TV EYE: Moonlight, Ugly Betty, Gossip Girl, Dexter

The tidal wave continues to crash. We’ll soon be getting into the follow-ups to the pilots that I’ve reviewed (plus the odd after-effects and altered elements- especially the fact that, in Bionic Woman, Jaime Summers’ grumpy deaf sister has now been transformed into a different grumpy computer-hacking-addicted sister. Hmm…), but here’s a new show, a couple of returning treats, and more delirious teen trash. Fear the spoilers…

MOONLIGHT

And the award for the most unintentionally funny network TV show goes to Joel Silver’s latest production outing, a show from Beauty and the Beast creator Ron Koslow which seems to be setting out to take the doomy angst and romance angle perfected by Joss Whedon in Angel and wring out anything remotely interesting. From the initial set-up, it looks like we’re going for an astoundingly typical private eye procedural with a few kinky vampire thrills to excite the goths, and a romance that seems to be referencing at least ten different films and series. It’s the tale of bland L.A. based vamp Mick St. John (Alex O’Loughlin) who seems to have plenty of Angel-style angst in his past (and even has a Darla-style ‘ex’ in the form of Rules of Attraction star Shannyn Sossoman) who works as a private eye, and finds his path crossing with a girl who he rescued as a child who’s now grown up into the rather attractive form of Sophia Myles (channeling Kate Winslet to a level that’s rather eerie…). He’s also got a rich, decadent vamp friend (played by Veronica Mars alumnus Jason Lohring, in a role played in the now heavily rewritten original pilot by- of all people- shaggy fiftysomething euro patriach Rade Serbedzija) who doesn’t want L.A.’s secret vamp subculture to be revealled, probably because he wants to avoid any lawsuits from the writers of Blade. Either way, there’s a juicy murder, and the show proceeds to dance the traditional whodunnit dance of giving us a typically creepy obvious culprit, but then attempting to pull a fast one by actually having it turn out to be the seemingly insignificant assistant, but it’s very difficult to work up any excitement, especially when the show’s using such dreadful exposition devices as a talk show-style opening, or indulging in the frankly hilarious sight of O’Loughlin exercising his vampire smell-o-vision like he’s auditioning for a deodorant commercial. Add to that some very unwise fast-speed sequences, clunky action effects, an appaling visual style for the flashbacks and some truly dreadful dialogue, and you’ve got a show whose sense of po-faced seriousness is likely to be its worst enemy. Angel was at least wise enough to undercut its hero’s sense of doomy gothic by letting him act like a doofus sometimes (like in the pilot episode, where he springs into action- and accidentally leaps into the wrong convertible car). Here, the hero is boringly straight, but while O’Laughlin isn’t the most charismatic lead, he isn’t a complete loss, and the scenes with Myles do suggest that the show might at least be watchable in parts. Slick without being genuinely interesting, Moonlight is going to need some seriously new ideas fast, and it’s certainly close to being the least interesting new show of this US TV season…

UGLY BETTY

Note to the producers of Heroes- this is how you do a season opener. Ugly Betty’s ballistic, OTT mix of soap and melodrama is a definite acquired taste, but my favourite guilty pleasure of last season has leapt back in at full strength, and packs in more story and “I can’t believe they just did that” twists than Heroes has yet to manage so far. There’s plenty of picking up of the pieces from last season’s multiple cliffhangers, and the usual rat-a-tat delivery of ridiculous one-liners, while it’s good to see that the writers understand that UB inhabits its own lunatic universe, and they shouldn’t be afraid of pushing the boat. Certain aspects aren’t exactly fabulous (It might have been good if Amanda’s additional weight didn’t look quite so much like obvious padding), but it manages to pull off a mix of riotous humour and tearjerking drama that really shouldn’t work but does, especially when it comes to the plotline concerning the ‘Santos getting shot’ incident. Here, the writers manage to get away with a near-Dallas style piece of misdirection (revealling that one of the episode’s plot-threads- Santos recuperating in Hilda’s room- is actually Hilda fantasising that Santos is still alive) that’s simultaneously a completely rotten trick and a seriously touching way of showing a character’s desperate grief. Plus, we’ve got the insane twist of Rebecca Romjin-Stamos’ character waking up with amnesia and not realising he/she’s had a sex change, and the welcome addition of Christopher Gorham and the wonderful Judith Light as the waspish Claire Meade to the regular cast. It’s ridiculous, it’s tacky, and I really can’t wait for the next episode…

GOSSIP GIRL

And talking of tacky… Gossip Girl continues to be heightened and ridiculous, but there’s still something about this that’s going to make it difficult to turn away. It’s partly the sheer insanity of the teen Desperate Houswives-style melodrama, but mainly the fact that they’ve actually got the budding (but problem-strewn) romance between disillusioned rich-chick Serena (Blake Lively) and slightly dazed ordinary kid Dan (Penn Badgley- what is it with oddball names on this show?) right, giving it the kind of off-beat charm that makes you want it to work despite the fact that you also know they’ll be incessantly spinning it out for as long as possible. Kristen Bell’s voiceover continues to be awesomely annoying in a way that makes me pray (without little hope) that they dump it as a device, or at least dial it back a bit, while there’s also one of the oddest TV storytelling devices I’ve seen in a while, as our somewhat slappable narrator gives us a Space 1999 (or New Galactica, for less aged types)-style ‘preview’ of upcoming highlights, but does it halfway through the episode. If the dialogue can keep the kind of rhythmn and snap it’s sometimes reaching, the show looks like it’s going to remain watchable in an absurd way, while Ed Westwick and his ridiculous eyebrows continue to twitch in villanous ways that mark character Chuck Bass as one of the silliest bad guys to hit TV screens in a while. I may not be addicted, but I’m not going anywhere yet…

DEXTER

Another series that’d never exist if it wasn’t for cable, Dexter’s second season gets off to a fine start. The first season was a great ride, but always felt like it was just on the cusp of greatness without quite pitching over the edge, and the icky thrills of the Ice-Truck Killer plotline gradually got a little more melodramatic, particularly when the revelation that he was the hero’s long-lost brother was thrown in. Now, the story is dealing with the serious aftermath of those events, but while there’s still the sense that certain plotlines verge on the disposable side (particularly the inter-office politics), there’s also a couple of major twists that promise to throw some serious problems in Dexter’s direction. The show’s pitch-black humour continues to impress, and Dexter is a fascinating way of exploring the human condition– a serial killer who’s forever distant from humanity, but has to try and fit in to avoid detection, while always keeping to the strict moral code programmed into him by his cop father (the always wonderful James Remar). In fact, it’s the cast in Dexter that makes it a genuinely outstanding piece of work and lifts it above any small flaws– there’s excellent work from Jennifer Carpenter, Julie Benz (aka Darla from Buffy and Angel), and Erik King (who manages to be both hugely intimidating and weirdly funny as the aggresively macho Sgt. Doakes), and then there’s Michael C. Hall. One of the strongest links in Six Feet Under’s ensemble, here he switches from terrifying to comic in a heartbeat, and makes Dexter into a fascinatingly multi-layered monster who’s always a pleasure to watch, even if the violence levels means this really isn’t for the squeamish. Not quite a masterpiece, but it’s going to be interesting to see exactly where the next eleven weeks take us…

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