Moonhaven, AMC’s new science fiction serial, offers welcome pluck and strong craft but takes time to find its space legs.
What is it about living through cataclysmic times that makes us crave apocalyptic entertainment? Are we just clinging to the hope that humanity gets plucky and figures shit out before it’s too late? AMC’s new sci-fi adventure Moonhaven, an uneven but…well, plucky creation of Peter Ocko tries to answer just that. Set some 200 years in the future, Moonhaven shows humanity at two very divergent stages. While things like climate change, war, famine, and plagues continue to rage on unchecked on the Earth, it’s forever Opposite Day on the Moon, where a small chunk of humanity has been living under the protective eye of IO, an artificial intelligence tasked with helping those people fix Earth, somehow.
While things on Earth are as bad as they’ve ever been, by contrast, the Moon sanctuary is just one caftan short of a cult. Against the backdrop of a verdant paradise where everyone is gorgeous and poly, the Mooners seem both childlike in their innocence and hilariously unprepared for things like murder and conspiracy. Just before the first wave of Mooners are set to make their way to Earth to begin “fixing things,” a young woman with the unlikely name of Chill is murdered, a crime that is somehow connected to a prickly pilot/smuggler Bella Sway (Emma McDonald).
Bella is tasked with piloting Indira Mare (Amara Karan), who serves as an ambassador of sorts. Because of her high status, Indira travels with a trusted bodyguard, Tomm (Joe Manganiello). Tomm and Bella immediately seem to have a rapport, although one that’s hard to tell at first thanks to the silliness of the future-speak. Much like The Expanse, where the writers and creators painstakingly crafted a form of Creole, the writers of Moonhaven have taken some pains to imagine how language might evolve. Does it make the futuristic setting more plausible? It sure does! Is it still very silly? It sure is!
As if the dichotomy of the human race wasn’t enough to be getting on with, Moonhaven gives us power struggles between the leadership of Earth—as represented by Indira the Envoy—and Maite Voss (Ayelet Zurer), the head guru of Moonhaven. Like Indira, Maite finds something compelling in Bella Sway, and the two leaders attempt to pull Bella into their own considerable orbits. Both seem to want to help Bella, and both leaders—while polar opposites on the surface—are two sides of the same coin: determined, brilliant, and completely untrustworthy.
The only person who Bella seems inclined to trust is Detective Paul Sarno (Dominic Monaghan), a sweet soul who finds Bella’s cynical shell equal parts fascinating and repellant. Paul and his partner Arlo (Kadeem Hardison) are tasked with investigating Chill’s murder, and how it all leads back to Bella.
Moonhaven wants so badly to be instantly riveting, and while the first episode is wildly entertaining, compelling it is not. The absurdity of the Moon looking like a wellness retreat for ultra-wealthy millennials while the Earth burns works against the show at first. But as the six episodes play out, the more riveting it becomes. It’s helped by the fact that none of the episodes ever drags or feels like a chore to get through. There is some genuinely cool science fiction to be found here, and the naturalistic beauty of Moonhaven begins to feel like a literal breath of fresh air after the brief pivots to Earth. Karan and Zurer are giving subtle performances, ones layered with intrigue and a lot of masterful face-acting.
Monaghan, whose biggest roles until now have been a sassy little hobbit and a marooned rock star, also deserves laurels for his work here. It’s a true pleasure to see him getting to stretch his legs and show just how much range he has as the kind and curious Sarno, and his rapport with Hardison is sublimely goofy and wonderful. The real standout, however, is Emma McDonald, who imbues Bella with a quality of stoic cynicism that hides some real trauma. If there was a role I would compare this to, it might be Katee Sackoff’s turn as Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, another ace pilot who uses wisecracks and self-destructive living as a shield against the cruelty of life.
Like its predecessor The Expanse, Moonhaven may take an episode or two to get fully invested in, but it’s well worth the dig. Even when the plot thickens and things get heavy, it never loses its sense of light and charm. The world(s) that Ocko has created feels real, not just the horror that Earth has become, but also the tactile naturalism of Moonhaven. Don’t let this one slip under your radar.
Moonhaven airs weekly on AMC.
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You on drugs? That series is terrible.