High Moon

2014pt3_Maleficent_hm logoWhile some writer/producers can be relied on to consistently deliver viewing which is in equal measures challenging, demanding, compulsive and rewarding, Bryan Fuller alone channels a quirkiness into all his creations which has made him one of the most unique voices in modern television, through Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies and Hannibal. His next major work will be the long anticipated adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, set to debut in 2015, but in the meantime he has also served as executive producer on a loose adaptation of The Lotus Caves, a 1969 novel by John Christopher, author of The Tripods and The Death of Grass.

2014pt3_Maleficent_hm 3With so much modern televised genre programming strictly earthbound tales of the supernatural or superheroes, the opening shot of the vastness of the solar system as the camera zooms in to focus on two lonely figures on the surface of the Moon is a refreshing reminder of the times when networks allowed creative teams to think big, but this is not the expected lunar expedition.

Unlike the early pioneers, these men are not spending two hours but twenty years on that dusty world; “Buzz Aldrin’s spacesuit wasn’t issued by the bureau of prisons.” And yet convict Marty Thurgood (Weeds‘ Jake Sandvig) finds what appears to be a flower growing on that blasted plain with roots stretching deep beneath the surface, but when he attempts to investigate further a vast explosion is triggered, throwing rock, debris and their bodies into orbit.

2014pt3_Maleficent_hm 4An agent of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Ian Thurgood (Chris Diamantopoulos, a former Mickey Mouse best known for his voice work on American Dad and Family Guy) arrives to investigate the explosion which caused the death of his estranged brother. His journey is shared by Eve St John-Smythe (Charity Wakefield) who is concerned that his assignment could interfere with the delicate balance she works to maintain: “State sanctioned revenge is still revenge.” For generations her family have controlled the most valuable commodity on the Moon, oxygen, without which the vital supply of helium-3 to feed Earth’s desperate energy needs could not be mined.

Disseminating heavy plot exposition in diction so flawless it slips effortlessly beneath the radar, she escorts Ian to the original Apollo 11 landing site where she reminds him that mission “carried the promise of bringing the Moon to everyone on Earth,” a philosophy she has maintained, before leaving him to begin his investigation under the watchful eye of General Gale Wineheart (Peter Macon).

2014pt3_Maleficent_hm 1With a surface area equivalent to Africa divided between the five nations who mine the Moon for He-3, as demand has now outstripped the rate at which it is renewed by the Sun it is the Russians who are the prime suspects as their efficient technology implies they will have been first to exhaust their territory, but as the general’s daughter Yama (Heroes‘ Dana Davis) explores the low orbit debris field for clues to the cause of the explosion, she makes two unexpected discoveries: Marty, still clinging to life in his near depleted spacesuit, and the blossom of a single flower…

Of the cast, Diamantopoulos, Wakefield and Davis have all worked with Fuller previously, as has Jonathan Tucker who plays Stanislav Stavin, a Russian lieutenant who is far more than meets the eye and who enjoys a complicated relationship with his fiercely patriotic superior officer Comrade Major Trofim (Kirby Morrow, the voices of both Anakin Skywalker, General Grevious in Lego Star Wars) which will lead both into unexplored and unexpected territory.

2014pt3_Maleficent_hm 5Hugely entertaining, progressive and vastly superior to the clichés of SyFy’s Dominion which received a full season order, there is certainly sufficient intrigue within the world of High Moon to justify repeat visits should the network choose to be accommodating, though a negative factor from an executive point of view is the lack of star power.

In fact, many of the ensemble seem to have been cast for their physical resemblance to better known actors, even playing roles that could be associated with their doppelgangers, Peter Macon’s General Wineheart a budget version of Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury, Jake Sandvig’s good hearted trouble magnet Marty an emulation of Milo Ventimiglia’s Peter Petrelli, Jonathan Tucker’s scheming, manipulative and irresistible Stan Stavin a less godlike avatar of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, but any apprehension is quickly shown to be unjustified.

2014pt3_Maleficent_hm 6While the performances are broad in the early scenes the actors quickly take to their roles, and although the teleplay is credited to Hannibal co-producer Jim Danger Gray the dialogue follows the heavily stylised pattern followers of Fuller’s work have become accustomed to as the tangled plot of double and triple crosses, hidden motives and Moon-crossed lovers rushes forward, revelling in an escalating absurdity, the dour General Winehart grounding the flights of fancy in the same way as Pushing Daisies’ Emerson Cod: “Trees don’t grow on the Moon, Thurgood, so whatever you’re barking up is wrong.”

While on paper the plot may seem reminiscent of the embarrassing 1989 television movie Murder on the Moon starring Brigitte Nielson and Julian Sands as the opposing American and Russian investigators, the glamorous styling and execution are more influenced by 2001 A Space Odyssey, particularly the shuttle which conveys Ian and Eve to their destination.

2014pt3_Maleficent_hm 8It is unfortunate that the crucial opening scene is marred by unconvincing effects work as the surface of the Moon collapses beneath Marty and his ill fated companion before they are blown into space, but this is one of the very few weak moments in an otherwise beautifully designed and rendered environment, from the sets of the Moonbase to the Moon buggies used for surface transport and the subsurface tunnel network occupied by the Russians, and Tish Monaghan’s costumes are futuristic without seeming outrageous, Ms St John-Smythe in particular dressed in the bold colours Fuller favoured when Pushing Daisies.

Directed by Being Human‘s Adam Kane, another frequent Fuller collaborator, and planned as a pilot episode for a new show as was Fuller’s 2012 revival of The Munsters, Mockingbird Lane, and Ronald D Moore’s Virtuality with which it shares thematic elements and a bold, unrestrained vision, studio indifference even before broadcast means it is already a near certainty that the proposed series will not follow, which makes it all the more vital that this sole visit to High Moon should be appreciated and enjoyed. In a television landscape dominated by increasingly parochial shows which needs to expand to new horizons, the Moon is the logical stepping stone from which to reach for the stars, and it would be a huge waste not to go back and explore the full potential and possibility offered by that tempting destination.

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