Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Moonhaven, on AMC+

In Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, there was nothing utopian about the Moon colonists. They were good capitalists, who were tired of the Earthers freeloading off them. In contrast, this lunar colony believes it is a utopia, whose entire purpose is to develop the technology and social mores that will save Earth from its own self-destructive impulses. Yet, it too develops a separatist rebellion in creator-showrunner Peter Ocko’s six-episode Moonhaven, which premieres Thursday on AMC+.

Things are bad on Earth, really, really bad. However, Moonhaven’s small terraformed patch of the Moon is a lunar paradise. At least, that is what they smugly assure themselves. It is all due to IO, the artificial intelligence that governs the planet and prevents bad behavior. When something slightly unseemly occurs, “detectives” Paul Serno and Arlo Noon are dispatch to investigate, but since that mainly involves dialing up an IO playback, they mostly function more like grief counselors.

Cynical war veteran Bella Sway does not care about any of that. She periodically pilots a shuttle to and from Moonhaven, because she enjoys the isolation of space flight. She also takes advantage of the opportunity to smuggle advanced Moonhaven drugs back to Earth. However, this time she will be ferrying Indira Mare, Moonhaven’s envoy to Earth, who is due to play a critical role in the soon-to-commence deployment of Moonhaven youth back to Earth.

Basically, they are supposed to be like secret Peace Corps volunteers, theoretically reintegrating with Terran society to steer the planet in the right direction. Unfortunately, there are some Moonies who want to stop the process due to their fear, pride, and contempt. There are also those on Earth out to halt the reverse-colonization, because nobody likes a know-it-all.

Sway will never be a true believer, but she eventually throws in her chips with Serno and Noon, because of the friendships she develops with them. In fact, the way Ocko writes the character of Sway and the way Emma McDonald portrays her, reflect the military mindset with great intelligence and empathy. Weirdly, McDonald’s Sway also shares some entertaining banter with the envoy’s bodyguard, Tomm Shultz (played by Joe Manganiello) in the first episode, but his true nature turns out to be very different in subsequent installments.

Conversely, Dominic Monaghan and Kadeem Hardison are initially aggressively annoying as the Kumbaya-ish Serno and Noon, but their buddy chemistry deepens quite effectively over the course of the series. Amara Karen and Ayelet Zurer also nicely stoke the intrigue, as Mare and Maite Voss, the colony’s spiritual leader.

What really makes
Moonhaven fresh and different is the way it critiques utopian thinking while showing sympathy to its true believing characters and their lofty goals. Moonhaven colony might be doomed to failure, because despite the AI and the radically reinvented social structures, human nature remains the same—but you can’t blame them for trying.

There are some cool imagery and visual effects in
Moonhaven, but it is more driven by ideas than action. Honestly, the colony’s New Agey double-talk (like: “I’m experiencing dreadfeel”) get to be like fingernails on a chalkboard, but McDonald’s star-making turn as Sway really helps keep the series grounded and viewers invested in the unrest and betrayals. Do not expect much in the way of resolution, but it addresses a lot of the themes of Asimov’s Foundation with far greater intelligence than Apple TV’s depressingly dumbed-down adaptation. Recommended with surprising enthusiasm, Moonhaven starts streaming Thursday (7/7) on AMC+.