‘Moonhaven’: Clunky sci-fi series revolves around a lunar colony fraught with mystery
While visually arresting, the AMC+ show is overstuffed with soap opera melodramatics and murky battle scenes.
Our heroes are deep in the woods and we’re deep into the sci-fi adventure that is the AMC+ limited series “Moonhaven” when they come across a small tribe they’ve never encountered before.
“We call ourselves Gazers,” says one of the group.
Ah-HA! That explains it!
Turns out the group gazes “at the stars, the future, into ourselves. We prefer a simpler life.” Still, when a character responds to, “Why Gazers?” with, “We gaze,” that sounds like something out of a Monty Python movie from the 1970s — and this is my main concern with this initially intriguing, visually arresting and well-acted futuristic mystery thriller.
A streaming series premiering with two episodes Thursday on AMC+. A new episode will premiere each subsequent Thursday.
Even as we’re having a moderately good time trying to piece together the puzzle involving the usual space-travel metaphors and double-crossing characters, the exposition often comes across as clunky, the dialogue teeters on the edge of self-parody and certain slogans are repeated ad nauseam.
“Moonhaven” is set in the year 2201, and the opening titles tell us exactly what’s been happening. Ready?
THE EARTH IS DYING, AND ITS PEOPLE WITH IT
SETTLERS HAVE BEEN SENT TO THE MOON WITH OUR MOST POWERFUL ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
TO SOLVE EARTH’S PROBLEMS AND TO SAVE US
AFTER THREE GENERATIONS, THEY HAVE BUILT A SOCIETY THAT CAN SURVIVE THE FUTURE
THE TIME HAS COME TO BRING IT HOME
Got all that? Good!
In an early scene in Episode 1, a couple of buddy-movie detectives named Paul (Dominic Monaghan) and Arlo (Kadeem Hardison) happen upon the body of a recently murdered woman. They seem curiously unaffected by this discovery, as Paul takes out some sort of magic handheld device, points it at the woman and identifies her as Chill Spen.
“Who killed Chill Spen?” says Arlo. “The mystery begins.”
Paul again points the device at the victim and says, “Strego Nall is the killer.”
“The mystery ends,” deadpans Arlo.
A moment later, we pan up and see the Earth hovering in the sky. We’re on the moon! Just like those title cards explained. In a gorgeous opening credits sequence, we see a massive drill of some sort impregnating the forbidding and unlivable surface of the moon and unleashing a magical power that creates the aforementioned colony, where “Mooners” have lived for generations, striving to reach a level of technological advancement that will enable them to return to the ravaged, polluted and war-stricken Earth to teach those heathens how to live.
With creative costumes that look great but are probably uncomfortable, set designs often reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and CGI that feels lifted from a 1990s sci-fi TV series but somehow works well here, “Moonhaven” introduces us to a world where everyone seems to be living in harmony, but there are dark secrets lurking just beyond the borders of the main colony. While English seems to be the only language, the Mooners have developed their own, cloying terminology, e.g., saying “grats” for thanks and speaking of feelings such as “Eye Warm,” which is when you see someone and you get to know them immediately or some such thing Earth is referred to as “Mother,” and everybody keeps on saying things like, “The future is better,” and, “Where one world ends, the next one begins.” Oh, and sometimes there are rituals involving weird singsong chanting and dancing with brooms.
We’re just two weeks away from the first wave of Mooners making the journey to their ancestral home planet to share all the secrets they’ve learned from the benevolent, God-like artificial intelligence known as IO. Emma McDonald has the Han Solo role as Bella Sway, an ex-military pilot who has been tasked with flying the Earth envoy Indira Mare (Amara Karan) and her intimidating one-man security force Tomm (Joe Manganiello) to the moon so that Indira can formalize the agreement to implement “The Bridge,” which will connect the lunar residents to Earth.
Once they arrive, however, they find a landscape and a vibe that’s bit of Garden of Eden crossed with “Midsommar” and one Maite Voss (Ayelet Zurer) who seems to be a full-on cult leader, complete with hippie-dippie banter and crazy eyes. Maite doesn’t seem so eager to help the Earth people, and in the meantime, the body count starts to pile up and there’s much talk of conspiracy theories and uprisings and maybe even an invasion by aliens. Bella Sway learns some shocking secrets about her past, and teams up with Paul to uncover the truth about what’s really happening on the moon.
Spoiler alert: It’s complicated. It’s also overstuffed with soap opera melodramatics about certain family dynamics and romances, battle scenes that often play out in the murky night, and heavy-handed discussions about how a family can become a tribe, and then a tribe becomes a nation, and then we get wars. I found myself over the moon, but not in the best sense of that expression.