mick and Beth. This is much more than a slow burn on what writers typically might drag out over many seasons. However, the romance does not come easy which makes them fun to root for as you anticipate what will happen next. They have numerous romantic moments including epic saves (they both save each other) and a couple surprise kisses in the mix! But Mick and Beth are the ultimate in old-fashioned romance. So, don’t expect explicit sex scenes.
But rather prepare to swoon with a romance more Jane Austen like than a steamy romance novel. There’s the touches of the hand, the grand gestures, the romantic rescues, the love declarations, the slow dancing, the hugs, the smoldering stares, and even the most sensual and romantic shower scene you’ll ever see! And just about every romantic moment feels earned. Mick and Beth have a believable story and development which makes it easy to root for these two to end up together!
Mick and Beth are Beauty and the Beast meets Scully and Mulder meets Rochester and Jane.
In every episode, you find yourself waiting for their next romantic scene. Much like K-Dramas, Moonlight smartly ends almost every episode with a romantic scene. Thereby once again, revealing to the audience that this series is a romance! And a great one at that. Not to mention Alex O’Loughlin is swoon-worthy in the role. While Sophia Myles captures just the right amount of wit and compassion that would make Elizabeth Bennet proud.
JOSEF AND CORALINE
The supporting characters are just as wonderful. Mainly Josef and Coraline. Now if you’ve seen Jason Dohring in Veronica Mars then you can probably imagine what to expect. No one does snark better than Dohring – and as a vampire? TV Magic!
My favorite quote?
Vampire Solidarity. Rah rah rah, and all that.
Dohring is able to bring out some of the dark humor and clever irony found in the series. Mick and Josef share blood martinis together, for instance, as they bond.
Mick and Josef have a fantastic brotherly relationship even though it’s clear Josef has many secrets -some connecting to Coraline. The two actors have a great rapport off each other leading to some of the best scenes from the series.
Josef Konstantin: [to Mick] Hey look. I know you have morals and scruples and that’s fine, sort of.
Josef Konstantin: Well you, my friend, must get her to stop.
Mick St. John: What do you mean? Like she’s driving along and suddenly her car explodes?
Josef Konstantin: I was thinking you ask her nicely, but… fielder’s choice.
Shannyn Sossamon, on the other hand, plays the femme fatale part of Coraline to perfection. You never quite know what she’s up to. She’s a fascinating character who will leave you entranced. She’s especially captivating when her backstory connects to the French Revolution and the Vampire Royals. Sadly, Coraline’s story comes to a halt in episode 12 and the show was canceled before it could continue.
BRILLIANT USE OF MUSIC VIDEO PROMOS
Now, while CBS didn’t fully get behind the series – partly to blame because of the writer’s strike at the time, they did do one brilliant thing more shows today could learn from.
They gave spoilers to the audience in the form of music video promos.
At the time, CBS had a group called the Eye Lab who put together music video promos for their shows. Their best belonged to none other than Moonlight. An advertising scheme that helped grow and then maintain the Moonlight fan base. Connecting emotionally to something visually through music makes the original content more exciting.
Now while there were a few videos out promoting the show before the premiere, what I think really hooked the audience was the mini music video that aired right after the pilot premiered. At the end of the first episode, Mick’s reflective voiceover ends the pilot.
Mick St. John: Sixty years is a long time to deny yourself the touch of another, but you do it. Because you just can’t bear the thought of seeing yourself as a monster in someone else’s eyes.
The show closes with Mick hugging Beth and closing his eyes as “My Immortal” plays in the background.
And just as I was contemplating how I felt about the first episode, a music video promo for the upcoming season came on screen. It was to Celine Dion’s “Taking Chances.” The mini music video showed clips we’d already seen as well as spoilery clips from future episodes. And the best part was that the promo was ROMANTIC.
Well, I had to keep watching to see those “amazing” looking scenes yet to come! And I watched it live.
And while I already loved the “imperfectly perfect” episode, the music video helped to finalize my feelings. It helped build emotional excitement. Before I had a chance to process the episode, I saw a promo for upcoming episodes with a romantic song showcasing romantic clips, some of which I could look forward to in upcoming weeks. In short, the music video promos helped develop the Moonlight fan base.
Here are the two versions of the promo that originally aired (not in the best quality):
While a few of the procedural cases aren’t the most original or creative, the series as a whole and as a paranormal romance is one of the best in its genre. The characters, romance, mystery, mythology, are all fantastic. I find there’s something special about Moonlight. The themes of redemption, humanity, mortality, love, etc. all ring true while also capturing my imagination in an entertaining way. And I appreciated how the show chose not to go down a vulgar path.
And as far as the production quality goes, the writing is clever – though you’ll probably need to enjoy dry humor, old-fashioned romance, and supernatural stories to appreciate the dialogue and show.
Not to mention, the costumes in the past are gorgeous with a dreamy quality. The special and visual effects are creative and realistic looking. I also have to give a special shout-out to the makeup artists who created an unquestionably cool and sexy vampire look.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the brilliant, atmospheric soundtrack. Each episode introduced fabulous music from indie to popular hits. And always each song was the perfect choice.
Altogether, my “imperfectly perfect” show will always have a place in my memory and heart. And on re-watch ten years later, I feel a surge of nostalgic warmth and happiness. While I don’t believe Moonlight will ever return, and I’m okay with that, a part of me will always want to ask in dedication to Moonlight:
Is it Friday yet?
Content Note: The series ranges between TV-PG and TV-14. Mild language, sensuality, and vampire fantasy violence.
Where to Watch: You can buy Moonlight: The Complete Series (affiliate link) on DVD or stream to rent/buy on Amazon.
Did you watch Moonlight? Did you love the series and romance? Do you wish the show would return? Theories on future plot lines? Let me know in the comments!
“The stuff that dreams are made of.”
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.
I have loved none but you.”
(Scroll down for the Full Old-Fashioned Romance Breakdown!)