Written by Christopher Diggins
‘MALL HATH NO FURY’ PLOT SUMMARY:
Incompetent yet stylish detective Dazzle Novak (Rob Lowe) tries to take down a warlord, but gets distracted by the charms of an alluring singer with an unpronounceable name.
Next to the ’90s, the ’80s may be America’s favorite decade for pop culture. We love the glitz and glam of its musicians, its outrageously terrible fashions, and its over-the-top action movies. But unlike our fervent nostalgia for the ’90s, portrayals of the ’80s are usually accompanied by a heavy layer of parody. Perhaps this is because we’re now far removed enough from them to realize how ridiculous they were, or maybe it’s a special quality of that specific period in history.
Whatever the case, Comedy Central’s new animated show, Moonbeam City, is no exception to that parody rule. The show follows the titular Moonbeam City’s police department as they struggle to deal with their hometown’s massive crime rate and the incompetence of their own staff. Drawing heavily on shows like Miami Vice, it skewers the deadly seriousness of 80’s police procedurals as well as the general style and culture of the time period.
The most obviously important thing for a comedy is to be funny, and thankfully Moonbeam City delivers. The show zips along at a brisk pace, confident enough in itself to avoid the temptation to linger on its jokes. And it mines a great deal of humor from taking the earnestness that is so characteristic of the 80’s and ratcheting it up to ridiculous extremes, to the point that main character Dazzle Novak mourns the loss of his mug just as passionately (if not more so) as he hunts a drug lord or woos a beautiful woman.
This kind of comedic seriousness can be difficult to execute, but luckily the show has a stellar cast. Rob Lowe as Dazzle maintains an absurd intensity at all times, and his deadpan delivery of Dazzle’s insane dialogue is consistently hilarious. Elizabeth Banks also puts in a memorable performance as Pizzaz Miller, chief of the Moonbeam City PD and Dazzle’s boss. She spends much of the show berating Dazzle for his incompetence, but she really shines when given a chance to match him in absurdity. When, in one of the episode’s best jokes, she reprimands him by taking away his “#1 Cop” mug, it works as much because of her absolute certainty in its effectiveness as a punishment as it does because of his devastation at the loss.
But that bit reaches glorious new heights when the cast’s MVP, Will Forte, bursts onto the scene as Dazzle’s rival, Rad Cunningham. Forte is an incredible comic actor, and he is firing on all cylinders here. His smug satisfaction at Dazzle’s woes is pitch perfect, as is his detailing of all the bizarre things he does with his new “#1 Cop” mug. The only member of the cast who doesn’t get a chance to stand out is Kate Mara as Dazzle’s new partner Chrysalis Tate. She is the only true straight man in the cast, so she is often left to simply react to the action around her, but Mara does a good job of selling Chrysalis’ earnest desire to make a difference.
The show is very visually distinct as well, drawing heavily on the art Deco style of Patrick Nagel. The bright neon colors and bold shapes perfectly set the tone for this ’80s parody, as well as providing some eye-catching scenery. It’s also a very specific choice, and that specificity really helps a show that might otherwise blend in to the background stand out. Between that and its heavy synth soundtrack, Moonbeam City knows what style it wants and does an excellent job pulling it off.
It isn’t all hair spray and brightly colored fabric patterns with non-symmetrical shapes for Moonbeam City though. Its animation style may be interesting, but it can also feel a little stiff. The characters’ jerky facial movements as they speak sometimes works to heighten their comically over-dramatic dialogue, but at other times it simply feels artificial. Also, there is a real missed opportunity for some sharp satire of the 80’s in the vein of Robocop. A gung-ho, shoot-first police department seems ripe for it, and a couple lines point in that direction, but ultimately the show chooses to focus on parody and madcap comedy instead. It’s not a bad choice by any means, just one that feels like it isn’t using the full potential of the premise.
The biggest problem with the show, however, is its lackluster character development. Dazzle is entertaining as the flippant, pleasure-seeking near-sociopath, but it’s an archetype we’ve seen many times before (especially in Archer, a show Moonbeam City shares a fair few similarities with), and we never really get a sense of who he is outside of that trope. A few years ago that might have been enough, but now that kind of character is so common you need to work harder to distinguish yourself. The other characters are even more one-note: Pizzaz is the tough-as-nails police chief, Chrysalis is the ambitious newbie, Rad is the smug rival desperate to outdo Dazzle. It’s only a pilot, so sticking to established characters is understandable, but if the show doesn’t further define its cast in later episodes, it could quickly lose its charm.
That being said, if Moonbeam City can further refine itself and find its unique voice, it has all the makings of a truly excellent show. The pilot may not be quite there yet, but it has a lot of potential. I’ll definitely be watching this one weekly, and with any luck, we may soon be talking about it in the same breath as shows like Archer.
RATING: 7 OUT OF 10 (GOOD WITH SERIOUS POTENTIAL)