Midnight, Texas Is Magical Trash

Midnight, Texas, is a small town in the middle of nowhere. It’s a safe haven for people (or “people”) who can’t live anywhere else or don’t want to. It also may be sitting on top of a hellmouth, if that ominous glowing red light coming up through Manfred Bernardo’s (François Arnaud) floorboards is any indication. Speaking of the possibly-fake-but-probably-real psychic, Manfred flees Dallas for Midnight at the behest of his dead grandmother Xylda (Joanne Camp) to escape her determined creditors. He couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Within a few hours of Manfred’s arrival he encounters the corpse of Bobo Winthrop’s (Dylan Bruce) missing fiance, hits on Creek (Sarah Ramos) the daughter of a very overprotective father, has his life force sucked out by vampire Lemuel (Peter Mensah), steals holy water from a creepy reverend (Yul Vazquez), witnesses Fiji (Parisa Fitz-Henley) go all The Craft on a couple of cops, is beaten up by Olivia the hitwoman (Arielle Kebbel), and summons a host of very pissed off ghosts and maybe a demon. At least he doesn’t see Joe (Jason Lewis) sprout wings or hear Fiji’s cat Mr. Snuggly (Joe Smith) talk. Gotta save something for the second episode…

The main season arc looks like it’s going to be sorting out who killed Aubrey (Shannon Lorance) and dealing with the Sons of Lucifer white supremacist biker gang. Not to mention all the magic and supernatural happenings. Now, I’m a fan of Charlaine Harris’ work. I wouldn’t call myself a superfan or anything, but I’ve read all her stuff and enjoyed it all, no matter how stupid. The Harper Connelly series will always have my heart and frankly if I had to pick a Harris series to adapt to television that would be my first stop. Her Midnight, Texas series is typical of her work, in that it’s more or less literary cotton candy.

The premiere seems to be sticking fairly close to the first book, Midnight Crossroad. When Aubrey’s body is found in a creek and the cops – with Manfred’s psychic help – turn up a gun registered to Bobo, he gets accosted first by a pair of neo-nazis and later by two grouchy sheriffs. Turns out Aubrey was still married to a white supremacist gang leader when she fell in love with Bobo. But this ain’t Bobo’s story, even though his plot drives the action. Manfred is our protagonist, albeit one who mostly just stumbles from scene to scene. As in the books, Fiji is the most interesting character on screen. By the end of the trilogy, it’s clear the series really belongs to her. Whether that will translate to television we’ll have to wait and see.

I honestly can’t remember if this is canon or headcanon, but I always pictured Manfred as brown. He’s definitely supposed to be short, scrawny, and looking like a pierced punk, and Arnaud’s too much of a tall drink of bland for my taste. Otherwise, I’m pretty happy with the diversity. Most of the main cast are people of color, which is a huge plus for network television. My only reservation is with Fiji. Don’t get me wrong, I dig Fitz-Henley, but in the book she’s plus sized. I knew it would be too much to hope for television to cast a fat actor as the romantic lead, but still. We really need more body shape diversity on camera, and casting Fiji as skinny is a lost opportunity.

Midnight, Texas’s biggest mark against it is that it’s on NBC. This is a show that needs room to be bloody and sexy. Network television’s constraints are really going to hamper the story in the long run (especially if they are headed in the direction of the final showdown from Night Shift). Without the backing of a cable channel or streaming service, it lacks the budget to fully convey the craziness of a rural fantasy. More importantly, without a strong showrunner with a unique voice at the helm, it’s just another television show. With True Blood, Alan Ball added visual verve and social commentary to the metanarrative. Writer and executive producer Monica Owusu-Breen is a veteran television producer, but a lot of the shows she’s worked on suffer a lot of the same mediocrity maladies as Midnight, Texas.

To be fair, Owusu-Breen is actually sticking true to the canon; Harris wouldn’t know subtlety if it hit her on the head, and her idea of social commentary is having her only gay couple own a salon and behave like Birdcage LARPers. But I want more out of a show built on the idea of a bunch of outcasts forging a family out of disaster. If Midnight, Texas wants to succeed, not only does it need to be socially relevant but it must find a way to be more creative than its source material. Everything in the premiere is something you’ve seen before. It’s time to up the game and craft their own fantasyland, one that goes beyond Harris’ relatively limited vision.

Midnight, Texas is almost a good time. It suffers from the worst side effects of being on network television: mediocrity, half-assed graphics, and insisting on drama over camp. This is a show with vampires, angels, witches, ghosts, and sundry other supernatural beasties I won’t spoil for the newbies. Something like this ought to lean full into its bonkers premise. Say what you will about True Blood, but it totally understood its base material. Sure, it jumped the shark by the end (so did the book series, for that matter), but even when it was eye-rollingly stupid it still generally stayed true to its nature as a sex and blood-soaked paranormal romance. Midnight, Texas the television show is about as inventive and out there as Supernatural, a show that went off the rails about 8 seasons ago.

In my review of the final book in the Midnight Texas series, I summarized every Charlaine Harris property thusly: “Charlaine Harris is very good at what she does even if what she does isn’t very good. No one goes into one of her books expecting high art or powerful literature. When she gets into a narrative rut, she falls back on intensely detailed descriptions of events or locations that have absolutely no relevance to the plot or characters. When the plot gets too twisty to untangle, a random character from the periphery turns up to tell the main characters everything they need to know and what they need to do in order to resolve the problem. Bad things have few consequences and emotional turmoil lasts about as long as a plate of biscuits in front of a hungry teenage weretiger.” If you read that and your first thought was “Weretigers? Cool! Are they shirtless?” then welcome to the Charlaine Harris fanclub. If that description made you want to run for the hills, then Midnight, Texas is probably not the show for you.

Final Thoughts

  • In case it wasn’t clear, I’m definitely going to keep watching Midnight, Texas. I really need a new dumb fun supernatural show to watch.
  • Plus I gotta support Owusu-Breen. Put a Black woman in charge and diversify the cast and I’m there, quality be damned.
  • From what I can tell, the show doesn’t exist in the same ‘verse as True Blood. Which makes sense, I guess. In the books, Manfred and Sookie don’t interact but live in the same world.
  • STOP USING THE SLUR “GYPSY.” Seriously. Please put that offensiveness in the trash bin where it belongs.

Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

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