It’s a hard life trying to make an honest living in what most would see as an inherently dishonest trade, putting loved ones back in touch with their dearly departed spouses, but “psychic and seer” Manfred Bernardo is far from a fraud as evidenced by the possessive spirit he has on the line when his widow confesses her newly blossoming relationship is with her dead husband’s former business partner.
So far so Oda Mae Brown, and like his often unscrupulous predecessor Manfred’s talents have brought him some contacts less than savoury, an unwanted and openly threatening phone call from a creditor sending him on a road trip to a place off the beaten track where sanctuary might be found: Midnight, Texas.
“You’ll be safe in Midnight,” his grandmother Xylda tells him; “That’d mean a whole lot more coming from someone who wasn’t dead,” he responds to her ghostly presence riding shotgun in his well-travelled camper van as they tear up the desert highways out of Dallas.
Based on the trilogy of novels by Charlaine Harris, Midnight Crossroad, Day Shift and Night Shift, Midnight, Texas has been developed by writer/producer Monica Owusu-Breen whose impressive resume includes credits on Alias, Lost, Fringe and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but it is True Blood, inspired by Harris’ long-running Southern Vampire Mysteries which is the most apparent parallel.
Where in that universe the “great revelation” had publicly confirmed the existence of vampires here they persist in secret along with the other supernatural beings who have sought safety in smalltown anonymity on the dusty crossroads of no and where, hidden in plain sight and wary of outsiders, but far from leaving all his problems behind Manfred is riding straight into new ones.
In the pawn shop run by his new landlord Bobo Winthrop (Orphan Black‘s Dylan Bruce) every object cries out to him from tribal totems to orphaned dolls to civil war cavalry swords to empty antique wheelchairs, and while Bobo himself hopes Manfred might help him track his absent girlfriend in lieu of the first month’s rent Manfred prefers to pretend his powers are exaggerated.
Instead it is witch Fiji Cavanaugh (Jessica Jones‘ Parisa Fitz-Henley) and the surly Olivia (The After‘s Arielle Kebbel) who stumble across Aubrey’s remains washed up by the river during the annual fall picnic, her dead and bloated status not standing in the way of post-mortem nocturnal visits to Manfred, gurgling watery pleas for help.
Directed by Flatliners‘ Niels Arden Oplev, no stranger to pilots having premiered both Under the Dome and Mr Robot, Midnight, Texas wastes no time and immediately gives the impression that everyone has a story, that everyone has secrets, but being too eager to lay all the cards on the table from the outset the show lacks the sizzle of True Blood and not just in the limitations of broadcast network standards from which HBO was liberated.
Even without the near-confrontational nudity which was the hallmark of that show the writing feels obvious, almost soaplike in its timidity as it offers up plot points without any effort from characters whose search for the truth should be driving the mystery, Aubrey’s body stumbled across as Manfred arrives in town like some Jessica Fletcher triggering mechanism and the supernature of each character quite literally announced in dialogue almost as soon as they are introduced.
The laidback performances so far offering insufficient to latch onto with anyone other than The Man Who Was Thursday‘s François Arnaud as the edgy but earnest Manfred and Sleepy Hollow‘s Peter Mensah as suave and deadly vampire Lemuel, Fiji says that in Midnight “the veil between the living and the dead is awful thin here,” but so is any reason for the audience to invest in real estate, and while Midnight, Texas may ostensibly be a safe place if it would be more interesting if it played the game somewhat more dangerously.