'Moonbeam City': TV Review
Rob Lowe lends his pipes and Brat Pack cred to Comedy Central's 'Miami Vice' parody.
In a world without FX's Archer, Comedy Central's Moonbeam City could stand on its own as a stylish but narratively thin animated homage to '80s cop shows, good for a couple of surface-deep chuckles, but with only limited potential to grow into something more substantive based on the three episodes made available to critics.
Fortunately for fans of Archer, but unfortunately for Moonbeam City, a seventh season of Archer is on its way, and the necessity of a another cartoonish take on Miami Vice — or, if you're feeling less generous, Silk Stalkings — is close to nil, even if its visual influences are strikingly different.
Created by Conan and Funny or Die veteran Scott Gairdner, Moonbeam City is set in the eponymous seaside community, a not-quite-Miami stuck in a perpetual '80s of tacky malls, tacky water parks, tacky urban decay and a criminal morass aided and abetted by the bedlam-inducing police work of Detective Dazzle Novak (Rob Lowe) — a disappointment to boss Pizzaz Miller (Elizabeth Banks), a sketchy inspiration to lower-level colleague Chrysalis Tate (Kate Mara) and a subject of envy for rival Rad Cunningham (Will Forte).
Patrick Nagel's '80s pop art is the clearest aesthetic inspiration for almost-vampiric pale characters with their angular features, impeccably coiffed hair and bursts of colorful accessorizing. You may know Nagel's style from Duran Duran's Rio album cover, but his Playboy illustrations play a not-insignificant role in shaping the curvy, thong-loving background figures. Keeping Nagel's ivory flesh tones creates a bit of a racial nightmare when facial hair and broad accents are needed to marginalize the ethnic, but still chalky, gang element in Moonbeam City, but that's a level of analysis that probably can't be sustained by a show this thin.
It's a style that previously was co-opted for the look and promotion of the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, so Moonbeam City could play as a retread on that front, even if Archer hadn't dedicated a full season to lovingly aping the world of Crockett and Tubbs. And in fleshing out the minimalist Nagel look for an action cartoon, enough straight-up '80s kitsch has been introduced that Moonbeam City is ultimately a cross between Jem and the Holograms and the locker of the girl next to me in junior high, minus a few pictures of Wil Wheaton and Corey Haim.
Ersatz animation aside, Moonbeam City lacks a clear comedic point of view because several episodes in, its characters remain cyphers. Dazzle is little more than vain and stupid, basically the most superficial reading of Sterling Archer. It's a characterization that Lowe does with ease, but it's also the same callow-and-cocky self-parody that usually is just the first layer of a good Lowe performance — Chris Traeger without his professional proficiency or the show-within-a-show character he plays on Fox's upcoming The Grinder. Dazzle does, at least, capture the androgyny of Lowe's own Brat Pack beginnings.
Dazzle could be a part of an ensemble, but he can't be the most developed person on a good show, and the supporting characterizations are laughably unlaughable. Forte is a tremendous voice actor, and he adds energy, but in the episodes I've seen, I don't understand what Rad's function is, since he occasionally seems to be a nonworking colleague in the police department, and sometimes he's a supervillain, and I think he may sometimes be Canadian, but it doesn't add up to much.
It's never clarified if "Pizzaz" is meant to be ironically named, but that's what comes from stranding Banks with a role defined by a running sight gag of disapproval and nothing else. And Mara's voice is so affectless in a nonpart that when Patrick Warburton turns up as Chrysalis' father, the relief at being in the hands of a sound-booth pro is tangible.
I'm not immune to '80s nostalgia, so there were moments of Moonbeam City that made me laugh, usually related to a Lowe line-reading, a particularly synth-y musical sting or to one of several songs parodying the easily parodied likes of Michael McDonald or Toto. But on Comedy Central, a network in the midst of a string of sui generis live-action smashes, it seems fair to expect more than secondhand glib laughs from its animated offerings.