Friday, July 21, 2017

TV REVIEW: NBC's 'Midnight, Texas'

NBC will premiere its new original drama series Midnight, Texas on Monday, July 24 at 10/9c. following a new episode of American Ninja Warrior. The drama stars Francois Arnaud, Dylan Bruce, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Arielle Kebbel, Jason Lewis, Sarah Ramos, Peter Mensah and Yul Vazquez.

Read on for my thoughts on the supernatural drama after screening its first four episodes.

A decade or two ago Midnight, Texas could air and be relatively respected as a safe but unimaginative piece of science fiction storytelling for broadcast television. In 2017 and the era of Peak TV though, it's bound to quickly appear and disappear with hardly anyone noticing. It was a never a good sign when a network orders a show and then waits over a year to actually air it. That kind of wait usually hints at a troubled production or a lame final product. In this case, the quality of the show is pretty bad and lame. But even more troublesome and problematic, it feels like a show lifted straight out of a different era. One where it was okay to do a monster mash where any problem in the narrative could be fixed by adding a new monster and offering grim proclamations about the precarious state of affairs in the supernatural world. That kind of story is perfectly fine with characters who are endearing to watch. The audience needs people to root for. Across four episodes, Midnight, Texas doesn't provide the audience with any reason to care. It takes itself very seriously. But it's unintentionally hilarious. Plus, it's too goofy to take any of it serious or get invested in the overarching plot or the characters.

The show is based on a book of the same name by Charlaine Harris. Another book series of hers was successfully adapted into HBO's True Blood. Of course, some would argue over whether or not that show was actually any good or if it had anything to do with the source material. In the case of Midnight, Texas, it's an example of too much excess without a ton of purpose. There is just an overload of plot. Plot that doesn't even make sense half the time. There is too much going on and none of it is building towards something more meaningful. So, the story kicks off with traveling psychic Manfred (Blindspot's Francois Arnaud) needing to hideout in the sleepy town of Midnight, Texas because he owes some major debts to mysterious individuals. Midnight turns out to be a safe haven for various monsters and creatures. It's a powerful place that represents a portal between this world and other realms. It could be on the brink of destruction due to the forces of evil on the other side trying to break through. Manfred may be the savior to protect this town. But that's a story largely filled with ominous proclamations warning the audience of sinister things to happen in the future while delaying anything interesting happening in the present.

Additional stories include the local police looking into the death of a woman and somehow not knowing about Midnight being a town full of various creatures; the citizens of Midnight in a war with the local biker gang/white supremacists called the Sons of Lucifer; Manfred seducing a local waitress, Creek (Parenthood's Sarah Ramos), who is constantly worrying about her father beating him up; a vampire, Lemuel (Sleepy Hollow's Peter Mensah), feeding off of emotions instead of blood; and a local hitwoman, Olivia (Ballers' Arielle Kebbel) running from a troubled past. Again, not many of these stories make much sense in the context of the show. The white supremacists largely just pop up in order to give the main characters people to beat up. They don't actually do anything. They basically have nothing to say about the various interracial relationships going on. Of course, the show doesn't actually seem to notice those racial and sexual politics either. The supernatural genre can often be a profound allegory for real-world issues presented in a normalized and human way. But this show just wants to be a fun monster mash-up. It fails in being that because it takes itself too serious while also having weird '90s-style musical accompaniments.

There is a procedural element to the main narrative as well. Every week feels like a completely different show with the citizens of Midnight having to face off with some new supernatural threat. It's not all connected in some grand conspiracy type of way either. Instead, it's just stated over and over and over again that something has changed and Midnight the town is now calling out to all of these supernatural creatures. The people who've been in the town for awhile are good while the newcomers are bad. The plot is literally that simple. It never truly wants to dig deep into the complexity of the main characters. Of course, things are absolutely ridiculous with them as well. So, it's hard to find the balance of seeing this as something that has the potential to go deeper than it does. It's a show that features a battle between a vampire and a were-tiger. The special effects aren't even that great. The pilot was directed by Niels Arden Oplev - who did the opening hours for CBS' Under the Dome and USA's Mr. Robot. He usually brings a great deal of style to the shows. But here, it's just not that interesting to look at. It just feels like NBC looked at the pilot and decided that this just wasn't a show that needed a huge budget to it. Of course, the show purposefully cuts away from some of the more effects heavy shots as well. Part of that is probably financially motivated. But standards and practices of broadcast television neutered it as well.

Arnaud makes for a perfectly amiable leading man. His romance with Ramos character, however, suffers from it playing a little too creepily. Ramos still plays as incredibly young even though she is 26 years old. It's not helped that she's a normal character worrying about her overbearing father in a story filled with other-worldly craziness. It's an attempt to tell a traditional kind of romance in a crazy and ever-changing world. It's just silly for trying to play things so straightforward without it being influenced by the specific nature of their world. And yet, that's the whole problem with the show. Everyone in the cast is perfectly fine in the roles that they've been given. No one stands out as a problem. But no one stands out as particularly great either. There's no performance or story to really latch onto. There's nothing that makes this a show worthy of engaging with because of whatever will happen to the characters. It's simply a story where a bunch of random and dangerous stuff happens due to supernatural forces only for it to all be resolved once Manfred pulls a plot device out of the RV that has been in his family for generations. It's just lame and predictable storytelling that is hard to get excited about.