HBO struck gold with their adaptation of Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mystery series and now it looks like NBC are trying to make some of that magic themselves with their adaptation of Harris’ Midnight, Texas series.
Of course, the obvious flaw to this strategy is the differences between HBO and NBC when it comes to content.
If you’re looking for sex, nudity and more f-bombs than you thought a person could possibly fit into one sentence, you might be a little disappointed with what Midnight has to offer.
For those who don’t know, Midnight, Texas follows Manfred Bernardo (played by François Arnaud), a psychic and seer who really can communicate with the dead. The downside to this power is that it leaves him susceptible to ‘hijackings’ from spirits.
That is to say, he can be possessed by the dead against his will.
If that wasn’t bad enough, someone is hunting Manfred, trying to collect on a debt.
It’s definitely time to get out of town.
‘You’ll be safe in Midnight.’
Sage words from Gypsy, Xylda (apologies, the show’s choice of word, not mine) . She’s Manfred’s dead grandmother, who seems to be spending her afterlife haunting his van, smoking, and handing out wisdom whenever required.
And, given that Midnight, Texas is the name of the show, it should be no surprise that Manfred decides to take Xylda’s advice.
The pilot episode plays out like a meet-and-greet, moving Manfred from place to place so he can conveniently meet the other key players. Unfortunately, convenience is something the show seems to rely on a lot.
Each character we’re introduced to seems, like Manfred, to have their own stuff going. Already, the show seems to be setting up a series of questions and mysteries to be answered at a later date. And, really, that’s all this episode feels like; setting up things to come and hoping we’ll stick around that long.
Olivia (played by Arielle Kebbel) is the first Midnighter Manfred comes across; rude, abrupt, and clearly there to fill the show’s badass female quota. We don’t see much of her until later in the episode and, even then, it’s clear they’re building a mystery around her background.
Next comes Bobo (Dylan Bruce), owner of the local pawn shop and Manfred’s new landlord. Judging from the perpetual grin on his face, it’s safe to assume that Bobo is either the happiest man in Texas (despite the recent disappearance of his fiancée Aubrey), or he’s hiding something. Bobo tries to engage Manfred’s services in tracking Aubrey down and, though Manfred is quick to decline, it’s obvious that we haven’t heard the last of it.
A couple more characters are found at the local diner some time later; obvious love interest Creek (Sarah Ramos) and Lemuel (Peter Mensah). The latter quickly revealing himself to be a vampire with the ability to leech power from others with a simple touch of his hand. A power that he unceremoniously demonstrates on poor Manfred though, ultimately, with little purpose other than to show that he can. Fortunately Manfred is laid back enough to simply go with it.
The next day, at a picnic for locals we’re introduced to Fiji (Parisa Fitz-Henley), a witch whose crush on Bobo could only be more obvious with neon signage, and who isn’t above gifting cursed cookies to test Manfred’s intentions in town.
The idyllic picnic lasts all of two minutes before a dead body is discovered on the river bank. And, unless you’re new to this kind of show, it comes as no shock that the body is Aubrey, Bobo’s missing fiancée (finally, something wipes the smirk off his face).
Finally, Some Purpose…
At this point the show thankfully turns, focusing on something other than Manfred playing the new guy.
The police arrive and it’s made clear how people from outside of Midnight feel about the town and its residents.
As a local sheriff explains to Manfred, ‘Some folks say she’s a witch… or a lesbian.’ He singles out Fiji because, for reasons beyond me, Charlaine Harris adaptations always seem full of the stereotype revolving around people from the southern US states being bigots.
A definite eye-roll moment.
A Series Of Convenient Events…
A murder investigation ensues. Fortunately the town has a new psychic in residence and Aubrey’s ghost knows just where to go to find him.
That’s awfully convenient.
While Fiji comforts (read: fawns over) Bobo, Manfred decides to set up a seance and things quickly go wrong, leaving him with a house full of unhappy ghosts and some weird sort of hellmouthesque fire beneath the floorboards.
But he does get the one word that leads the police to where Aubrey was shot and dumped in the water, so maybe it was worth it?
How and why they chose to believe Manfred isn’t explained but it puts them in possession of the murder weapon.
Another convenience to add to the tally.
Upon returning to Midnight, Manfred soon finds himself knocked out and kidnapped by Olivia, who wants to know why he’s in town and what he told the police.
Of course, she had to strip him down to his underwear to check for recording devices before tying him to a chair (whatever you need to tell yourself, Olivia, it’s not like I’m complaining).
The interrogation doesn’t last long as Fiji and Lemuel interrupt, the latter very quickly warming to Manfred and demanding his release, just at the mention of Xylda.
At this point I had to wonder if there was anything else Xylda could have told Manfred to help avoid these situations.
The answer is yes.
With all the bad blood (no pun intended) forgotten, Lemuel and Fiji give Manfred a rundown of what’s really going on in Midnight.
Apparently Midnight sits on powerful mystical energy and the veil between the living and the dead is much thinner in the town - something else that Xylda might have mentioned before Manfred accidentally filled his house with angry ghosts.
Jumping back to Bobo we’re almost given some action when some of the local biker gang turn up at the pawn shop. Again the show builds up expectation and is quick to deal with it, having Lem and Olivia appear to save the day far too quickly.
Wrapping Up Episode One…
Towards the end of the episode we’re given some time alone with Manfred and Creek, the relationship that the show is very quick to shove down our throats, with little more than a couple of conversations as its basis.
They talk, they laugh, and Manfred even gives her a phoney palm reading. In return she tells him a little more about the Midnighters (clearly no one in the writers’ room was familiar with the ‘show don’t tell’ rule).
Just before they get to the kiss that we’ve been expecting since their first meeting, the pair are interrupted by the police rolling into town to arrest Bobo.
It turns out that the gun Manfred helped them find actually belonged to Bobo.
Of course, the rest of the Midnighters know better, leading to a brief standoff with the police (involving a rather awesome but short display of Fiji’s powers), which ends when Manfred agrees to help clear Bobo’s name.
The episode ends on a cliffhanger with Manfred standing outside his house, the evil hellmouthesque lights looking scarier than ever.
Will they prove Bobo’s innocence?
Will Manfred be able to go back in house without getting attacked by ghosts?
And why did Xylda suggest Midnight without warning Manfred about all the obvious dangers?
Tune in next week… I guess?
By this point I’ve hopefully made it clear enough that Midnight, Texas isn’t without its flaws. That said, I’m not quite willing to write it off as an unsalvageable mess just yet.
There are issues with pacing, and the way information is just conveniently doled out makes it seemed bland and predictable.
However, for the time being, I’m willing to chalk that up to the same trap many fledgling shows fall into in their earlier episodes. It tries to do too much to establish the characters and universe in too short a time, and seems intent on creating mystery around every character right from the off.
Poor Manfred is pushed from point A to point B at breakneck pace, just so the show can tell us the next thing that probably won’t come up until later in the series.
Every instance of threat or excitement is interrupted and dealt with before even getting started, leaving you as far from the edge of your seat as physically possible.
But there’s a cheesy sort of charm to it, and the characters are likable and interesting enough to make me want to see a little more…even if this does simply become the sort of show that’s only watched to kill an hour on a particularly dull evening.
Claire is a writer, an amatuer photographer and a lover of all things fantasy and sci-fi. A self-professed geek, she loves video games, movies, comics, and movies based on comics. Anything with dystopian themes, apocalyptic settings or supernatural creatures is bound to catch her attention.