Beneath a bunch of jargon, confusing language, and new cultures, there is a beating heart of Moonhaven, the new AMC+ sci-fi drama. Part dystopian story, part detective story, with a smidge of political thriller thrown in, it might take a while before you get your sea legs with Moonhaven. It’s unfortunate that there is so much work to do on the part of the show to describe their new world, because once the actual intrigue and story unveils itself, it’s actually quite a wild journey. One with moments that will make you gasp and wonder what you just saw.
Moonhaven is set in a not-so-distant future where the Earth has been ravaged by humanity. Life on Earth sucks, there’s not much in the way of food, water, or comfort. Some years ago, a colony on the Moon was created called Moonhaven. The people who live there live very differently than the people on Earth. They speak in English but it’s the kind of English that A Clockwork Orange‘s Alex DeLarge speaks. You don’t grieve when someone dies, you get the dreadfeel. It is supposed to add to the mystique of Moonhaven but it only leads to confusion and obfuscation. Because the plot revolves around a recent murder and the opportune arrival of a pilot, Bella Sway (Emma McDonald).
Moonhaven’s purpose was to eventually return back to the earth to teach people how to recover and rebuild their lives, but the lifestyle is so fundamentally different. The main thing is, no one raises their own child on Moonhaven. When you have kids, you meet them once, and then they are given to another family to raise and you only meet them again when you die. It’s an attempt to solve tribalism which they believe leads to war. Get rid of blood is thicker than water, and maybe war goes with it? But it’s genuinely hard to imagine what hippie thought that forcing people to give up their children would bring peace on Earth.
The show dabbles with themes of predestination, technology as a big brother, even extraterrestrial life, but that is also its downfall. It has too much to juggle and not enough time to give one the attention it’s due. It often feels like it’s trying very hard to make you interested in watching more instead of actually leaning into the strengths of the series. Moonhaven delivers a slew of characters, but among them are stars that the show must lean on in order to elevate itself. McDonald’s Bella is one of them. Though she is initially quite a cipher, giving us the perspective of a person from earth, she quickly becomes a part of Moonhaven and learns about its culture.
She meets Arlo (Kadeem Hardison) and Paul (Dominic Monaghan), two detectives. But without much crime on Moonhaven, they’re not as experienced in solving a recent murder, one that leads them to Bella. Arlo is a lover of Sherlock Holmes and quickly becomes one of the bright spots in the series, offering wholesome levity. Paul, on the flip side, is the heart of this show. Although you could call Bella the protagonist, it is Paul’s world that we are plunged into. As he gets to know Bella, she gets to know him and his lifestyle. He is a kind and just man, one who can understand the twists and turns that an investigation can take, but also someone who can embrace the moment and simply start dancing.
Some low points in the series include Joe Manganiello also plays a bodyguard named Tomm with more up his sleeve than we realize. It’s kind of a bizarre role, a character who is both aimless and far too focused. It’s hard to see him beyond just being a plot device disguised as a character. Same goes for the enigmatic Maite played by Ayelet Zurer. She starts off as the leader of the Mooners but soon becomes whatever the plot needs her to be. We never learn quite enough about her to form our own picture and it’s rather infuriating. The character is rather smug and is likely meant to be one of those characters who walks the line between black and white but ends up existing only to push the plot forward. The presence of the program IO is meant to be a kind of technological big brother, but that too falls into the background until it is needed to bring movement to the plot.
At the end of the day, while Moonhaven is an interesting concept, and there are certainly moments in it that are beautiful and thoughtful, it can’t see the forest for the trees. It feels like it’s throwing a lot against the wall, hoping most of it sticks. But, all is not lost. The ending of the season brings more clarity and more mysteries that might be enough to intrigue viewers to come back for more.