AMC Plus sci-fi cop and buddy series

Dominic Monaghan and Emma McDonald in Moonhaven

Dominic Monaghan and Emma McDonald in moon shelter

There is a clever subversion in one of the first scenes of moon shelter, the new sci-fi mystery series from AMC+: Two cops, Arlo (Kadeem Hardison) and Paul (Dominic Monaghan), come across a dead body in a quiet clearing. As they survey the scene, the pair make some quiet comments about the case and rant a bit about their lives in typical TV cop style…before Paul pulls out a small handheld device that scans the scene for two hours. seconds and then spits. the identity of both the victim and the killer. Happy with a job well done, Arlo and Paul proceed to fulfill their true role as detectives: to comfort and ease the pain of the bereaved.

This is what happens when a murder occurs in heaven.

Of course, we in the audience know what Paul doesn’t: that there is more to Chill Spen’s (Nina-Barker Francis) death than a mere lovers’ quarrel; that whatever she and her boyfriend/her killer Strego (Adam Isla O’Brien) were fighting over in the first few seconds of the show, had something to do with the overall fate of Moonhaven, a utopian society that was built about, well… the Moon. Perfectly terraformed and insulated from the troubles of a dying Earth that its people have been tasked with one day returning to save, Moonhaven is a bit like that town in midsummerAt least if everyone involved had promised to end all blood eagles and pubic hair pies and instead focused on saving the world.

Chill Spen’s death is the first major interruption of that bucolic (but also technologically advanced) perfection. The second comes a day later, when Earth pilot Bella Sway (Emma McDonald) arrives on the lunar surface, transporting Earth politician Indira Mare (Amara Karan) and her bodyguard Tomm (a misunderstood Joe Manganiello) to the colony. . Mare is there to prepare for The Bridge, a massive project that is the first step in bringing the technology and people of Moonhaven long-kidnapped back to Earth in an effort to begin trying to repair a broken planet. Bella’s goals are simpler: keep her head down, successfully smuggle one of the Mooner’s strangely advanced drugs back to Earth, and then get back to fucking the hectic business of survival. Our two plots suddenly collide when Detective Paul knocks on the door of Bella’s starship, an inveterate loner, informing her that Chill Spen was, against all odds, her sister to a mother who abandoned her first daughter to go live in harmony to the moon Would Bella like to come and mourn her death?

Phew. Got all that? Because if that big ol’ pile of heady sci-fi ideas, utopian philosophizing, and pulp fiction naming conventions strikes a spark for you, you’ll probably get a kick out of Moonhaven, which plays, at its best, like a modern reimagining of Isaac Asimov’s Robot detective stories. That’s complete with a mismatched, crime-solving duo serving as a window into the clash between two human, but alien, cultures. Through both Paul and Bella’s eyes, we’re introduced to the philosophies underpinning Moonhaven, a city of people who have been raised to view themselves, for good or ill, as humanity’s saviors. It was a damn good structure when Asimov used it almost 70 years ago, and it’s still a damn good structure now.

Moonhaven | Official Trailer | Premieres 7/7 on AMC+

The results for the series itself aren’t always seamless, admittedly. If you’re in for the long haul, for instance, you’re going to need to resign yourself to hearing a bunch of grown adults talk about their heart-feels and think-speaks and gut-chortles, along with all the other portmanteaus that make up the lunar residents’ sometimes annoyingly twee speech. Manganiello somehow gets the worst of it, despite playing an Earther; he’s introduced lobbing some of the most ham-fisted flirtlosophizing we’ve ever seen Bella’s way. His schtick is clearly meant to come off as sexy and knowing, but instead lands like something a college freshman would attempt after reading the Cliff’s Notes version of The Game—an amazing fumble for an actor capable of projecting such obvious charisma. There is, indeed, a fairly chunky kernel of corniness baked directly into the show’s DNA—possibly inevitable for a series about people who praise sincerity as one of their highest values.

McDonald and Monaghan acquit themselves well, though. She’s got the easier job, maybe, playing a character who’s fucked up in ways we’re trained to recognize, slowly untangling as she’s exposed to Moonhaven’s gentler ways. Monaghan has an altogether more interesting arc, playing (with that memorable smile and those cloudy brows) a man who doesn’t seem to be all that happy living in paradise. As the voice of Moonhaven’s best traits, his Paul makes a strength out of kindness and vulnerability; a self-described “bad detective,” he’s valuable to the story as a man who can’t stop himself from poking at the edges of perfection.

Happily for fans of the genre, Moonhaven works as both a mystery and a sci-fi allegory; despite a sometimes slow pace, it steadily layers on clues to both the murder and the culture that produced it. (It also features, we feel moved to note, a very funny performance from Hardison as Paul’s fellow “cop” Arlo, who becomes almost childishly enamored with the idea of actually solving a crime for once.) It swings for some very big ideas at times and some big visuals—those distant shots of a tiny fragment of the moon bursting into green life remain arresting throughout its run. But it’s also a quietly human series, whether racing toward the next beat of the mystery or taking a moment to appreciate the strange (sometimes corny) beauty of the world it’s created for itself.

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