‘Moonhaven’ Review – The Hollywood Reporter

I spent two years fighting the complications of desperately wanting to recommend AMC’s delightfully weird dramedy Lodge 49 and being generally unable to even describe the show. A slice of surfer noir by way of Thomas Pynchon, like terriers without the gumshoe trappings, Lodge 49 Probably never would have been a mainstream smash, but I don’t think it ever came close to maxing out on the audience that would have fallen for its laconic, thoughtful noodling and its abundant, low-key charms.

AMC+’s new series moonhaven isn’t really a lunar Lodge 49but sailing from Lodge 49 showrunner Peter Ocko and boasting Lodge 49 creator Jim Gavin as writer and producer, moonhaven has some of that elusive DNA. Even if one can sense Ocko and company trying to at least give AMC+ a promotable hook, moonhaven is a show that’s at its least intriguing when at its most ostensibly graspable. The show’s six-episode first season clearly wants to be gripping and propulsive at times and it really isn’t, but there are frequent bursts of delightful and inventive strangeness.


The Bottom Line

Its overall vibe is crater than the sum of its parts.

Airdate: Thursday, July 7 (AMC+)

Cast: Emma McDonald, Dominic Monaghan, Amara Karan, Ayelet Zurer, Joe Manganiello, Kadeem Hardison and Yazzmin Newell

Creator: Peter Ocko

The series is set three generations after settlers left a dying Earth to build a 500-square-mile colony on the moon. Rather than eyeing the lunar surface as a potential Earth replacement, the community of Moonhaven was sent with a powerful artificial intelligence system designed to find solutions for Earth’s problems. As the pilot begins, a younger generation of moon settlers is on the verge of returning to Earth with what they’ve learned, a last-gasp humanitarian mission.

Naturally, somebody or something has decided that “The Bridge” cannot occur as scheduled. Just as an Earth envoy (Amara Karan’s Indira) and her bodyguard (Joe Manganiello) arrive in a ship piloted by soldier-turned-smuggler Bella (Emma McDonald), the utopian lunar Eden is shaken by the uncommon specter of murder. In Moonhaven, detectives are generally expected to serve as conduits for psychic healing, as opposed to legal justice, but it’s up to a pair of bumbling investigators — Dominic Monaghan’s Paul and Kadeem Hardison’s Arlo — to figure out who would want to jeopardize this pivotal moment in human progress.

The storyline featuring Paul and Argo, which generally seems like it ought to be the series’ spine, gives AMC+ some cover for calling moonhaven a “suspense thriller,” a classification that isn’t exactly wrong, but definitely isn’t quite right. It’s accessible, though, and moonhaven can then be slotted into one of my favorite genres, the “murder where people aren’t accustomed to murder” mystery — think whiteout (Antarctica) or fortitude (the Norwegian Arctic) or The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (sub-history Alaska). Immediate suspects include Bella, tied to Moonhaven in several unforeseen ways, New Age-y council head Maite (Ayelet Zurer) and a pack of rebels who want either moon autonomy or to see Earth burn.

This version of the story is easy to latch onto and, in its familiarity, easy to be disappointed by. With a few exceptions, moonhaven isn’t all that suspenseful or thrilling. If I was supposed to have an investment in the things that Arlo and Paul and Bella are discovering in their respective investigations, it never materializes.

moonhaven is an engaging series of discoveries of a different type. Production designer Philip Murphy and directors led by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy present Moonhaven as a commune of back-to-nature flower children, with cutting-edge underpinnings that are more surprising and amusing than anything in the criminal probe. This show isn’t really about the various futuristic gizmos that created this Garden of Eden — there’s even a very literal Tree of Knowledge — on the moon, though there are weapons and virtual reality augmentations and ships and communication devices whose origins and technological innovations you can ponder if that’s your point of interest. Just don’t expect wonky explanations for the terraforming of some aspects of Moonhaven or the medical rejuvenating power of verdant vines. The milieu is half Westworld and half midsommar.

The show is best enjoyed through whimsical immersion in that milieu and in the culture that has been developed on the colony, making sense of the religious rituals, familial divisions and power structure. It’s a touchy-feely world of flash-mob dancing, drug-assisted emotional exploration and science that’s informed by nature and magic more than engineering. There are space colonization aspects to moonhaven that are being treated in more practical terms on Apple TV+’s for All Mankind or with more cost-intensive science fiction scale on Apple TV+’s foundation or in the two-season run of Raised by Wolves on HBO Max, so any jaw-dropping pleasures of that type that you find here should be taken as bonuses on top of the more idiosyncratic and offbeat smiles it generates.

It’s not a comedy, really, but it’s not a dark show, especially when the thoroughly likable Hardison and Monaghan are experiencing the burgeoning joy and buddy-cop hijinks inherent in becoming the new society’s Holmes and Watson. Death and grief on Moonhaven are a peculiar thing, and you can see why these cops might lack initial urgency, which is where the military-trained Bella, played with a good mixture of humor and eyes-of-the-viewer confusion by McDonald, comes in.

There’s a grab-bag quality to the ensemble, such that Manganiello’s sneering menace and Zurer’s inscrutable earthiness don’t necessarily feel like they’re of a piece with the very effectively precocious Martha Malone as Paul’s inquisitive daughter, Elna. It’s easier to accept that Moonhaven and its inhabitants exist in an awkward combination of communal harmony and individual incongruity. The theory, I guess, is that if everybody talked the same and dressed the same and bought into the utopian ideals in the same way, moonhaven wouldn’t have much drama and it wouldn’t be convincing either.

There’s a lot that’s recognizable in the show’s cynical approach to our current failures to protect Earth and the idea that a halcyon plan like this would offer true salvation, without moonhaven coming across as a prescription to counter contemporary malaise. It isn’t a lecture on environmentalism or justice reform or the evils of rampant capitalism. like Lodge 49no matter the stakes built into the plot, moonhaven is more a vibe than an adventure, and it’s less effective when it tries to approach the adventure sincerely. Befitting its core location, the show’s gravity tends toward the artificial, so just slide into the mood and wonderment of moonhaven.

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