Perhaps ever since True Blood sprung onto HBO in 2008, networks have been clamoring to develop a similarly popular Southern-fried supernatural drama. Take, for instance, Syfy's current hit Wynonna Earp -- which ties Western tropes in with all manner of demons and otherworldly beasties -- and you'll have some sense of how other some series have been inspired by True Blood's balance of character-based drama amid a small town teeming with horror just below the surface. Well, now NBC is throwing its own variation of this vague premise into the world with Midnight, Texas. The new series is not so surprisingly based on a series of books by author Charlaine Harris, who also wrote The Southern Vampire Mysteries series that True Blood is based on. But does it capture the same appeal as that earlier show?
MAKING HIS MOVE
Francois Arnaud stars as psychic Manfred Bernardo, who sets his sights on the eponymous town in order to keep a low profile from an as-yet-unrevealed looming threat. Right from its opening scene, Midnight, Texas lets viewers know to expect the unexpected, including a slick misdirect with Manfred's psychic session initially presented as some form of prostitution. That near-deadly encounter with a client also serves as a worthy showcase of the show's make-up effects, which are about as solid as anything on television these days. Meanwhile, the brief conversations between Manfred and his ghostly grandma -- though fun -- feel tonally out of whack with the rest of the show's more self-serious vibe.
On the whole, Midnight, Texas is a pretty bleak series with an occasional flicker of levity here and there. Arnaud's performance thus far has been fine, but the character nor his portrayer really seems to have found his footing. It certainly doesn't help that the pilot spends much of its runtime establishing the status quo, leaving Manfred little to do but be on the receiving end of the more instantaneously fascinating supporting cast (we'll get to them shortly). At this point, we get that he's haunted both literally and figuratively, but the show has yet to give us reason to emotionally invest in his plight.
MURDER AT MIDNIGHT
Naturally, not long after Manfred -- who is already ducking vengeful spirits left and right -- arrives in Midnight, a fresh new corpse washes up. This one is Aubrey, the fiancée of local pawn shop owner and Manfred's new landlord, Bobo Winthrop (Dylan Bruce). Since we really have no prior knowledge of Aubrey and only just met Bobo, viewers are left with little incentive to worry too much about what comes next. After a cursory investigation, Bobo himself is hauled away by the cops, but Midnight, Texas breezes past what is ostensibly the jumping-off point of the series with little regard for setting stakes. Thus far, the mystery only reveals that Aubrey was mixed up with a bad crowd prior to moving to Midnight.
Perhaps her need for help and her failed attempt to escape her past is meant to serve as a parallel for Manfred's own journey. Since we're so very early in the show's run, we'll have to wait and see where the case of Aubrey's murder will lead. Until then, the question of who's behind it should suffice as a way to get Manfred back in the game nd fully inaugurating into being a "Midnighter" like the rest of the town's band of supernatural miscreants. This storyline has already given us the pilot's freakiest moment, in which a host of desperate spirits co-opt Manfred's communication with Aubrey.
CITY OF SECRETS
So let's take a head count. We're only a single episode into Midnight, Texas, and already we've met a vampire (Peter Mensah's Lemuel), a witch (Parisa Fitz-Henley's Fiji), an angel (Jason Lewis's Joe) and quite possibly a werewolf (Yul Vasquez's Reverend Sheehan). That's a whole lot of supernatural beings roaming the streets of Midnight, which -- a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Sunnydale -- apparently serves as a nexus of mystical energy. The town is said to be a haven for such creatures, but with Manfred in town, it seems like that protection may have run its course. Likely, there's a larger battle looming, and while the story set forth thus far in Midnight, Texas may feel somewhat run-of-the-mill, the supporting players at least keep things interesting.
Although the show's NBC home greatly limits how far the show can go with sex, violence and the like, Midnight, Texas does squeeze in enough intrigue to keep viewers eager for more. In particular, Fitz-Henley -- who viewers may remember as Luke Cage's deceased wife Reva from Jessica Jones and Luke Cage -- brings a bubbly sense of energy and righteous indignation to the forefront, complete with her own Sabrina the Teenage Witch-style talking cat. In addition, Arielle Kebbel's Olivia -- who appears to be an assassin of sorts -- has tons of potential to grow into one of the show's more complex characters, and Sarah Ramos' Creek is positioned here as Manfred's love interest, which means she'll probably wind up being the Big Bad before all is said and done. Needless to say, let's hope Midnight, Texas takes full advantage of its monstrous ensemble in the weeks ahead.
Midnight, Texas returns next Monday with 'Bad Moon Rising' at 10pm on NBC.