‘Midnight, Texas’ Season 1, Episodes 2-4: The Veil is Fraying

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Now, with “Midnight, Texas” nearly halfway through the first season, one can get a better sense of what the show is going for: sort of a happy medium between writer Charlaine Harris’ “True Blood” and NBC’s own, also recently departed occult-themed show, “Grimm.” Like the former, it deals with a town in which nearly all the main characters are supernaturally gifted- or cursed- and like the latter, there’s a procedural aspect that’s somewhat akin to “The X-Files” famed “monster-of-the-week” episodes. So far, at least.

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In addition, there’s also an overarching plot thread that runs through the series- arguably three, actually. The first is the death of Bobo’s fiancée, Aubrey, and the repercussions of her murder, both from outside law enforcement (Midnight doesn’t have a local law enforcement, as the residents tend to deal with their own issues, for obvious reasons- they tend to be the type of stuff no one in their right mind would believe) and from those responsible, a biker gang called Sons of Lucifer, one of whom was Aubrey’s “secret” husband, a psychotic white supremacist-type out for Bobo’s blood.

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Another is whoever main protagonist Manfred (François Arnaud) is running from, a man named Hightower, who is obviously closing in on him, despite Manfred’s best efforts to elude him. Apparently, Manfred owes Hightower a great deal of money, but one would think there’s more to it than that, though the specifics we don’t know as of yet. I imagine book readers do, however.

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In addition, there’s talk from another character, the fallen angel Joe Strong (Jason Lewis), about an apocalyptic-type event on the horizon, which he says is caused by the “veil” between the “real” world and the supernatural world lifting, both drawing beasties to Midnight and allowing for mythical creatures to pass through from the “other side.” As time goes by, this will only get worse. There is, however, one possible person that might be able to stop it- a newcomer, who Joe is convinced must be Manfred.

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That’s plenty of stuff for a new show to hang its hat on, from the short-term (the Aubrey murder and the fall-out from it, Manfred’s situation with Hightower) to the long-term (the whole “veil-lifting” boundary between our world and the supernatural one and the results of that). But will the outcomes be satisfying? Hard to say just yet, obviously.

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I have enjoyed some of the “monsters-of-the-week,” particularly the guest-starring turn from “Fargo”-alum Zahn McClarnon and “Good Girls Revolt”-vet Odelya Halevi as a sexy vampire couple that used to be friends of Lemuel back in the day; and smoking hot Taylor Black (“Lucifer”) as a sexy succubus- on the surface, anyway. Below it, we’re talking Melisandre on a bad day. In other words, yikes!

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A lot hinges on the main characters on the whole, though, and, at this point, we’ve met most of them and it’s admittedly a mixed bag. Truth be told, the show lacks a character even remotely as engaging as, say, the late, great Nelsan Ellis’ indelible Lafayette on “True Blood,” who was so beloved that the show opted not to kill him, even though he died early on in the books, if I recall correctly. I’m not even sure if there’s one as memorable as Eric Northman, for that matter- though the compelling Peter Mensah comes closer to that mark, as this show’s resident vamp, Lemuel.

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Not that I would want the show to be simply a carbon copy of “True Blood,” anyway, mind you, but a lot of the characters are a bit on the bland side, which is a problem, if NBC wants people to stick with the show. I mean, for me, aside from Lemuel and Olivia (sexy Arielle Kebbel, filled to the brim with murderous attitude and sass), the most engaging character might be Xylda (Joanne Camp), Manfred’s grandmother- and she’s dead.

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Don’t get me wrong- I don’t hate some of the others. Both Creek (Sarah Ramos) and Fiji (Parisa Fitz-Henley) are easy on the eyes and reasonably endearing. I feel for Creek, who’s a grown-ass woman that has to sneak around with Manfred because daddy just doesn’t understand- though there may be more to it than that. I halfway expected her to turn evil when she and Manfred hooked up the first time, a la Buffy and Angel, but it didn’t happen.

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Obviously, something’s up there, and it would seem to be something akin to what was up with the preacher, Reverend Emilio Sheeran (Yul Vazquez)- who turned out to be a were-tiger, or whatever you prefer to call it- given the way Creek reacted to it to her brother, implying that her family’s situation might not be too far removed from the not-so-good Rev. Perhaps that might explain why her father’s so skittish about her involvement with Manfred- maybe he’s actually concerned for Manfred’s safety, not his daughter’s.

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But the fact that the two are obviously hooking up on the reg and nothing’s happened makes me think it must be something else- maybe her father really does sense that Manfred’s trouble and is running from something. Especially since he IS running from something, by his own admission. Doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy, necessarily- in fact, I doubt it does, given his actions to help the town already, despite having just moved there.

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If anything, it seems more likely to prove that Joe’s feelings about Manfred might be closer to the mark, and he might well be the savior the town needs for the looming threat. Still not sure why Joe is playing his info about all this so close to the vest, though. Wouldn’t it make more sense to get ahead of all this impending doom however they can, as soon as they can? I guess he has his reasons, but I’m not sure I understand them as of yet.

