Comedy Central’s latest foray into animation, “Moonbeam City,” feels like something that might be great one day, even if its first episode is nothing spectacular.
The series comes from “Conan” alumn Scott Gairdner and stars Rob Lowe (“Parks and Recreation”) as dashing police detective Dazzle Novak, a sex-addicted, action hero-type who prefers drinking champagne with a gaggle of strippers over finding a suspect. This leaves the impression that “Moonbeam City” shares more than a couple of ideas with the FX spy comedy “Archer.”
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Yet, while Archer and his fellow ISIS agents play the boors in an otherwise serious world of espionage, Dazzle seems to be the perfect reflection of his surroundings. Like the art-deco city the series takes place in, Dazzle Novak’s character is a glossy surface over a thin and meaningless interior. But for all its swaggering aims to criticize shows like “CSI: Miami” and “Miami Vice,” it’s never clear, at least in the pilot, if “Moonbeam City” seeks to subvert the conventions of such shows, or if it just wants to join the party.
Despite its flaws, “Moonbeam City” might just be the best-looking animated series on television. Its Patrick Nagle-inspired design skewers 1980’s Miami into a bright, colorful dystopia that rests somewhere between Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” and “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.”
It’s just unfortunate that Gairdner and crew haven’t populated such an alluring world with more interesting characters. Lowe, to his credit, does bring life to a pretty superficial character. Yet, there’s nothing redeemable about Dazzle. Sure he wants to be a “good cop” but he’s such a crummy one that it’s a wonder, even in a world as crazy as his, how he ended up with the “#1 Cop” coffee mug in the first place. The whole love story with a Cuban singer feels like a joke in a standalone episode of “Archer,” not the culmination of a character’s introductory story arc.
The supporting cast touts some big names, yet no one really steals the show in the first episode. Elizabeth Banks (“The Hunger Games”) plays straight-laced police chief Pizzaz whose sole purpose, it seems, is to break the balls of our main characters. Kate Mara (“House of Cards”) meanwhile, plays Chrysalis Tate, Dazzle’s level-headed colleague who’s forced to follow his absurd directives as the audience’s obligatory stand-in. Will Forte (“The Last Man on Earth”) provides the closest thing we get to a stand-out as Dazzle’s rival, Rad Cunningham. Forte continues to make viewers laugh in whatever he’s doing, and his role as the mice-bathing Rad is no exception.
But even with its stellar cast and mesmerizing aesthetic, “Moonbeam City” should be something else, something edgier, dirtier and more subversive. Its contemporaries, who it liberally borrows from, remain memorable not only for breaking the rules of good taste but maintaining a soul, no matter how twisted and tiny it might be.
In defense of “Moonbeam City,” the series does have a lot of potential. According to those who have seen the rest of the first season, many believe “Moonbeam City” will follow a similar path to “Bojack Horseman,” the Netflix animated comedy that started off with weak first episodes, only to grow in quality and become, with its second season, one of the best shows on television. Still, we can’t help but think that in a world as densely populated with quality television as ours “Moonbeam City” should have started with a bang instead of a thud.