Vampires in the City of Angels
By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall
Fridays on CBS, 9pm ET/PT
“No Such Thing as Vampires”
Written by Trevor Munson and Ron Koslow
Directed by Gerard Bocaccio and Rod Holcomb
Well, of course you begin a pilot about a vampire with… an interview. How else would people know you’re honoring/ripping off Anne Rice? CBS’s Moonlight introduces Mick St. John (are you kidding me with this name?) as he poses in full-on GQ mode for his half of a TV interview, answering questions from an off-camera interviewer. In the first two minutes, we learn what distinguishes him from run-of-the-mill vampires (he does not prey on innocent humans, women, or children), as he demolishes a host of vampire cliches with one raised eyebrow (they are not affected by holy water, garlic, or wooden stakes). No Nosferatu here—St. John (Alex O’Loughlin) is well-groomed, hip, and dead sexy. Why didn’t they just name the guy “LeStat” and be done with it?
The setup for the series is pretty much Kolchak: The Night Stalker meets Forever Knight andAngel. Web-tabloid reporter Beth Turner, played by Sophia Myles (Lucy Westenra from the 2006 Dracula), investigates the apparent murder-by-vampire of a lovely young co-ed and finds herself constantly running into the insouciant St. John. Like Carl Kolchak (the 1970s’ version), she has a boss who drives her to find juicier and juicier angles. Hungry for the story, she badgers St. John for information, breaks into the dead girl’s apartment, and discovers that the co-ed was enrolled in a university class taught by a self-described vampire. Naturally, she goes undercover as a co-ed, and naturally, she gets caught. St. John, meanwhile, has his own problems: his good vampire buddy Josef, who is if possible even more hipster savvy than St. John, is deeply concerned that this incident will somehow threaten to expose the vampire community, which so far has managed to fly under modern society’s radar. He gets the wittiest dialogue in the show, as he calmly discusses the pros and cons of killing Beth, over St. John’s objections. Vampire community politics may well turn out to be the more interesting part of this show. The investigation plot is fairly predictable, the resolution practically foregone. So, to a certain extent, is the discovery that Turner and St. John are not strangers to one another; he rescued her from a vampire when she was a child. What kept me watching after the first few minutes was the building tension between the characters. I finally realized that whatever problems Moonlight may suffer from stem from the fact that this is not, really, a show about the supernatural. It’s a romance.
Rice and other modern writers have been recasting the vampire as forbidden-love god since well before Frank Langella burned up the screen as the sexy Count in 1979’s Dracula. It’s no surprise to find that the vampire was introduced into Western literature by Lord Byron (The Giaour, 1813). Although Bram Stoker’s iconic and definitive 1897 novel Dracula defined the vampire as shape-changing, blood-drinking demon, he has borne the legacy of Byronic pan-sexuality ever since. The vampire traditionally preys on beautiful women, visiting them at night like an incubus and establishing intimate physical contact, leaving them writhing and groaning. For pre-Freudian Victorians, this was practically pornographic. That it still half-plays that way says sad things about how we still accept the idea of the “romantic” sexual predator—who is always male. Imagine if creator Ron Koslow had decided to make Mick St. John a female; this would have been a completely different (and much more interesting) concept.
Vampirism serves as a vehicle for so many subtexts, there’s hardly room for the main theme. It can play as a disease metaphor in the age of AIDS, as a metaphor for addiction, as a meditation on immortality. If we play the vampire as hero rather than subhuman savage, we get interesting moral dilemmas into the mix. How do you root for a guy who kills innocent people and drinks their blood? Angel struggled with his vampire nature. Even Nick Knight of Forever Knight had to struggle with blood lust and stalk human prey. But St. John drinks blood drawn from corpses; there is no terror in him, no interior conflict. Thus it is a little disingenuous for the tag line of the series to hint that he is reluctant to love a mortal woman because he does not want to appear to be a monster in her eyes. In 2007 Los Angeles, blood-drinking doesn’t even rate in the top ten kinks; hard to see St. John as a monster in that light.
Not that this premise can’t work. Nobody does “tortured, social misfit” as romantic lead better than creator Ron Koslow, who gave us the fantasy series Beauty and the Beast back in the ’80s. That lush, overdecorated fantasy soap opera was a guilty pleasure for millions, the cinematic equivalent of a box of chocolate bon-bons. Koslow looks to be recreating the basic idea of the soulmates separated by fate; one can walk the underworld, the other the daylight. It was a terrific idea in 1988 and it’s worth another shot today. Once I got past the idea that Moonlight was going to be a show seriously focused on detective work, and started seeing it as a romantic melodrama, I started to enjoy it immensely. Some plot errors were distracting: is it really believable that the police would search a victim’s room and somehow fail to see a bat-shaped vial of blood in plain sight? Yeah, that didn’t work. And some bits were ludicrous: what kind of idiot vampire drives a convertible in sun-drenched Los Angeles? But then, logic was never a strong suit of Beauty and the Beast, either, and I loved that show. If Moonlight can survive the Friday night time slot and the thwarted expectations of vamp-fans who were expecting Blade, I think it will rock. Mightily.