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Meanwhile, there’s Fiji, who has a long-standing thing for Bobo (Dylan Bruce), which, to the show’s credit, they didn’t drag out too long, with the two finally hooking up at the end of episode four. I do like the insecure-but-powerful witch, and the show’s sort of sexier, more exotic take on “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch”- down to her having a talking cat, Mr. Snuggly (Joe Smith), who’s like a more Southern-fried Salem. It sounds awful on paper, but is actually pretty endearing on the show. (I’d be curious to know how it plays in the books, or if there even is a talking cat.)

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So, between the wry Xylda, the fierce Olivia, the quietly sexy Creek and the more-capable-than-she-gives-herself-credit-for Fiji, the ladies clearly rule the day on “Midnight, Texas,” which is cool. I just wish the fellas were a stronger bunch. As it stands, aside from the naturally (if somewhat intensely) charismatic Mensah’s Lemuel, most of the male cast does nothing for me and, quite frankly, are little bit on the bland side, like the latest crop of CW hunks- only not even THAT impressive, really.

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I mean, don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate any of them. They’re just not that compelling, which is a shame, given the relative strength of the female side of the cast. And mind you, some of them have been in the past. I adored the recently-departed “Orphan Black,” for instance, and I thought Bruce was just fine on that, though he had a little more to work with, admittedly, playing what amounted to a double agent.

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Likewise, Lewis took what could have been a stock “himbo” character on “Sex & The City” and made it reasonably more complicated than one might have thought going in. I’m not familiar with Arnaud, but I’d be willing to bet he was also more compelling on “The Borgias” or “Blindspot,” his two most prominent previous credits. (Feel free to confirm or deny in the comments section down below if you are familiar with those shows.)

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That means that it might well be the writers’ fault for all this, which is too bad. As a fellow writer, I get how someone could feel more excited by one character over another- I’m sure writing for, say, the “Buffy”-meets-“Nikita” Olivia is a hell of a lot of fun, for instance; whereas, writing for the brooding Manfred might be a drag. Here’s the thing, though- it doesn’t have to be. If the reason the character is the way he is, is because that’s the way he is in the books, then all the writers have to do is tweak it a bit.

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It wouldn’t be the first time a show/movie diverted from the source material, after all. Hell, like I said before, the Lafayette character on “True Blood” was so loveable, the show couldn’t bring themselves to knock him off. Sometimes, admittedly, it’s all about getting the right actor for the role, yes; but other times, it’s simply a matter of getting into the groove, writing-wise. We’re only on the fourth episode, there’s still time to do just that.

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I will say, on a more positive note, that most of the male leads have decent enough chemistry with their female love interests, which is a good thing. It’s always a plus when another performer can elevate the performance of their fellow actor, and all of the above light up considerably when the ladies are involved.

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Interestingly, that also includes one of the males, as well- Bernardo Saracino as Chuy Strong, Joe’s love interest. He may not be a grandiose and flashy as Lafayette as a gay character, but definitely has his own version of charm, making him another potential MVP-in-the-making on the male end of the cast. It’s too soon to say for sure, but he could be a contender on down the line, in terms of the most likeable male cast members.

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Now, it may be that the show is already shot and in the can, so it might be too late to do anything about all this this season. On the plus side, at only ten episodes, the show isn’t likely to overstay its welcome the first time around. Also, the ratings seem to be pretty solid, with the show debuting at around 3.60 million, and only sinking to 3.13 this week. That would seem to indicate that the majority of people like what they see, and are sticking with it- for now, at least.

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That’s a good sign if the show hopes to get renewed, and if it does, then they have plenty of time to right the wrongs of the first season the next time around. Nearly all shows have growing pains- just look at the early seasons of “The Simpsons” or “Seinfeld,” if you don’t believe me. Granted, there’s less patience among the TV powers that be as well, making it tougher for a show to have room to grow if it doesn’t take off immediately, but fortunately for “Midnight, Texas,” it would seem that this show will get that chance, for at least one more season.

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Let’s just hope they use that down time wisely. I don’t think I’m in the minority of feeling this way, though I tend to stay away from other (professional) critic’s reviews, as I don’t want them affecting my own. However, I have been interacting with people who watched the show on social media, and oftentimes, the core audience reaction is more telling than the critical one, and I obviously say that as a critic myself.

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For instance, the show has a whopping 87% approval rating on “Rotten Tomatoes,” while critical reception has been hovering at a more lukewarm 58%. In other words, the core audience that goes for stuff like this enjoy it, while the more jaded critics- who, also like myself, probably have to endure much more in the way of inferior product in the same wheelhouse as this- have had a more tepid reaction. Some of them like it, but as they say, we aren’t jumping up and down about it- yet.

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Join me in a few weeks for another check-in to see how the show has improved- if it has improved at all. In a weird way, I am pulling for it. I’m no fan of “reality” TV and I can only stand so much game shows, so anything in the way of new programming good enough to make me forgo using the summer as anything but catch-up time for shows I missed during the core seasons is a welcome respite from all of that.

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To that end, “Midnight, Texas” is no “Ozark,” to be sure- but it’s a damn sight better than, say, “Big Brother” or the latest iteration of the seemingly endless “Bachelor/Bachelorette” saga, that’s for sure. Or maybe that’s just me. Let me know what you think down below, and I’ll talk to you in a few weeks!